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University News

Alums fly from University nest, only to return

Alums who now work at Brown discuss careers, new perspectives, campus culture evolution

Staff Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rachel Spaulding ’00, director of the Brown Parents Program, and her roommate Colleen Dalton ’00, a professor of geology, smile during their graduation. Spaulding returned to Brown because she “needed something to do.” She has been working at the University ever since.

Ask a group of undergraduates why they applied to Brown and most will give similar answers: the open curriculum, high-quality faculty or an affinity for Providence, among others. Though many students enjoy their time on College Hill, most use their undergraduate experience as a gateway to future careers. Few are so enchanted by the institution that they stay for years, even decades after graduation to continue in staff or administrative positions.

Yet some members of the Brown community linger long after their undergraduate years, experiencing life at the University from nearly every perspective. They share a loyalty and a love for Brown, but they have unique reasons for returning and ultimately for sticking around. 

There and back again

In 1994, with nothing more than two suitcases and the promise of a friend’s couch to sleep on, Peggy Chang ’91, director of the Curricular Resource Center, moved back to Providence.

The idea of working at the then-named “Resource Center” — a place that provided her with so much guidance as an undergrad — was appealing, she said. After experiencing a “tumultuous” first two years at Brown, Chang said the Center helped her navigate the leave-taking process.

Chang said she was pleased when offered a job at the Resource Center about a year after graduating. She accepted the position but admits she “really had no intention of staying.”

Rachel Spaulding ’00, director of the Brown Parents Program, returned for similar reasons. Spaulding graduated with an Sc.B. in psychology and wondered what she could do with her degree besides attending graduate school, she said. “I just needed a temp job. I needed something to do,” she said. The summer after graduation she got a job working for the director of University events.

“I graduated, and I was the best and the brightest, and for the rest of the summer I put labels on envelopes as centered as I could possibly make them,” Spaulding said, laughing. “It was an abrupt and difficult transition to make.”

More than two decades after first accepting her job, Chang now works with students and deans on academic and peer advising programs as director of the CRC.

Spaulding is now in her 15th consecutive year working for the University. She has worked in Public Affairs and University Relations, the Office of the President and the Division of Advancement.

Spaulding creates fundraising strategies and manages non-alumni parent solicitation, among other duties. “My life is great — I work with great people doing really enjoyable things that matter,” Spaulding said.

“I think Brown has an amazing thing going for it,” Chang said. “That’s why I’m still here.”

Off the beaten path

After graduating, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 accepted a summer job as a student life officer at the University to pay his way through Suffolk University Law School.

But upon beginning a career as a prosecutor, Carey “almost instantly realized that it wasn’t right,” he said. Switching paths, he called the University to see if there were any openings and has been back ever since.

“Virtually everything I’ve done at Brown has always been evolving,” he said, adding that Brown is a place that has had significance for him “personally and professionally.”

As an undergrad, Tracy Barnes ’83, director of Institutional Research, also thought she knew what path her employment would take. After studying psychology and Hispanic studies as an undergrad, she went on to receive a master’s in clinical psychology. But when she started a Ph.D. program, Barnes said she realized a career in clinical psychology was no longer what she wanted to do.

Barnes said she came back to Brown because she was “trying to decide what to do next.”

For 27 years, “my affection for the place has kept me here,” she said.

New campus perspectives

Several alums interviewed said the University has evolved since they were students. Carey noted that when he was an undergrad, there was not even a universal Brown email.

The feeling on campus now is “different — different in a good way,” Carey said. “What is consistent is a feeling of being a part of a place that is a community.”

As a student, Spaulding said she perceived herself and her education as being central to her experience. But “as a staff member, I felt like I was looking at the University from a vantage point where I felt like I could see the whole thing,” she said.

Carol Cohen ’83, associate dean of the college for first-year and sophomore studies, said she often shares her own experiences as an undergrad with students, especially on issues pertaining to mental health.

“My experience as a student was mixed … once I landed here professionally, a lot of that uncertainty was gone,” Cohen said.

Cohen, who concentrated in American Civilization, worked at a Jewish Community Center upon graduating but soon returned to Brown in search of a job. She began working at the Admissions Office and became a dean in 1989.

“My time here as a student really shapes my work,” Cohen said.

Alternate endings

In 1968, as a first-year student, Bonnie Buzzell ’72 began working in the Sciences Library. After graduation, she was offered a different job there and decided to take it. Forty-seven years later, Buzzell is still working in a Brown library, now as a senior knowledge systems librarian at the Rockefeller Library.

As an undergrad, Buzzell studied studio art and hoped to pursue graphic design or “just get a job and do art on the side,” she said.

Though she hasn’t done much art since graduating, she said working in the library has been “a really good fit” and “a fun career because of all the technological changes.”

“Indirectly, I’ve had input to thousands of students,” Buzzell said, reflecting on the years she spent working at the circulation desk.

Throughout her career, Buzzell has seen a number of opportunities to leave Brown. Just weeks into her new job at the SciLi, Buzzell was offered a position at a graphic design company in a different city. She turned it down.

“I do wonder what would have happened,” Buzzell said, though she added she does not regret the choice to stay. “I like Providence. I like Rhode Island. I’m very fortunate.”

Other alums echoed this sentiment.

MaryLou McMillan ’85, senior director for planning and student engagement, said she has occasionally questioned if what she is doing now is related to her expertise in public health and health education — McMillan concentrated in the former and received her master’s in both areas.

“Then I remind myself … I’m still using the way I think about community and health problems from a public health standpoint,” she said.

Buzzell said she has enjoyed being a librarian but is starting to think about retirement.

Despite those thoughts, Buzzell said  she “can’t imagine not being at Brown. I think it’s a beautiful place to be.”

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