Date August 31, 2022
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With new senior leadership role, Brown to strengthen commitment to Providence and Rhode Island

As Brown’s first vice president for community engagement, Mary Jo Callan will grow positive engagement locally by developing, leading and coordinating programs, partnerships and other activities.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — To deepen its relationships across Providence and Rhode Island and advance its ability to make a positive impact locally, Brown University has established a cabinet-level position leading community engagement strategy and initiatives. The move elevates the role of the current leader of Brown’s Swearer Center for Public Service, with a move to the Office of the President.

Mary Jo Callan, who serves as the Swearer Center’s executive director, will add new responsibilities that include developing, leading and coordinating engagement efforts as the University’s first-ever vice president for community engagement and Stark Family executive director of the Swearer Center, beginning Sept. 1, 2022.

Brown President Christina H. Paxson said the cabinet-level role illustrates a key institutional commitment to elevating the focus on effective and cohesive community engagement in Providence and Rhode Island and cultivating a broader range of relationships aligned with the University’s core mission of serving society through education, research and partnerships.

“Brown is committed to refining and deepening its relationship with the city and state we call home,” Paxson said. “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.”

Brown has a long history of commitment to the local community, with engagement initiatives based in academic centers, offices and projects across campus and leadership from the Office of Government and Community Relations in supporting connections between the University and external partners, said Paxson and Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell C. Carey in an Aug. 31 letter announcing Callan’s vice presidency.

“These efforts will continue, and the Office of Government and Community Relations will be a key strategic thought and action partner for the vice president,” they wrote.

The benefit of senior leadership to support positive partnerships will enable those efforts to have a greater impact and be more responsive to the community, they noted. Callan will report to Carey with a dotted line and frequent, direct collaboration with Paxson.

In my expanded new role, I look forward to fostering — in consultation and collaboration with Providence and Rhode Island community leaders and stakeholders — programming and initiatives that reflect community interests and values and that align with our mission of education, research and service at Brown University.

Mary Jo Callan Brown University’s first Vice President for Community Engagement
Mary Jo Callan

In addition, the creation of the new vice presidency will be accompanied by a newly created position of director of civic engagement, for which Callan will lead a search. Paxson and Carey wrote that “the 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.”

A leading practitioner and scholar of community-engaged scholarship and service, Callan has served as executive director of the Swearer Center and associate dean for engaged scholarship since May 2021.

“Throughout my career, I’ve seen the power of intentional and sustained engagement to transform, unite and strengthen individuals and communities,” Callan said. “In my expanded new role, I look forward to fostering — in consultation and collaboration with Providence and Rhode Island community leaders and stakeholders — programming and initiatives that reflect community interests and values and that align with our mission of education, research and service at Brown University.”

Carey said that despite a significant array of successful and longstanding partnerships, community members express that connecting with the University initially can be difficult and that Brown’s organizational structures can be challenging to navigate.

“Contributing to the community is an enduring and widely held value among Brown faculty, staff and students,” Carey said. “It is clear that our current and future efforts will have greater positive impact and be more responsive to the community with the benefit of focused, senior leadership facilitating and supporting effective and sustainable partnerships and opportunities for mission-oriented community engagement.”

As vice president, Callan will collaborate with a wide range of offices, faculty, staff and students to deepen meaningful and sustainable relationships between Brown, Providence and Rhode Island. She will continue to lead the Swearer Center, which will move its administrative reporting 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,” Paxson said. “While the new vice president guides initiatives at a University-wide level, Swearer will maintain strong connections with the provost, the academic deans, and in particular, the College.”

Callan will develop and co-chair with Marguerite Joutz, chief of staff to the president, a Community Engagement Council comprising Brown administrators who work on community and civic engagement issues.

Making an impact

Callan will draw upon a distinguished career dedicated to promoting inclusive and equitable community partnerships. Since joining the Swearer Center, she 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 partners with fairness and mutuality.

Prior to leading the Swearer Center, Callan was director of the Edward Ginsberg Center at the University of Michigan, which helps students, staff and faculty create positive social change through community-engaged teaching, research and service. 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.

During her career, Callan also 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, she led efforts to illuminate and address growing racial and economic inequities in the region.

“As vice president for community engagement for Brown, I look forward to working closely with community and campus partners to align policies, programs and initiatives that support beneficial outcomes for all,” Callan said. “My efforts will build on Brown’s long commitment to Providence and Rhode Island and the important work of many faculty, staff and students who have built lasting connections with community members and groups, nonprofit organizations and governmental partners.”

Callan earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Michigan and holds a doctorate in educational policy and leadership from the College of William and Mary.