Dear Brown Alumni and Parents:

I want to start my annual fall letter by sharing my excitement that Brown again is expected to be a top producer in the nation for the number of Fulbright student scholars preparing to teach, study or conduct research abroad this academic year.

For two years in a row, Brown produced more student Fulbrights than any other university in the country. And for this year, 35 amazing scholars — 29 graduates of the Class of 2018, two recent graduates of other classes and four graduate students — have earned the prestigious Fulbright award. I want to wish them well as they begin their work in 25 countries around the world.

This is only one of many Brown achievements to celebrate. I welcome this opportunity to share several highlights that illustrate how our students, faculty and staff are advancing Brown’s mission to serve the nation and the world with distinction.

As I write, the EquiSAT satellite built by Brown students (for under $4,000) and launched by NASA is orbiting the earth, propelled by an educational mission to engage the public and K-12 educators around space technology. At the same time, a major grant from the Mellon Foundation is funding an initiative of the Leadership Alliance at Brown, which is supporting underrepresented students who conduct research in the humanities and social sciences. And another grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities is supporting faculty research to preserve historic clay tablets in war-torn Syria.

I’m proud that Brown is making a difference in the lives of millions of families as we build strength in teaching and research for tackling brain disorders like ALS, Alzheimer’s disease and psychiatric illness at the Carney Institute for Brain Science. Thanks to a $100 million gift to the institute, faculty and students are addressing paralysis and traumatic brain injuries, and contributing to a better understanding of the mysteries of the brain.

I am just as proud that we are advancing our commitment to bring the best and brightest students to Brown, regardless of their family income. A year ago, we launched The Brown Promise financial aid initiative, which aims to reduce the debt burdens of our students. Next week will see the arrival of 1,452 students — from first-year students to seniors — whose University loans in their financial aid packages have been replaced with Brown scholarships. This success is due to the exceptional generosity of our alumni and parents, and I count on your continued support as we complete the ambitious fundraising effort required to sustain this initiative over time.

Building Brown’s Academic Distinction

As Brown embarks on a new academic year, 2018-19 begins with a notable milestone. This October will mark five years since the Corporation of Brown University approved the strategic plan Building on Distinction: A New Plan for Brown, which reflects Brown’s commitment to excellence in all that we do.

The impact of Building on Distinction is felt every day in the lives of those who work and live on campus. Guided by the strategic plan, we are building learning opportunities, such as the Brown in Washington Program offering a practicum in civic engagement, and the BrownConnect internship program. We also are investing in endowed professorships that help us recruit and retain the best teachers and scholars. Through the BrownTogether fundraising campaign, we have raised over 60 new endowed professorships to support strategic priorities.

The effects of the plan are also seen in physical enhancements to the campus. For example, we are nearing the end of the transformation of Friedman Hall (formerly Wilson Hall) into a fully accessible, state-of-the-art facility for teaching and learning. This year will also see the completion of the expansion of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs; the launch of construction for the Performing Arts Center to serve as a hub for the performing arts on campus; and multi-million dollar improvements to athletics facilities, including the Marston boat house and Olney-Margolies Athletic Center (OMAC).

These investments and others are bolstering Brown’s strength while shaping an engaged, cohesive campus. We are pioneering research by faculty members on everything from the opioid epidemic to criminal justice reform to quantum computing. We are being recognized as a champion of free expression, academic freedom and open inquiry. And we continue to serve as a national model for our expansive diversity and inclusion work that recognizes that academic excellence cannot exist without diversity of experience and perspectives embedded in our teaching, research and scholarship.

Of course the framework for all this work is a commitment to economic sustainability and operational excellence. We are developing the financial resources needed to advance Building on Distinction through fundraising, skilled endowment management, the careful use of resources and more generally making Brown an exceptionally well-run University — agile, efficient, open to progress and with a culture of collaboration and innovation. 

Success in these efforts would not be possible without your support. As the University shared earlier this summer, Brown raised $389 million in 2018, the biggest fundraising year Brown has ever had. Brown Annual Fund giving this year reached an all-time high of $45.8 million from more than 32,000 donors, reflecting the generous spirit of the Brown community.

Engaging Alumni and the Black Alumni Reunion

Last May, at Reunions and Commencement, I was reminded of the great affinity Brunonians feel for each other. This year, there will be many opportunities to strengthen bonds within and across generations of our students, alumni and parents.

I am excited about the Black Alumni Reunion which will take place September 21-23. The reunion will honor the shared history of 1968-era black alumni who were on the front lines fighting for African American representation at Brown, as well as each generation of students who worked to expand upon earlier successes. The gathering will underscore how Brown continues to break ground on the unfinished business of securing racial equality and social justice — in our communities, the nation and the world.

Looking ahead, I invite you to stay connected by attending regional gatherings or returning to campus for Alumni Fall Weekend, Family Weekend, our Veteran’s Day activities, Reunion and other events. Know that everything you do — as engaged alumni, volunteers, donors, mentors and parents — contributes enormously to the Brown experience for our amazing students, faculty and staff. 

As always, it remains an honor and a privilege to serve this extraordinary community, and I look forward to the promise of the coming academic year.



Christina Paxson