Cultivating self and nurturing community: Brown celebrates 29th annual Staff Development Day

More than 1,000 University staff convened on campus for a spirited day brimming with workshops, tours, discussions, community engagement projects and more.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The College Green and Wriston Quad filled with faces and festivities as Brown University staff convened on Wednesday, June 14, for the University’s 29th annual Staff Development Day. The celebration featured on- and off-campus events, professional development workshops and opportunities for employees to connect with one another and the local community. 

With 1,300 staff members registered for more than 70 sessions, employees engaged in a wide range of activities, from acupuncture and diversity, equity and inclusion workshops, to volunteer opportunities at local farms and a children’s book drive.

At the start of Staff Development Day, Brown President Christina H. Paxson addressed employees gathered in the Salomon Center for Teaching and celebrated the stellar turnout and robust participation in the day's activities. She also reflected on staff members’ commitment to Brown’s mission-driven ethos.

“I hope you are taking tremendous pride in everything that we did at Brown last year,” Paxson said. “Regardless of what your job title is, you’re contributing fully to the Brown mission… Thank you for everything you do.”

Paxson introduced keynote speaker Donna Hicks, an expert in reconciliation who coaches individuals and organizations on dignity in leadership and relationships. Hicks, an associate at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, encouraged staff to find fulfillment through connection with themselves, colleagues and “something larger than ourselves.”

“We all want dignity,” Hicks said. “When we are treated with dignity, we flourish.”

After Hicks’ keynote, staff members scattered to embark on the day’s events, spread across morning and afternoon sessions. Between sessions, employees enjoyed lunch at the Sharpe Refectory, and also perused and shopped at Leslie’s Farmers Market set up on Wriston Quad under white-tented booths featuring everything from hot sauce to holiday ornaments.

Underpinned by this year’s theme, “Cultivating self: Nurturing community,” Staff Development Day offerings emphasized events that supported personal growth and facilitated community engagement. Sessions ranged from service activities, tours and trainings, to discussions about topics like race and ethnicity through the lens of hair types, and accessibility in higher education.

In Brown's carpentry shop, about 15 staff members gathered to build a Little Free Library and whimsical bookshelves, which will be donated to the Brown Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center and the Mount Hope YMCA. Little Free Library is a global initiative designed to provide free, community-wide book exchanges to increase access to reading.

Working with Andrew Avery, supervisor of structural trades in Brown's Facilities Management department, employees learned what happens in the warehouse-style carpentry shop — which fielded 10,000 work orders in the past year — and that the two Little Free Libraries were being constructed from recycled materials from other campus projects.

Jorge Muñoz, a member of Facilities Management's service response team, was excited to learn carpentry techniques that he could use at his newly purchased condo. By helping to build the Little Free Library, he was grateful for his newfound knowledge of power tools and the impact he was making on the community.

“Books can really expand someone’s world,” Muñoz said.

While waiting her turn to use the wood sander, Winnie Gier said she felt particularly connected to the Little Free Library project since she and her husband want to build one for their neighborhood. 

“Reading is super important for kids and having a resource for kids to get books and give books just when they’re walking to school or playing with their friends will be really nice,” said Gier, a communications and outreach coordinator for the Department of Visual Art.

Event attendees also had the chance to build commemorative Staff Development Day picture frames and learn epoxy techniques.

Off campus, in Providence’s Jewelry District, staff volunteers were greeted by the sound of enthusiastically barking dogs as they arrived at an afternoon Staff Development Day session at theh Providence Animal Rescue League. Brown employees broke into groups and took turns touring the shelter and giving some love to kittens, guinea pigs and rabbits.

Just outside the shelter, other Brown staff members walked dogs around the neighborhood and donned gloves to create enrichment pet toys covered with wet dog food.  

Rachel Snider, Providence Animal Rescue League's community engagement manager, also introduced staff to the Pet Food Pantry, which provides pet food to families in need so they can keep their pets. As pet owners themselves, many of the event participants felt a special kinship with the animals and the rescue league’s mission.

“To be able to give back to the community and help our community neighbors, including our furry ones, is great,” said Kimberly Abbott, financial operations and customer receivables manager in Student Financial Services.

In just his second week at Brown, Alex Minder, an associate director in the Finance Division, appreciated the chance to get to know his new colleagues through the day’s activities.

“It’s been really nice to see the people who work here and get a sense of the community,” Minder said. “It’s really great to be giving back already.”