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Mary Jo Callan selected to serve as executive director of the Swearer Center

Callan plans to prioritize anti-racist work, deepen connections between U., Providence community

Mary Jo Callan will step into the role of executive director of the University’s Swearer Center for Public Service and associate dean for engaged scholarship May 17, according to a University news release. Callan will replace Interim Director and Associate Dean Betsy Shimberg, who has led the Center since the previous executive director stepped down last March

Callan comes to Brown from the University of Michigan, where she served as the director of the Edward Ginsberg Center, which is focused on fostering meaningful university engagement in the surrounding community. 

She described feeling “really excited and humbled” about being selected to lead the Swearer Center. “I have followed the work of the Center, and Brown students have a pretty exceptional reputation as a student body really interested in social change and social justice,” Callan said. “That is what is particularly compelling about the opportunity and the selection.” 

The Center conducted a nationwide hiring search “that included input from students, staff, faculty and community partners,” Shimberg wrote in an email to The Herald.

The search committee reviewed over one hundred resumes and conducted first-round interviews for more than a dozen candidates before narrowing the pool down to several finalists, Dean of the College Rashid Zia ‘01 wrote in an email to The Herald. Each finalist then participated in a virtual visit, which included events that both allowed them to get to know the campus community and allowed the selection committee to better understand their strengths.

Zia explained that the committee ultimately chose Callan because of “her leadership role in community-based learning, her work as a community partner and her experience in local government,” he wrote. “During the interview and selection process, she prioritized an anti-racist framework for both management and programs, a relational focus on community and civic engagement, a coach-player approach to management and a record of accomplishments.” 

Callan stressed both the Center’s and her own commitment to anti-racist work. “The Swearer Center’s emphasis on University community engagement with a racial justice lens and emphasis is of particular importance to me,” she said. Doing this work at “a place like Brown” is an opportunity that she “didn't want to pass up,” she added.

Prior to joining the Ginsberg Center, Callan taught as a public school history and civics teacher before becoming executive director of the youth and housing development organization Ozone House. She said that these experiences greatly informed her path in community service work, teaching her how to fight for justice in responsible and tangible ways. 

Callan believes her depth of knowledge and experience has prepared her well for the new role. She also acknowledged that she still has “a ton to learn” about Providence and the work of the Swearer Center. “I really want to listen and learn and connect with people — both people on- and off-campus — to really understand what's going well, what's not going well and what we should be thinking about changing,” Callan said. “I really want (my work) to be informed by place. Place matters and I think that the people in that place matter most.” 

Both Zia and Shimberg expressed their excitement about Callan’s future with the University. Zia is “looking forward to Mary Jo’s deepening of community partner relationships, with a focus on our local communities here in Providence and greater Rhode Island.” 

“I expect that she will be a valued advisor, guide and role model for students in her role at the Swearer Center and as an Assistant Dean,” wrote Shimberg. “I am hopeful and optimistic that Mary Jo will lead the Swearer Center staff even futher into our efforts to become an anti-racist organization.” 

Callan said she does not yet have specific agenda items she would like to accomplish in her new role, as she would like to prioritize getting to know the needs of the Swearer Center community. 

“My biggest goal is to be a significant part of ensuring that Providence is better off because Brown is there,” she said. “Not just for the mayor or those with power and privilege, but for those who have been there for generations, for those who are not necessarily always included when we think about expanding opportunities.” 


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