Dr. Colburn is an independent producer of history-based documentary programs for Starbright Media Corporation, a company he founded in 1981, and President of Contemporary Learning Systems, Inc., a non-profit company he established in 2009 to develop media-based educational programming. A native of Highland Park, Michigan, he received his A.B. degree in history from Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, in 1959 and his Ph.D. in modern British political history from Michigan State University, East Lansing, in 1970. In 1984, Colburn received the university's Distinguished Alumni Public Service Award.
From 1957 to 1981, Colburn was involved in journalism as a reporter, columnist, editor and administrator in Michigan, Illinois and California. As a writer, he specialized in covering local government and politics. In 1970, while a graduate student working part-time at the local newspaper, he received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his year-long coverage of tumultuous campus affairs at MSU following the resignation of the university’s long-time president in 1969. The Pulitzer nomination stated that his series of exclusive articles about the secret presidential selection process ultimately led to the appointment of the first black president of a major American university over a politically active professor who had, it appeared at the outset of the process, the votes to win approval by the Board of Trustees.
Colburn was appointed in 1970 to head the research and communications staffs for the Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives. Later that year, a book he co-edited, In Their Place: White America Defines Her Minorities, 1850 – 1950, was published by John Wiley & Sons to very favorable reviews in the educational press. The following year he won election to the City Council in East Lansing, Michigan after organizing a grass-roots movement to stop the State Highway Dept. from implementing its plan to build a freeway through the MSU campus. With Colburn on the council, the city reversed an earlier favorable decision on the freeway. Subsequently, the campus expanded but the freeway was never built.
In 1973, Colburn resigned his political positions in Michigan to return to journalism as an Area Editor for the Chicago Tribune Co. Then, in 1975 he was appointed the Director of a new national media education program at the University of California, San Diego, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Under his direction, the program, “Courses by Newspaper,” expanded to involve annually hundreds of newspapers and institutions of higher education as the key components in a program of study on important issues of the day. Thousands of students received college credit for taking courses approved by the colleges/universities involved in the program. A television component was added in 1979.
Colburn left UCSD in 1982 to set up a consulting company in New York City where he advised public television stations, corporations and foundations on educational uses of major PBS programs. He produced his first television programs in 1983 with the completion of a three-part series on the coming communications revolution. The series featured the commentary of author Arthur C. Clarke and was filmed on the island nation of Sri Lanka where Clarke lived. Over the next several years, Colburn directed the creation and distribution of university-level courses utilizing two major British television series, "The Day the Universe Changed" hosted by James Burke, and "The Heart of the Dragon," an international Emmy winner.
In 1991, he wrote and produced a television special on President Eisenhower for the Discovery Channel. Over the next four years, he produced two more national TV specials on “Ike” that were hosted by the late NBC News commentator John Chancellor. Then, in 1996, he produced a four-part series on Eisenhower for Disney that was hosted by Gen. Colin Powell (USA Ret.). A year later he completed a 20-part educational series for Disney on "The Eisenhower Era."
In 2012, Colburn was appointed to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial's Electronic Content Advisory Committee. The committee is charged with selecting seven "Pivotal Moments" in Eisenhower's military and political careers and developing content for electronic applications related to the physical memorial to be built alongside the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Colburn is currently working on TV and education projects about the Eisenhower presidency’s nuclear strategy, the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II, Ernest Hemingway’s youth, the role of innovation in shaping U.S. history and a history of immigration in the U.S. since World War II.