Freshman Attends World Economic Forum

Whitney Burton

by Anna Maurer

In January, while most students were enjoying their winter break and preparing to begin a new semester, Whitney Burton was in Davos, Switzerland, speaking in front of world leaders and activists at the World Economic Forum. Burton, a freshman global affairs major and University Scholar, was one of six students from six different countries chosen to attend the forum after participating in the "Road to Davos" Forum in Greenwich, England.

Burton and the five other students who attended the forum were the youngest presenters ever to speak at the annual event. The students, who ranged in age from sixteen to nineteen and came from Argentina, China, Scotland, South Africa, and Sri Lanka, in addition to Burton from the United States, formed a panel to present the desires and views of young people. When Burton had the opportunity to speak, she addressed the importance of education and of the proper allocation of resources. In addition, she discussed her activism work and recounted some of the experiences that have shaped her views.

Although Burton had only taken one semester of courses at Mason when she attended the forum, her classes helped to prepare her for the experience. As a member of Mason's Honors Program in General Education, Burton wrote a paper for her honors Introduction to Research class last semester about child labor and ways to remove children from dangerous situations.

"This paper I wrote for [Honors] 110 opened my eyes to see how the obvious solution is not always the best and even sometimes that solution can create a larger problem," Burton said. "I learned about a more analytical way of thinking."

Burton chose to attend Mason primarily because of the university's location. I wanted to be near Washington, D.C. because there are so many charities and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) located here. Her activism began while attending high school in Houston, Texas, where she headed fundraisers to build a school in Sierra Leone, and she hopes that her studies will enable her to continue her activism.

"I am sure that as I further my studies in the Global Affairs Program I will be better prepared to do charity and non-government organization work internationally. I hope to gain an understanding of international problems in relation to poverty, children, and women, and also learn about solutions to these problems.  Because I attend Mason, I had the opportunity to apply for the "Road to Davos" program," Burton said, explaining that Erek Perry, the director of the University Scholars program, told her about the Forum and encouraged her to apply. That was a huge opportunity that I would not have had very many other places.

* Some content in this article appeared in a different format in The Mason Gazette.