Hanna Rodriguez-Farrar '87 MA'90 PhD'09 took over as President Ruth Simmons' new assistant in July, filling a position that had been without a full-time employee since 2008.
Marisa Quinn previously worked as the assistant to the president before becoming vice president of public affairs and University relations last year. Brenda Allen, then associate provost and director of institutional diversity replaced Quinn part-time during the interim period.
A member of the Corporation's Board of Trustees, Rodriguez-Farrar holds a master's degree and a doctorate from Brown's Department of Art and Architecture and has also studied and researched higher education at Harvard. She finished her dissertation on images of King Charles I of England last May.
Rodriguez-Farrar did not expect to get the position when Simmons called her in June. "I thought that she thought I might know people who would be good for the position," she said.
But Rodriguez-Farrar happily took the job. She said she is inspired to improve Brown and universities at large because education is the "silver bullet" necessary for social, economic and political change.
Rodriguez-Farrar has "the ideal combination of skills and experiences" for the job, Quinn said. "Hanna knows, understands and values Brown — having been a Brown student, graduate student, trustee and committed volunteer for the University."
"She's also a lot of fun to work with," Quinn added.
Rodriguez-Farrar has been curious about higher education policies ever since she was a Brown undergraduate. During her sophomore year, she had to leave Brown because her family went bankrupt and could not afford tuition. When she got the opportunity to return, she saw her time at Brown as a "huge privilege," she said.
"Higher education made all the difference in the world for my family," she said. "I want to give back to it."
Over the course of her many years at Brown, Rodriguez-Farrar has cleaned dishes at the Ratty, worked as a TA for HIAA0010: "Introduction to the History of Art and Architecture," served as president of the Brown Alumni Association and taught art at the University of Rhode Island, among other jobs.
Rodriguez-Farrar's knowledge of educational institutions, and of Brown in particular, helps her answer the question "what does this mean for the institution?" and also "know what's going on in the weeds," she said.
The role of assistant to the president depends on the personal style and goals of whoever fills it, Rodriguez-Farrar said, adding that the position includes many duties that vary day to day.
Both Quinn and Rodriguez-Farrar said one of the largest tasks for Simmons' assistant is to review and prioritize requests from Brown, Providence and the national and international communities.
Rodriguez-Farrar's tasks will also include helping Simmons adapt the Plan for Academic Enrichment to the current economic climate.
Having a blueprint like the PAE prevents Brown from losing sight of its long-term goals like many universities do, Rodriguez-Farrar said.
The challenge for the President's Office is "keeping everything we do on a day-to-day basis for that vision," she said. To accomplish this, the administration must "not just randomly chase the next shiny thing."
Students also should heed this advice, she said, adding that in college "there are a billion shiny things just flashing in your eyes," but it's important to make decisions with the big picture in mind.
"In every challenge there's an opportunity, but in every opportunity there's a challenge," she said.