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Swearer Center executive director steps down

Mathew Johnson will assume new role as Senior Fellow at Swearer Center

Mathew Johnson, associate dean of the College for engaged scholarship and director of the Carnegie Foundation Community Engagement Classification, stepped down from his position as executive director of the Swearer Center March 1. He will assume a new position as a senior fellow to focus on the expansion of the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, according to a Today@Brown announcement from Dean of the College Rashid Zia. Johnson began serving in the position in January 2016.


Associate Dean and Director of Student Development Betsy Shimberg will serve as interim executive director until a nationwide search finds Johnson’s successor.


“We are committed to ensuring the Swearer Center’s success after a period of tremendous growth,” Zia wrote in an email to The Herald. “In the interim, we know that the Center will be in good hands under (Shimberg)’s leadership.”


The University is “currently in the process of laying out our goals and a timeline for the search,” Zia wrote. The search for a new executive director is anticipated to take several months.


Johnson “and I have been working very closely to think about the transition and make sure that it is successful,” Shimberg said. “He has so much knowledge in his brain …  so he’s making sure that all of that transfers over (to me).”


Alhough not interested in a permanent executive director position, “to be in this role is pretty incredible for me,” Shimberg said. “I’m humbled that (the University) trusted me with this leadership.”


Johnson chose to step down because he wants “to explore new challenges” that he would not be able to if he continued to serve as executive director, he wrote in a statement to The Herald. “Specifically, I want to focus on the Carnegie Classification and help harvest insights about good practice from the recent application round to share with the field.”


The Carnegie Classification, which operates out of the Swearer Center, is a designation given to universities for success in community engagement. The University was awarded this designation Jan. 31, The Herald previously reported.


Johnson also plans on working with 16 Canadian and 20 Australian universities over the next two years to “adapt the classification to their national contexts” as well as “revise the U.S. classification application in preparation for the 2023 cycle” of university applications, he wrote. He also will serve as a representative of the Carnegie Foundation to explore new collaboration opportunities.


Johnson is proud of many of his accomplishments during his time as executive director, including “the shift we made from seeing community partners as a place of need to seeing community partners as true partners, imbued with wisdom, knowledge and agency,” Johnson wrote. He is also proud of “the diversity and inclusion work we have done to make Swearer a much more inclusive space” and “the team of staff that came together to do the hard work of change.”


Johnson mentioned the growth of new programs such as Brown in Washington and the Bonner Community Fellowship as some of the highlights of his tenure as executive director, as well as “increased donor support and our move to a new location more fitting our needs.”


Shimberg said that one of Johnson’s most important accomplishments during his tenure was establishing a system to standardize Community Corps workshops, so that any staff member can step in to run a workshop if the need arises, she said.



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