With great pride and tradition comes a hardy legacy, and as Texas Tech University approaches its 100th birthday, the institution has been the focal point of myriad relationships. Lifelong friendships are crafted on campus. Strangers become acquaintances with a simple guns-up gesture. And, in the most potent cases, multigenerational Red Raider families share memories, spirit, and even degrees.
Stephen Burres, an Irving police officer, began a communication studies degree in 1989. At the time, the degree was hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences. A poster advertising the degree stated students could become a state police officer, and Burres followed the poster's incentive all the way to graduation in 1993.
Roughly 27 years later, his daughter Mikayla graduated with the same degree in May 2021.
“[Texas Tech] was the only school I applied for,” says Mikayla. “I grew up as a diehard fan, obviously thanks to my dad, but I chose it because I love it.”
As if Mikayla's destiny was not clear enough, the one and only Bill Dean, associate professor of public relations and strategic communications management, recognized her last name on the day of orientation and instantly made the connection to Stephen. Dean was Stephen's very first instructor as he began his college career, only to welcome his daughter to campus so many years later.
“I remember [Dean] asked me if I was [Stephen's] daughter,” says Mikayla. “So, I said, ‘Well that depends – did you like him or not?' He did. But I really cherish the fact that we graduated from not only the same school but, to have the same major, that's really awesome.”
The similarities in the Burres' paths are far from over.
Not only did Mikayla graduate with the same degree as her dad, but she now wears a badge very near to his own as a Texas Tech police officer.
“I did not go to college to be a police officer,” says Mikayla. “I wanted to do sports broadcasting, so I did a major in communication studies, a minor in public relations, and I got a sports media certificate. Then, in my last semester, I said, ‘No, I want to do law enforcement.'”
Mikayla does not recall a pivotal moment of decision. Rather, a gut feeling called her to her father's profession. Looking back on her formative years, she believes it was inevitable.
“I grew up going around Texas with him as he taught [law enforcement] classes,” says Mikayla. “Instead of going to daycare, I went to court with him. I was constantly in that kind of world.”
With her mind made up, Mikayla entered the Police Academy. She made frequent calls to Stephen as he worked the nightshift in Irving, preparing herself for the well-feared Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) test that caps the education of all aspiring officers. Mikayla passed her TCOLE test – not without a few more stressful phone calls – in time to graduate in uniform.
Her father, a 31-year veteran of law enforcement, would pin her badge on her.
“I started this job 31 years ago,” says Stephen. “I started as a deputy sheriff. I went from West Texas to DFW and in between during those years, but the biggest day I've ever had was getting to pin her badge to her uniform.”
Stephen and Mikayla continue sharing late-night phone calls as they now both patrol the nightshift in Irving and Lubbock, respectively. For Mikayla, she wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
“I wanted to go back with Tech because I wanted to give back to my university,” says Mikayla. “I appreciated the last four years so much, even if it feels like they flew by with a snap of a finger. For all that [Tech] has done for me, I wanted to give back as much as I can.”
However, the spirit of the university seems intent on giving even more to Mikayla, as she recently had the opportunity to meet Patrick Mahomes and escort him into the United Supermarket Arena as the Texas Tech Men's Basketball team defeated Baylor.
“So, yeah, I'm really loving my job.”
For Stephen, he's simply happy with the numerous experiences he can share with his daughter – and the many more they will make. He recalls the moment Mikayla called him crying after her TCOLE test.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh no.' I've been psyching her up for this thing, right? She's been calling me every night saying, ‘What do you think about this scenario? What about that one?' And now I'm feeling bad because I'm thinking she didn't pass it.”
Mikayla, of course, passed with aplomb.
The father-daughter duo has shared many memories and feelings while walking very similar paths. Now, they hope they can share what they learned from their degrees to the next generation of law enforcement.
Although a communication studies degree may not intuitively connect to law enforcement in the minds of most, Stephen received invaluable advice from a state trooper many years ago, which he passed to his daughter.
“Don't get a criminal justice degree,” Stephen says with a small laugh. “It's a great degree, yes, but it doesn't prepare you for other walks of life like a communication studies degree. I talk to people better. I have more nonverbal skills. Most of all, if something happens to you and you can no longer work in the line of duty, what good is a criminal justice degree?”
Stephen experienced this exact situation when he was working traffic detail. He was struck by an impaired driver, which reduced his full effectiveness in the field. However, thanks to his communication studies degree, he was able to specialize in DWIs and continue wearing his badge.
Mikayla, although she has avoided any accidents thus far, recognizes similar benefits in her degree.
“You're dealing with people who don't like the police, people who love the police, people who are a little hesitant to talk to you, and they all require a different approach from officers,” says Mikayla. “If you don't have good communication skills, you're not going to get anywhere with anybody.”
As if the Burres' connection to Texas Tech wasn't enough yet, Stephen now serves at the president of the Texas Tech Parent's Association. Although Mikayla is no longer a student, their contributions to the university will continue long into the future.
“There is just so much we get to share now,” says Stephen. “We both learned the history of the university, the landmarks. We both got to ring the Victory Bells. The degrees, the badges. It's just been great. I love Tech. Anything we can do to give back and participate, we're all for it.”