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BrownConnect celebrates five-year anniversary

Initiative increases LINK, UTRA award stipends beginning summer of 2020

For two hours on Thursday, the CareerLAB found itself at the center of Brown’s party scene, as attendees poured into 167 Angell St. to celebrate the five-year anniversary of BrownConnect — an initiative that provides students with internships, funding opportunities and alumni connections.

Inside the party, red and white balloons cluttered the space. A photo booth gave students the opportunity to pose in front of gold streamers with their choice of an Instagram border cutout, birthday hats and signs. In the far corner of the room, students signed the edges of a large poster bearing a giant red number five with a candle on top.

“I’m thrilled with (our success),” said Aixa Kidd, director of BrownConnect and deputy director of CareerLAB. “We have a strong alumni and parent community that is really engaged with our students and . . . wants to be a part of their growth.”

BrownConnect launched in 2014 as part of President Christina Paxson’s P’19 initiative to increase student access to both quality internships and the Brown alum network. In the 2018-19 academic year, 23,175 students and alums used the website, according to BrownConnect’s 2018-19 report.

In its five-year existence, 3,227 students have received a total of $3.2 million from summer awards — including Linking Internship and Knowledge Awards and Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards, both of which fund low-paid or unpaid internships and research projects.

And in 2020, these stipends will increase — LINK and UTRA award recipients will receive at least $4,000 for domestic opportunities and $5,500 for international opportunities, up from $3,500 and $5,000, respectively, according to Matthew Donato, director of CareerLAB.

Before BrownConnect was launched, “there were different pieces (of the current program) that lived a little bit everywhere,” Kidd said.

BRUnet provided students access to over 6,000 alums — now, BrownConnect connects students to about 53,000, Kidd said. LINK awards have increased from about 60 to 265 under BrownConnect, Kidd added, and signature programs, which let students explore industries of interest in cities across the globe, have grown from two programs to 11.

Genine Fidler ’77 P’04 P’12 , co-chair of the President’s Advisory Council on Internships, said off-campus enrichment opportunities are central to Brown’s mission.

“It’s really part of taking the College Hill experience to the real world,” she said. “That’s a particularly Brown thing. The special sauce is to take what you’re working on in the classroom to real-world problems, and that’s what these internships and research opportunities provide the opportunity to do.”

A key feature of BrownConnect is Bruno internships, which are opportunities that give high priority to Brown students during the application process, usually because the employer is a Brown parent or alum. Kaetlyn Liddy ’21.5 landed a Bruno internship with MasterClass, an online education platform based in San Francisco. She said the advantage that University students receive through these opportunities are the primary strength of BrownConnect.

“Sometimes (companies) are looking for specific qualities that Brown students tend to have,” she said. “Applying for something through BrownConnect already makes you feel a little bit qualified because you already know you’ve checked at least one of their boxes.”

Emily Adams ’18 worked for BrownConnect for two years as a marketing intern and event volunteer. Adams said that the alum contacts she made through the site have played a huge role in her career advancement. Through BrownConnect, Adams secured funding for an internship with filmmaker Judd Apatow and met alums such as writer and producer Jonathan Groff  ’83. Adams now works in entertainment in Los Angeles.

“I wouldn’t professionally be where I’m at without the LINK award, without Jonathan Groff and these other alums that really leaned heavily into helping their student body and their alma mater purely out of wanting to pay it forward.” Adams said.

Looking ahead, Kidd and her team remain “focused on the next five years.” Key to the future success of the program, she said, will be increased funding. “We need more resources as we continue to grow,” she said. “We can’t sustain our own growth, but that’s a great problem to have.”

“We’re viewing (the five-year anniversary) as both a celebration of the impact that we believe the program has had . . . and as the beginning of a re-launch for BrownConnect,” Donato said.

Donato hopes to increase opportunities for face-to-face interactions between students and alums. “We’re really trying to take the idea of networking and make it real for students,” he said. “Make real opportunities for students to have a conversation with an alum, get some mentoring and maybe open a door or explore a career path that they didn’t even know existed before.”

Additionally, the BrownConnect team is looking to continue increasing its visibility on campus. “Every year I’m always surprised by how many students don’t know about BrownConnect,” Kidd said. “I think there’s a fear of networking, and so we’re working with our programs to make sure our students understand that alumni and parents really do want to talk to you. Don’t be afraid to (reach out) to them — they have great opportunities just waiting for you.”

The summer after his sophomore year, James Yoon ’17 used BrownConnect to secure a Bruno internship in neurosurgery with Michael Lawton ’86. Yoon received a LINK award for the internship, which he said was crucial for covering the high costs of living in San Francisco. After Yoon returned for a second summer, Lawton offered him a research fellowship for one year between graduation and medical school. Now a medical student at Yale, Yoon continues to help Lawton grow his internship program through BrownConnect.

“Don’t be afraid,” Yoon advised current undergraduates seeking summer internships. “If the Brown alumni is posting an opportunity or their contact information, they are volunteering to talk to you and mentor you. … Shoot your shot.”



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