Princeton alum, obstetrician endows need-based scholarship for minority women in STEM after mother’s untimely death

She was offered a full-scholarship to study molecular biology. Now, she’s paying it forward after her mother was killed in Newark

When an unexpected tragedy hit Aiyanna Burton Anderson, the obstetrician and Princeton alumnus decided to memorialize her mother, Deborah Burton, who was fatally shot in Newark by endowing a need-based university scholarship for minority women in STEM. The Tab sat down with Aiyanna to discuss her inspiration, Princeton experience, and memories of her late mother. The Q&A has been edited for length.

Could you tell us your inspirations for establishing this scholarship?

People grieve in different ways. It was very difficult during the few days when I first heard about my mother’s death. But it has always been important to my husband and I – donating, funding, and helping students and others, especially at institutions we’ve attended. A year before my mother passed away, I was considering establishing a scholarship for minorities at Princeton. When the news spread of my mother’s untimely death, many of my Princeton friends reached out to me to express condolences and some of them had raised over $1500 within 48 hours to donate to Project Linus in my mother’s name. Due to the overwhelming support my family and I were receiving, I decided to contact the University again to endow a scholarship  in my mother’s name. Also before my mother passed away, I was actually in the process of looking for a home to purchase here in Texas so she could live closer to her grandson, my husband and me. Where she lived before she left us, Maplewood, New Jersey, gets pretty cold in the winter. But after everything that happened, I decided it was best to use the money I planned on using for her home towards someone who could benefit from the help, this would help meet the $100,000 threshold needed to create an endowment.

How would you describe your mother? Could you tell us what she did for a living, any memories you’d like to share?

So I wrote a eulogy for her funeral. In short, my mother was an amazingly talented and hardworking woman. She graduated from High School with honors and went onto college to study electrical engineering but had to leave early to raise her family of four children. For nearly two decades, my mother worked on the Garden State Parkway, first as a toll collector and later a toll plaza supervisor. As a single mother, she always encouraged and supported us to do our best – education was very, very important to her. Actually, part of why I went into OBGYN and specialized in high-risk pregnancies was due to her inspiration and strong work ethic. Just before the start of my senior year in high school, my mother gave birth to another baby. She loved her family more than anything else.

“I will continue to do my best for her, to make her proud. I’m glad I sound like her, smile like her, look like her, and love like her. I love you Ma, and I’ll be talking to you.” – Aiyanna’s eulogy

How was coming to Princeton for you?

I ran track in high school, and when the Princeton coach first suggested that I go to Princeton, I was like “what? No I’m not going.” At that time, I didn’t think it was financially possible to go to Princeton, and in my mind, Princetonians didn’t really look like me. The community I grew up in was very diverse, and that wasn’t quite how I thought I would describe Princeton. But in the end, I was offered a full scholarship to study at Princeton. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend Princeton and many of my closest friendships developed there.

What did you major in Princeton?

Molecular biology.

As a woman of color in STEM at that time, did you feel like you faced undue challenges because of who you are in your academic environment?

No, I tend to not see it like that. Maybe there was, but I don’t like to think of it in those terms. The coursework was rigorous, but there were many women in the department who I became close friends with and we helped each other through everything. I eventually went on to attend New Jersey Medical School, and many of my friends fared very well too.

The Deborah Burton Memorial Fund is currently accepting gifts online and by mail. Anyone wishing to contribute should designate “For the Deborah Burton Memorial Fund”  in the comment section. According to Erika Knudson, director of development marketing and communications at Princeton University, Aiyanna will be able to designate preferences for fund use once the amount raised is clear.

“Aiyanna and her family are part of the Princeton family, and we are so sorry for the tragic loss of Deborah Burton. We are deeply honored to work with Aiyanna to set up a fund in honor of her mother,” Knudson said.

Featured image – Picture of Deborah Burton, mother of Aiyanna Burton


Princeton University