Mary Jo Callan was appointed as Vice President for Community Engagement and Stark Family Executive Director of the Howard R. Swearer Center for Public Service, effective September 1, according to an August 31 campus-wide email from President Christina Paxson P’19.
This newly-established role expands on Callan’s previous position as the Swearer Center’s executive director. Callan’s duties will now also include reporting directly to the President’s Office on the Center’s administrative operations and co-chairing Brown’s new Community Engagement Council, which will bring together University administrators to work on community and civic engagement issues.
As vice president, Callan will work to ensure that the University’s community engagement initiatives are developed collaboratively alongside local community leaders to best reflect the city of Providence’s needs, Paxson wrote in the email.
“As a part of (the Swearer Center’s) recent strategic planning process, we heard from more than 200 campus and community stakeholders,” Callan said. “They shared their thoughts, concerns and ideas about how the Swearer Center, and Brown more broadly, can be most effective in our engagement, which deepened my understanding of what’s working, what’s not working and the ways we can improve.”
Callan will also help lead the search for the new director of civic engagement, the email said. This newly created role will seek to hire a community leader with experience working in Providence and a deep understanding of the city’s neighborhoods, organizations and people.
The University's search for candidates with connections to the Providence community reflects its desire to implement local voices intimately involved with the obstacles facing community members, according to Callan.
Finding candidates with “a keen sense of the opportunities and challenges inherent in strengthening and sustaining Brown’s positive engagement within Providence and beyond” will be a hiring priority, Paxson wrote.
Callan is determined to achieve this goal by developing strong personal relationships with stakeholders, adding that community support is essential to community engagement.
“I believe that we all possess the potential to be change agents to create a better community and world,” Callan said. “I think the real power to make that change lies between us, in our relationships and connections with others working toward a common purpose.”
Callan said she aims to bridge both existing and emerging community work at the University in order to make local initiatives more “visible” and “accessible.”
“This way, members of the external community can connect more easily with potential partners at Brown,” Callan added.
Callan hopes that her educational background will help her facilitate stronger collaboration between the University and its surrounding communities.
“My masters in social work and doctorate in higher education policy and leadership have prepared me to cross institutional and cultural boundaries in service to social justice,” she said.
Callan said she intends to increase the University’s involvement in areas such as “economic opportunity, sustainable futures and wellbeing for both its students” and the broader Providence community.
Shazain Khan ’24, a project lead within Students for Educational Equity working with the Swearer Center, said he is hopeful that Callan’s new position will open more doors for student organizations and advocates to more easily engage with the Swearer Center and collaborate to make a meaningful impact on the surrounding community.
Khan commended the newly streamlined process of shifting the Swearer Center’s administrative reporting from the College to the Office of the President. “Before such a position was clearly delineated, it was hard to get different departments involved and working outside of their silos, which is a major administrative problem at Brown,” he said.
Callan “will be such an incredible resource for expanding Swearer’s efforts,” said Cecile Schreidah ’24, a Swearer Center Bonner Community Fellow. “Her gift for developing meaningful relationships with those she works with will help connect people and institutions into helpful collaboration.”
Sofia Barnett is a senior staff writer reporting on faculty and higher education for University News. She is a sophomore from Texas studying history, politics, and nonfiction writing.