Tariem Burroughs: Making an impact

This week’s Family Portrait, Tariem Burroughs, is the Director of Experiential Learning and Career Services at Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health. Along with his work in the community serving on boards and organizations which help educate the public, he also continues his own education working on his dissertation. He has held positions at Temple University School of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Philadelphia FIGHT, and Public Health Management Center. I had a chance to talk with him during some of his rare down time. 

I understand that you’re a Philly native. Are you excited about the Eagles?

I am very excited about the Eagles! I was just talking to one of my colleagues this morning and reminiscing about when they won the last Super Bowl and the shenanigans at the parade. 

My brother in Chicago sent me a picture of a guy naked on top of a bus stop. 

Oh my God, I sent that picture to a friend yesterday! That was a bold move on his part. They already have memes with that guy, there’s a whole video and everything.

Gotta love Philly. Where in the city did you grow up?

I grew up in South and Southwest Philly. 

What was the best thing about your neighborhood?

I would say, growing up in the Southwest, the best thing was that I got to ride the trolleys all the time. I went to school at McCall, which was right at 6th and Delancey, so I’d tell the other kids about getting to school and they would say, “On a trolley? What are you talking about?” And I’d tell them about it. That was a lot of fun. Growing up in South Philly, we were in the Graduate hospital area and I just loved being able to walk into town. Like, everything was right there, it was exciting. 

Tell me a little bit about the family.

My family are also all native Philadelphians. My mom does medical research and lives in South Philly still. My Dad went into the military and married and now lives in Louisiana where he works for the rail yard. But all my extended family? They’re all still here in Philly, which is really nice, lots of cousins and aunts and uncles around. [Laughing] We have two family text threads going! It can be a bit much with all the back and forth, but I love it. 

Any siblings?

Yes, with my mom I have one sister, who is 7 years younger than I am. She works for Comcast and does all their customer retention stuff for the east coast, and she’s a fabulous aunt. And I have two brothers from my dad since he got married. One does custom car designs, which is cool. He worked for Tesla for a time. My other brother does something similar. 

How would your mother have described you as a kid?

Definitely someone who follows the beat of his own drum, very smart, but also very cautious. Pragmatic in the way he does things. 

What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever done?

Here’s one that people would be surprised to find out. I used to work with rope courses, and a friend of mine was like, “Hey, let’s drive up to Northeast PA and build a rope course!” We got there and it’s pouring down rain. We were climbing and putting up ropes and it was completely ridiculous. We were cold and wet and having the time of our lives. We went into town to a restaurant and we were covered in mud and soot. We were so hungry we devoured practically everything on the menu! 

Another one that just popped into my head: one summer, between my junior and senior year of college, I needed a summer job. This is back when you used to open up a newspaper and look in the classified section for jobs. I saw an ad and thought, “Okay, I’ll do that.” So I took a bus from Philadelphia to Portland, Maine where I became a pickleball instructor at an all Jewish summer camp. It kind of turned into the movie, “Wet, Hot American Summer.” It was a great experience, lots of outings in different areas, and it led me to working for an urban squash organization and becoming the Academic Director at SquashSmarts, Inc.

Neat! What did you study in college?

I went to the University of Scranton and studied elementary education, which was very cool. I got out and taught for a year and then realized that teaching kids might not be for me. But it did help me find my passion. I was working with after school programming and after that joined AmeriCorps for 2 years. [Laughing] I thought I’d be working in another elementary school but nope, I worked at Bartram High school! When I found out my placement I walked out for a minute but my boss said, “No, no, no. You’re here for a reason.” And he was right, I learned a lot working there. 

What grade did you teach in elementary school?

Kindergarten. Honestly, it actually was a great experience. I now work in higher education and let’s just say, there are a lot of similarities between Masters students and 5 year olds! There are a lot of transferable skills.

What are two things that come to mind?

Always break everything down to the smallest bite, the smallest amount of information, and in a way that’s easy for someone to understand. Because I teach public health, it’s also a lesson that will serve you very well in your career. And the other thing I try to impress is that you have to have fun. If you don’t have fun with things you’re going to get frustrated and you’re not going to enjoy what you’re doing. That translates into the way you interact with people. 

I hear you. I come from a family that has fun at funerals. We sing and dance, and celebrate. 

I much prefer that, let’s celebrate the joy that person imparted to us. It’s a much better legacy. 

Yes, I had a girlfriend once who came to a funeral and said, “Oh my gosh, if this is what your family is like at funerals, I can’t wait to see how you party!” 

That’s great. It sounds like you have a musical family, do you play an instrument?

No, but I sing. I’m a Taurus and our body part is the voice and throat. Stevie Wonder is a Taurus, so is Barbra Streisand.

I’m also a Taurus and I too did singing. I was in my school choir and I was also in the district choir where they brought all the best kids together. In college I also sang in the fall review for three years. 

You are such a renaissance man! You’ve done everything from pickleball, to singing to having several degrees under your belt!

[Laughing] I fall into things and then just enjoy them. It’s funny, you never really think about your life path until you get to a point where something makes you stop and reflect. I’m also in the process of finishing my dissertation. My focus is on experiences and medical sociology, and how experiences impact medical training, with the idea that we need more experiences with people outside of a clinical setting if we’re going to have an impact on the new doctors who come through. They need to understand who people really are, which is hard to do inside a clinic. 

Very true. So let’s talk about some of the other things you’re doing now. 

I do a lot of things; my primary job is that I am the Director of Experiential Learning and Career Services at Drexel University School of Public Health. Part of my job is to ensure that our students are getting experience as they pursue their degrees in public health. We also help them get jobs and careers and do coaching on things like how to create a resume, etc. I also coordinate networking events and professional development series.

Outside of that, I’m also finishing my dissertation, and that’s like a whole other job. And outside of work, I’m the Board Chair of Liberty City Democrats, I’m the vice chair of the Septa Citizen Advisory Committee, and also on the board of Philadelphia Pride and CraftNOW Philadelphia. I hope to help integrate crafting into health care. 

Are you a crafty person?

Um, I am. It took me a while to find my medium. I would draw and get frustrated until I learned other things I could do that didn’t involve drawing. One of the things I love is to create and frame pictures. 

Speaking of projects, I understand you’re a daddy. How old is the little one?

He would tell you 6, but he’s actually 4 1/2. He’s a phenomenal swimmer, he can do 13 laps in the pool with no problem. He’s a bundle of joy. I’d just come back from a trip overseas when we got the call. I tend to be work focused, mainly because I don’t want to burden the people I work with, so at first I was like, “Oh, I have to finish all these things first, but then I saw him and it was like, “No, this is my priority now.” We got him at 5 days old, but he had to stay in the hospital for a period of time, which gave me and my husband time to get ready. 

Yeah, I guess it’s not like, “Okay, we have 9 months to get ready.”  You have to jump into gear when you get the call that a child is available. It’s totally out of the blue. I was still jet lagged from being in Morocco, Spain, and Portugal, and it was like, “Okay, hope you got some rest, because you’re not going to be sleeping again for a while.”

Tell me about your hubby.

We’ve been together for about 13 years and got married in 2015. He is a psychologist and works at ACG, AIDS Care Group, in Delaware Country. He also started one of the first LGBT health clinics in Delaware County called Mosaic Health. We met when he was doing his postdoc at Philadelphia FIGHT. It was his birthday. I still laugh because I remember when he graduated he took off for 2 weeks. I was thinking, “You just got your first real job and you’re taking off?” It was a boss move. And we’ve been together ever since. 

Since you are into framing, what’s a favorite piece?

So we are big concert goers, and every year since we first met, I have saved the tickets from every show we’ve been to. Each Christmas I frame them, so in our bedroom, our entire large wall is hung with a different frame for every year we’ve been together. I always try to find/make a different frame each year and arrange the tickets in a mosaic. I love the act of finding new frames and just sitting there as I arrange the patterns and look back on all that we’ve shared each year. I also have this [holds up picture], it’s a collage of pictures of all of us.  I used to think they were corny, but now I appreciate being able to see the different pictures of us together. 

Favorite animal? 

I would say turtle. No, my iguana; he’s not still with us but I loved him. He used to just walk around the room all the time. Now I have a dog and a cat. 

First same sex kiss?

When I was 17, I was on a date and we kissed in Rittenhouse Square. 

And finally, tell us why you do the work that you do?

A lot of it comes down to the impact that organizations and institutions have on our health and well being, and how they’re connected. It’s why I’m so passionate about the things I do and the dissertation that I’m working on. Though I promised my husband I will not go back to school after this, I have 4 degrees and I’ve been in school since we met! 

I want to figure out what we can do to change how we talk to people, how we connect with people and how we train people to live up to our mission to take care of and help people. At the end of the day it’s making sure people are able to live the way they want to and are treated with respect and dignity. 

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