Q&A with alumna Brittini R. Brown: Dedicated Purdue advisors, student-centered programs, and a life-changing education earned outside of class

Brittani Brown wearing a University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) scarf Brittini Brown received her PhD from the Department of Agricultural Science Education and Communication (formerly the Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education) in Purdue’s College of Agriculture.

Brittini R. Brown received her PhD from the Department of Agricultural Science Education and Communication (formerly the Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education) in Purdue’s College of Agriculture. Her focus was on mentoring and success of underrepresented graduate students in the STEM and agricultural disciplines. During her time at Purdue, Brown experienced and participated in programs such as the Historically Black Institution Visitation Program (now called the Graduate Diversity Visitation Program), Mentoring at Purdue (M@P), and the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA). Before Purdue, she obtained a BS in regulatory science with a concentration in industrial health and safety from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and a MS in industrial and agricultural technology from Iowa State University

After earning her Purdue PhD, she joined The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) as Director for Assessment, Research, and Strategic Priorities. She also served as Acting Director of Off-Campus Student Services, which provides programming and support for commuter and transfer students, Adult Learners, and Veterans. Today, she serves as the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at UMBC where she provides leadership and guidance to multiple areas, including Campus Life, the Center for Democracy and Civic Life, Off-Campus Student Services, Assessment and Research, and Student Affairs Technology. She also continues to provide leadership to Purdue as a member of the Dean's Advisory Board for the College of Agriculture.

Here is Brittini Brown’s story in her own words.


How did your Purdue graduate experience equip you to navigate your career path?

Because of the Purdue Graduate School, I was able to first visit Purdue through the HBI Visitation Program. It was during that visit I came to realize Purdue was the best place to pursue my doctoral degree because of the support I would receive not only through my academic department, but also through the Graduate School. Additionally, the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program played a major role in helping me to identify peer and staff mentors and gain access to resources that helped to enhance my capacity as a practitioner and researcher. I also have to give a HUGE shoutout to my graduate advisor, Dr. Levon Esters, and to my committee members, Drs. Neil Knobloch, Mark Tucker, and Antwoine Haywood, for the amazing experience that I had at Purdue. Dr. Esters was always my number one advocate and still today serves as one of my mentors and most trusted colleagues. Drs. Knobloch, Tucker, and Haywood helped me to become a great thinker and scholar-practitioner. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their collective support.

How has your experience with Mentoring@Purdue influenced your work as Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at UMBC?

My experience with Mentoring@Purdue provided an amazing springboard for my first role at UMBC, Director for Assessment, Research, and Strategic Priorities, and for my current role as Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs. As a member of the M@P Team I learned the importance of strategic planning and partnerships. An idea is just an idea without a vision, without the appropriate partners to help carry out the vision, and without the skillset needed to bring an idea to fruition. With Mentoring@Purdue, I was able to both participate and observe how each of those pieces of the puzzle can come together to build something sustainable, evidence-based, and that has capacity to continue to grow. Those are all experiences that I continue to draw upon today. I also learned a great deal about the importance of data collection and assessment to provide guidance on how to consistently improve programs and services to students. Today, I promote assessment across the Division to ensure that every decision we make is student-centered and supported by data. Additionally, while cliché, my work with M@P reinforced that seeing is believing. Through the Summer Scholars Program specifically, our data consistently showed us that without our program, many students didn't believe that pursuing masters or doctoral programs at a major research institute was possible. While the goal of the program was to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities at Purdue, it was also a success for us if any of our participants decided to pursue post-secondary degrees at any university. I am grateful that through our work, we helped students imagine possibilities that were once seen as out of reach. Today, I work diligently to ensure that students have opportunities to get involved with student organizations and have experiences that they might not otherwise have had without our advocacy, and support. Finally, my work with Mentoring@Purdue opened doors of opportunity for me to get involved at the departmental and college level. I was able to serve as a member of the College's Strategic Planning Steering Committee in 2016 as well as the Departmental Strategic Planning Task Force. Today, I continue to serve Purdue as a member of the Dean's Advisory Board for the College of Agriculture.

How have your relationships and experiences as a part of BGSA influenced your professional and personal journey?

BGSA was and continues to be an important part of my life both personally and professionally. Sense of belonging is important to every student who crosses the threshold of a university and can ultimately determine whether a student stays the course or decides to leave. For some students, sense of belonging is very easy to find. For others, particularly Black women in Agriculture, it can be quite a challenge. BGSA was the space that provided a sense of belonging for me at Purdue. Culturally, communities of color thrive when they are in community and fellowship with people with whom they share a similar experience. Within BGSA, many of us attended Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs) or had shared experiences of being in professional affinity organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) or Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS). If we didn't have those experiences, most of us had the shared experience of often being the only person who looked like us in a classroom. BGSA gave us a space to talk about those shared experiences and provided respite from our academic environments which could sometimes feel isolated and lonely. For that reason, I am grateful for my experience in BGSA while matriculating at Purdue

and am grateful that many of those folks remain some of my closest friends and peer mentors today. I also have to mention that a great deal of my dissertation was written in the Purdue University BGSA Office.

What are your next career goals?

There was a time when I thought that question meant 'what do you want your next job title or role to be'? However, as I have grown, my goals are not limited to titles or roles, but instead my goal is to pursue my passion for cultivating spaces where students can pursue their education in a supportive, yet equally challenging environment. My goal is to become a good leader who listens, empowers people to tell their stories, and makes room for voices that have been silenced far too often and for far too long. My goal is to pursue excellence daily in making data driven decisions, thinking strategically, forming partnerships, managing crises and all of the things that my daily responsibilities entail. If I can continue to work toward those things, I am confident that where ever I am supposed to be, I will be.

 Brittini Brown

Brittini Brown, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, credits her association with Purdue programs such as (the precursor to) the Graduate Diversity Visitation Program, Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), Mentoring@Purdue, and Black Graduate Student Association as providing pivotal experiences that helped prepare her for her career today.

Source: Brittini Brown, brbrown@umbc.edu

February 22, 2021

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