Episode 40

How to Run Your Own Race and Win with Kristen Bowes Burke


Today I’m joined by Kristen Bowes Burke, who is serving as general counsel at Mercy College in New York.

Kristen has always known she wanted to go into law. She grew up loving politics and was infatuated with the substantive and leadership aspects of that career path, and even wanted to become president when she grew up. Law was a pathway for that, as the two are so intertwined. 

Kristen’s path to college was built on a unique combination of skills and passions. There are many avenues to getting into an institution and graduating with a degree, and for Kristen, sports were a hugely important part of her life and played a key role in her journey. She grew up playing team sports in soccer and basketball, building tremendous courage and leadership skills. It was a part of her identity. Confidence was built there. Since she was a little girl, she advocated for herself to try out for state teams, olympic development teams, and beyond. 

Through sports and outstanding academics, Kristen was accepted into some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the nation, including Harvard, Yale, and Cornell. Kristen reminds us that even she received financial support from the places she was accepted. The resources are out there for those who are overcoming that hurdle. Look at whatever talent you have and include that in what you present to schools–they are looking at well-roundedness as well, not just grades. 

After college, Kristen knew she was going straight into law school. Her philosophy was to get into a school and do the very, very best that she could. Through a powerful internship and an influential mentor, Kristen discovered her passion for law at the state and District Attorney level. She was patient in her search for a law firm to work at, however. She wanted to be a prosecutor and never took her eye off the prize. Her advice is to stay absolutely committed to your end goal and never lose sight of it. 

Kristen’s most important and best decision of her life, she says, is working in the Bronx DA office, and it’ gave her the skills she needed to do anything you could imagine. The pressured and quick-thinking environment was truly a test of her intelligence, persistence, and tenacity. She had a boss that really looked out for her that helped her get over the hump. She would be the only woman in the room of forty men leading incredibly important meetings and preparing the blueprint for task forces. 

She now mentors young women in law having them shadow in her office. She did some work in a sexual discrimination case that gives her the most pride. She worked with students and task forces to create policy at a college level. Six months later, what is now known as Title XI, was widely released. Kristen was ahead of the curve. She would train and educate community members and students on the policy and her background on it. 

The common principle, the throughline throughout her career, was to do everything to the max and do whatever you do intensely. When her parents got divorced, she had a huge amount of people who invested their support in her. Now, everything she does is to make them proud. 

“My philosophy was to get into a school and do the very, very best that I can.”  – Kristen Bowes Burke
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