Dear Members of the Brown Community,

Brown is committed to refining and deepening its relationship with the city and state we call home. For more than a year, multiple administrative offices across campus have been engaged in discussion about transforming the University’s engagement with the City of Providence and its residents, with the goal of cultivating a broader range of relationships aligned with our core mission of serving society through education, research and partnerships. As an educational institution, and an employer, we have an ongoing responsibility to ensure that we lead and make an impact on the community in positive ways.

A key element of these efforts is a decision to elevate the focus of the University on effective community engagement. Brown is establishing a cabinet-level position that will be responsible for developing, leading and coordinating the University’s strategy and initiatives related to community engagement across the institution.

We are pleased to announce the promotion of Mary Jo Callan — currently the executive director of the Swearer Center — to the position of Vice President for Community Engagement and Stark Family Executive Director of the Howard R. Swearer Center for Public Service, effective Sept. 1, 2022. In this elevated role, she will be charged with ensuring that community engagement initiatives and programs are developed in consultation and collaboration with Providence and Rhode Island community leaders and stakeholders, reflect community needs and values, and are aligned with the University mission of education and research.

Many across campus know Mary Jo as MJ, who came to Brown in May 2021 to lead the Swearer Center. As vice president, she will continue in this role while reporting directly to the Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy with a dotted line and frequent access to and direct collaboration with the President. MJ’s promotion to Vice President for Community Engagement moves the administrative reporting of the Swearer Center from the College to the Office of the President. The Swearer Center will remain — in purpose and function — an important part of the educational mission of Brown, which was Howard Swearer’s founding vision.

Along with establishing the Vice President for Community Engagement role, the University will launch a search for a newly created position of Director of Civic Engagement. MJ will lead that search, and a priority will be to seek candidates from within the Providence community with professional and lived experience in the city’s neighborhoods, organizations and communities, and a keen sense of the opportunities and challenges inherent in strengthening and sustaining Brown’s positive engagement within Providence and beyond. In addition, as Vice President for Community Engagement, MJ will develop and co-chair with the President’s chief of staff, Marguerite Joutz, a newly formed Community Engagement Council that will comprise Brown administrators who work on community and civic engagement issues. She will align policies, programs and initiatives in support of an effective University strategy and beneficial outcomes, and will work closely with colleagues in a variety of areas.

Brown already has a long history of commitment to Providence and Rhode Island, including through the Office of Government and Community Relations (OGCR), whose staff does excellent work supporting connections between the University and neighbors, nonprofit organizations, and city, state and federal governmental partners. These efforts will continue, and OGCR will be a key strategic thought and action partner for the vice president. The University also will build on the multitude of existing campus outreach and engagement programs, initiatives and activities that provide countless benefits to participants and the community at large. Currently, our initiatives are dispersed across the University, and it is clear that our efforts will have greater positive impact, and be more responsive to the community, with the benefit of focused, senior leadership supporting effective and sustainable partnerships and opportunities.


MJ brings to the elevated vice president role her deep experience in promoting inclusive and equitable community partnerships. Prior to joining the Brown community last year, she was the director of the Edward Ginsberg Center at the University of Michigan. As a researcher, she has examined partnerships between universities and social or public sector organizations, with a particular focus on equity and reciprocity in those partnerships. Prior to arriving at University of Michigan, MJ served in elementary and secondary schools, local governments and youth-serving nonprofits such as Ozone House, a Michigan-based community organization providing support, training and assistance to high-risk youths and their families. As the founding director of the Office of Community and Economic Development in Washtenaw County, Michigan, MJ led efforts to illuminate and address growing racial and economic inequities in the region. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Michigan before earning a doctorate in educational policy and leadership at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

At the Swearer Center, MJ has led an engaged strategic planning process with the goal of upholding and accelerating the center’s commitments to community-engaged scholarship, teaching, research and service, and to deepening its commitment to engaging with community partners with fairness and mutuality. Moving the administrative reporting of Swearer to the Office of the President builds on the center’s new strategic plan. While the Vice President for Community Engagement guides initiatives at the University-wide level, Swearer will maintain strong connections with the Provost, the academic deans, and in particular the College. Swearer Center staff will continue to regularly connect and collaborate with the Dean and senior leaders of the College, and the Center will continue to support undergraduate student learning in many ways, including through engaged coursework, the Engaged Scholars Certificate and community-engaged fellowships and experiential learning opportunities such as the Royce Fellowship and the iProv SPRINT partnerships.

We are grateful to MJ for embracing this new position and the opportunity to lead across the institution, and we hope you’ll join us in congratulating her and committing to work with her to strengthen and improve Brown’s engagement with Providence and Rhode Island.


Christina H. Paxson



Russell C. Carey

Executive Vice President, Planning and Policy