Growing up, Kristina Burrack, PhD, was always on the move. She was fascinated by the outdoors, loved hands-on learning, and played college athletics. Dr. Burrack loved doing science labs and knew she wanted to be a biology major in college. While at St. Olaf College, she became passionate about immunology during her undergraduate research program.
“And so being able to study human diseases, and have an impact on treatments or vaccines…where it wasn’t necessarily impacting this patient today, but I might impact hundreds or thousands or millions of people…in five years, or 10 years, you never really know…when your discovery might be applied in some way.”
Flash forward to the present day and Dr. Burrack is a key researcher in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute (HHRI) studying the immune response to malaria to identify therapies that boost immunity to the infection as well as vaccination. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she translated this knowledge and research to a longitudinal study of blood samples from patients, to study the immune system’s response to the vaccination and how an individual’s medical history may impact long-term immunity.
Her work has the ability to impact millions of lives. Dr. Burrack’s passion and the potential of her work have landed her one of 116 spots in this year’s cohort of the Australian-based leadership program for women in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine), Homeward Bound.
Dr. Burrack is part of the current cohort, Homeward Bound 8. Team HB8 will start the global leadership program on May 1, 2023, with 100+ STEMM women of 25 different nationalities spanning 18 countries. They were selected on their leadership potential and ability to affect the future sustainability of our planet.
Homeward Bound is a year-long virtual leadership program for STEMM women at any career stage, hoping to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges like the climate crisis, poverty, gender inequality, and educational disparities. They seek to achieve this through teaching and coaching STEMM women how to become leaders in their respective fields.
Dr. Burrack first heard of the prestigious leadership program back in 2016, but was busy raising a family and battling what many women experience—imposter syndrome. She finally built up the courage and time to apply last August because life’s timing was finally right, facing gender disparities in the workplace, and the impact of motherhood on her career trajectory and advancement in STEMM.
“And I think that’s what really neat about this Homeward Bound program is that it recognizes that some of the issues related [to] this lack of gender parity is [sic] a lack of leadership training and an investment in empowering women [,] specifically to become leaders. And not just leaders on their own, but leaders who work collaboratively and intentionally to be inclusive and supportive. And one word that I liked that Homeward Bound uses a lot is ‘legacy minded’… [In other words] how can we think about the impact that we have on everyone around us?”
As part of the program, each participant will have to raise $20,000 for the program’s tuition and an expedition to Antarctica in late 2024. This teaches participants the confidence and leadership skills necessary to learn how to fund future research projects. The landscape of Antarctica is a see-it-to-believe experience for participants regarding the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis. Each emerging leader will be paired with an alumnae mentor receiving 1-1 coaching and bi-weekly group calls.
As an emerging leader, Dr. Burrack is looking forward to learning from women worldwide who have experiences and knowledge from all walks of life. She hopes to build her confidence, learn how to better navigate conflict and tough conversations in high-stakes relationships, and grow her leadership abilities.
If you would like to contribute to Dr. Burrack’s fundraiser, you can do so through the Hennepin Healthcare Foundation here. To allocate your funds accordingly, please choose “other” as your designation choice and type or copy and paste the following text into the donation comment field: “Donation directed to HHRI, fundraising code: M03880, Homeward Bound.”