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The Student-Run News Site of Carnegie Vanguard High School

Upstream News

The Student-Run News Site of Carnegie Vanguard High School

Upstream News

Ariann Burley: NASA superstar, photographer, and Pre-AP English teacher

Ariann Burley on her Welcome to Carnegie page.
Ariann Burley
Ariann Burley on her Welcome to Carnegie page.

From being a NASA intern to a wardrobe stylist, an artist, and now an English teacher, Ariann Burley is a true Renaissance woman.

Burley was born in Houston, grew up in Dallas, and then returned to Houston for high school in HISD. In high school, she was what some students may call an “it girl.”

“I’ve never had to worry [about studying,] and I graduated fourth in my class,” Burley says.

Burley planned on going into STEM in college. She worked for NASA during her senior year. She was hired two days before 9/11, but kept her job and worked in the Flight Design and Dynamics Division, taking care of logistics before a launch.

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“What people don’t know about NASA is that it’s just like a crew of science nerds inventing things,” Burley said. “I got to be there when they were inventing some cool things that we use today. ”

She later attended Southern Methodist University, where she started as a computer engineering major. But, she quickly realized that the workload was not a good fit for her and switched her major to English.

Why am I not lounging? Why am I not having a good time? Why am I not dancing in my dorm room? Why am I too tired to go to the park? I realized I wasn’t going to school for what I loved.” Burley said.

Burley was relieved at the major change and said being an English major just “clicked” for her. She appreciated the diverse perspectives provided to her by SMU and was able to incorporate them into her thought process.

“It was the first time that I was around people from all different backgrounds, all different demographics, sitting in classrooms and just talking together during the Bush era,” said Burley.

After college, Burley started working as an English teacher at another high school. However, she soon developed the classic teacher burnout. So, she decided to teach virtually and try retail. 

“I just walked into Buffalo [Exchange] and filled out an application.”

She picked up fashion photography at Buffalo Exchange and quickly started working as the assistant manager. When they asked her to style their magazine, she said yes. 

Soon, Burley found a passion for outfit styling and fashion photography. She would drape fabric upon her ceiling, put a stool up front, and start taking photos with her iPhone. 

“[I] put on some clothes and just took a picture. No special cameras or anything, just an iPhone and good lighting. I probably changed five or six times before I decided on that outfit.”

Though this passion was fun, it was a result of being isolated and stuck at home.

“I had all this time on my hands. I think for me this gave me time to explore other outlets and just be as creative as possible because we don’t know when this is going to end,” said Burley.

Fashion photography isn’t the only way Burley tells stories. From painting to storytelling, Burley always uncovers a message with her artwork.

“I am a painter. I am an artist,” Burley said.

Many of Burley’s artwork includes references to historical icons, such as Harriet Tubman. Specifically, Burley used the theme of the black dollar in america. 

“A lot of African Americans started moving their dollars towards black owned businesses, which kind of threatened non-black owned businesses who sort of started showing like, hey, we support black people.”

She created a series of paintings based on this, using a Harriet Tubman stamp to create the piece. She explained that this was because Harriet Tubman was meant to be on the $20 bill. Students who have Burley will notice that she uses these stamps to reward students with her “ticket” system.

This Dark Navigation- by Ariann Burley
Photo courtesy of Bri Dezel Photography

Eventually, Burley decided it was time to go back to teaching. As a mom with a teenager, she wanted to have more holidays and weekends with him.  

Burley taught at Jack Yates High School. Yates is the second historically black school in Houston, and this history was a major draw to why Burley wanted to work there. She interviewed with CW39 to talk about the importance of black literature, and how she incorporated it into her teaching. 

“I liked working with students that look like myself that were in the same boat I was in at one time. And it was great for a while. Then I came to Carnegie,”  said Burley. 

After four rewarding years at Yates, Burley won Teacher of the Year in 2023. She used this to leverage a move to her “dream” school. 

“A week after they announced I was the teacher of the year I was like okay, this is a good opportunity for me to explore other schools that I consider my dream school,” Burley said.

The impact Burley hopes to make on students is to make sure they are prepared to face the challenges life throws at them. 

“You want your child to have it better than you had. I want you guys to have a better life than I had. I want you guys to be more, you know, well-equipped mentally and physically before going out there in the real world because the real world is real” said Burley. “You’re going to feel alone a lot.”

Books and literature are incredibly impactful to Burley’s life. Creativity is a big aspect of her personality, and she says books are the best way to fulfill that. 

“To me, it’s really hard to have a really good, complex conversation with somebody who’s not a reader,” said Burley.

Above all, Ms. Burley wants her students to know that they are not alone. She knows that the students who wander into her class sense something in her, and wants to make sure they know that she is there for them.

“I am you and you are me. Meaning that we can all win. We can all lose. We can all hurt. We can all feel happiness and feel joy,” Burley said.

All in all, Burley believes that teaching is something she always finds herself coming back to. She always makes use of her passion, like in her past at NASA, her presence in class, and the future she hopes to create for Carnegie students until she retires. 

“I always knew I wanted to take care of people. I just didn’t know what capacity. But teaching is probably what I was meant to do.”

“ I always knew I wanted to take care of people. I just didn’t know what capacity. But teaching is probably what I was meant to do”

— Ariann Burley

Portions of this article have been edited on 2/26/2024 for accuracy and clarity.

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About the Contributors
Bela Jotwani, Staff Writer
Bela Jotwani is a senior at Carnegie Vanguard. When not hitting the books, Bela can be found exploring the city's eclectic coffee and boba shops, curating the perfect playlist for every occasion. She’s an avid fan of "Heartstopper" and "Brooklyn 99," and her creative writing talents shine as an ENFP personality who loves to craft imaginative stories.
Naadiya Walji, Staff Writer
Naadiya is a senior at CVHS. She is a quiet bookworm who’s favorite pastimes include reading, spending time with her cat, and drinking coffee. Interested in psychology, Naadiya looks for the deeper meaning behind everything she reads. Her favorite genre is fantasy and she cares deeply for minority representation in media. As an empath and future psychologist, Naadiya loves newspaper because it allows her to explore new topics and perspectives.  
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