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BEST program propels aspiring admins

Graduate student administrator hopefuls hone skills with help from academic sponsors

In its fifth year, the Brown Executive Scholars Training Program is a one-of-a-kind experience offered to 10 graduate students interested in learning more about university administration. The 12-week program, which began Jan. 20, includes weekly seminars and roundtable discussions. Participants are assigned academic sponsors to help further their academic pursuits.

“No one has developed a 12-week, or semester-long, program that is designed to prepare students for leadership roles in administration. It is the only program structured and formalized this way,” said Jabbar Bennett, associate dean of the graduate school, who founded the program and has run it since its inception.

In mid-November, applicants sent in their resumes, personal statements and letters of recommendation from their individual departments, ranging from American Studies to Neuroscience. The 10 selected scholars began attending  seminars at the start of the spring semester.

Each weekly meeting involves an hour-long talk given by a chosen speaker, which is followed by a 30-minute roundtable discussion during which participants ask clarifying questions and discuss what they learned, Bennett said.

“(We’re) getting to hear and see the individual and personal perspective from these administrators,” said Jonathan Sozek GS. “That’s not just stuff you can get on a website. You’re not looking at a description but you’re hearing from administrators willing to share their own struggles and successes.”

Some participants said they felt one of the most valuable parts of the BEST experience is the roundtable discussions.

“Everyone is from a different background, and great minds come together to create fresh, innovative ideas,” said Mariam Irshad GS.

Other scholars said they felt the ability to do hands-on work and get individualized attention from their academic sponsors is the most beneficial part of the program.

“It’s an opportunity for us to engage with graduate students. It is an opportunity for them to see and imagine the possibilities,” said Liza Cariaga-Lo, vice provost for academic development, diversity and inclusion and an academic sponsor for a BEST participant this year. “We are a window into the pros and cons of these types of career trajectories,” she added.

Arielle Nitenson GS said, “It’s not just the passive having people talk to you, but having someone who’s there for you and is a resource for you. Having a sponsor means having someone who’s actually going to pay attention to you, someone to say ‘Where do you want to go? Let me help you get there.’”

Participants have the option of working on a practicum with their academic sponsor. But the support participants receive does not come from the sponsors alone.

“It’s refreshing to see how accessible the sponsors, the presenting administrators and Dean Bennett have made themselves to us and how willing they are to help us in our development as professionals,” said Pierre Lucien GS, adding that administrators have put him in touch with others who can help advance his career. “There are a lot of folks that I’ve been in contact with because they’ve made the connection for me. It’s an extended support network,” he said.

The BEST program helps participants find positions not only outside of the University but also internally. The University has hired several past participants, including Sara Emmenecker Santos MA’11, who works as the associate director of Brown Annual Fund’s Annual Leadership Programs, and Oscar Perez PhD’11, who was assistant director for diversity initiatives at the Brown Center for Students of Color, formerly known as the Third World Center.

Many participants emphasized that the program, above all, is a learning experience to see how universities operate and what an administrative role could entail.

“The BEST program is a perfect example of what deans can do to impact their community,” said Lauren Quattrochi GS. “More people should take advantage of it. It’s not something that’s on every campus.”


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