Date March 26, 2024
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Celebrating the contributions of Brown staff, supporting well-being

Through workshops, a guest keynote, excellence awards and a community celebration, Brown’s concurrent BEAR Day and Global Day of Inclusion events honored and boosted Brown employees.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — One of the most rewarding elements of Joel Simundich’s role at Brown is his one-on-one work with students as they navigate their academic careers and shape their next steps.

Simundich, assistant dean of the College for fellowships, had the opportunity to reflect on that work on the occasion of Brown’s annual BEAR Day, which celebrates the dedication and contributions of staff members across campus. He was among seven individuals and nine teams recognized for their leadership, service, innovation and more during an employee appreciation awards ceremony at the Salomon Center for Teaching.

The BEAR Day festivities capped off a day filled with workshops and presentations that were part of Brown’s Global Day of Inclusion — marking a robust series of events on College Hill on Tuesday, March 26, that championed and supported employees, organized by University Human Resources and the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity.

A community care theme resonated clearly during both the workshops and at the afternoon awards ceremony, where dozens of staff members were recognized with Excellence Awards. The recipients represented a wide and varied spectrum of schools, departments, centers and offices at Brown.

“Each and every one of you really is a vital part of our community and, for sure, its unwavering success,” Vice President for Human Resources Marie Williams told staff at the BEAR Day event. “But what is even more impressive is how the excellence of Brown University staff continues despite the many hardships that have arisen in our world [and] on our campus throughout the year and past several months. It really truly is a testament to our resiliency and ability to adapt and grow.”

Global Day of Inclusion promotes well-being

All of the day’s events were rooted in the theme of “self-care is community care.” Before the BEAR Day ceremony, Brown’s third Global Day of Inclusion offered workshops focused on topics ranging from developing mindfulness strategies to building lifestyle changes that support self-care.

The events commenced with a morning keynote address from Sara Coodin, director of academic affairs for the American Jewish Committee, a non-partisan organization and one of the oldest Jewish advocacy groups in the United States, she said.

Speaking to an audience of hundreds gathered in the Salomon Center’s De Ciccio Auditorium and virtually on Zoom, Coodin discussed violence in the Middle East and spoke about the rise in reports of discrimination, harassment and unrest. In a moment when “temperatures are really high,” Coodin said, it’s critical for academic communities to enable opportunities for people with multiple points of view, identities and perspectives to engage in dialogue that may pave the way for solutions.

“[We’re] working toward that sense of creating room for not just Jews, but for everyone, because that’s what creates the kind of buttress against… tyranny, effectively being told what we can and cannot do, being told that we can’t speak truth to power,” Coodin said. “We need to work toward that goal of being able to actually restore the kinds of conversations that will bear fruit in the future in ways that we can’t possibly predict today.”

Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Sylvia Carey-Butler moderated a Q&A with Coodin, and the talk was followed by a series of workshops centered around strategies for advancing community and self-care. Events included a self-care workshop with psychotherapist Corey Martin Fitzgerald, outreach coordinator for Counseling and Psychological Services at Brown, and a mindfulness workshop with Patricia Holland, an assistant professor of the practice of behavioral and social sciences.

BEAR Day honorees weigh in

Among the Excellence Award winners during the BEAR Day ceremony were Simundich, who landed an Excellence Award for Innovation; and Mac Manning, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who directs Brown’s Office of Military-Affiliated Students and received an Excellence Award for Diversity and Inclusion.

Both took a moment to share their reactions to the recognition and their reflections on their work at Brown.

Christian “Mac” Manning

Q: What was your reaction to this recognition?

It feels really good to be recognized for the work I do. I feel very fortunate to work at a place like Brown that has been nothing but supportive and wants to see the military-affiliated population continue to grow and thrive.

Q: How does your work advance diversity and inclusion at Brown?

Military-affiliated students add a unique dynamic that’s really important to the overall culture at Brown. Statistically, veterans come from lower- to middle-class backgrounds, and less than 1% of the U.S. population serves in the military, so you’re looking at a very small but important subcategory that is now ingrained into the population at Brown. A veteran-student may be the first military-affiliated veteran that their first-year peers have ever met, so that creates some really interesting and important opportunities.

Q: In your two years at Brown, what stands out most?

We fulfilled the Veterans Initiative a whole year ahead of schedule to enroll and support more veterans, which was fantastic. We also doubled our staff — to two of us — and Program Coordinator Becky Scheusner’s impact has been profound. Having the diversity of a female veteran on the staff has been fantastic. And we’re in the process of getting a new campus space for military-affiliated students.

Q: Why do you like working with this population of students?

They bring a vast diversity of experience to Brown, from different branches of the military and many different backgrounds. But the other piece is that the Brown military-affiliated students are just as authentically part of the Brown community as any other specialized population. They face a lot of the same challenges, sometimes feel imposter syndrome and say, ‘Do I really deserve to be at this amazing place?’ These students are so incredible and so impressive, but they don’t always realize it. That’s one of the ways we work to support students holistically.

Q: In what way is your role challenging?

As the military-affiliated community has grown, so has our focus in terms of providing resources and services. And when you’re dealing with a specialized population, there is no cookie-cutter answer to supporting them. So it’s been a matter of building programmatic efforts that are really digestible to everybody, and the students can à-la-carte pick how they want to utilize it.

Q: Why did you choose this role?

My military career isn’t what defines me, but it’s the combination of my experience in higher education, my time as a service member and my knowledge base that make me a really good fit for the University and the Brown culture. I am lucky to have fallen into a career that gives me a really meaningful impact in terms of supporting a population that is worth supporting. I really enjoy the work.

Joel Simundich

Q: What was your reaction to this recognition?

I was surprised! We talk with students when they’re applying for fellowships about really trying to recognize that regardless of whether they get a fellowship, it’s an opportunity to see themselves. And this was a moment where I felt seen in a really nice way.

Q: What does your role entail?

As an assistant dean, I work with undergraduates and recent transfer students, helping them transition to life at Brown. I also work with students who are facing some form of academic difficulty and who have encountered an obstacle or challenge to their undergraduate studies, and I help them make an academic plan and work to return to good standing. The other side of this work is supporting students in their first, second, third and fourth years at Brown — as well as alums — who are interested in fellowships, including national and international fellowships or postgraduate opportunities. We go through the whole advising process and work with students a lot in revising their applications, as well as preparing for any sort of interview or next stage of the process.

Q: Why do you like working with Brown students?

What I enjoy so much about this work is being able to meet one-on-one with students and really think with them intentionally about their time here — and what they’d like to do after.

Q: In what way is your role challenging?

Well, rewarding and challenging. For me, advising comes from that place where you’re really trying to attend to the whole person, working from a student-centered perspective. Whatever that help, support and encouragement looks like, it really starts from the student. And I think that’s the only way to get toward some form of educational justice: making sure that folks are really empowered by the resources of the University.

Q: What has been your career trajectory?

I graduated from Brown in 2017 with my Ph.D. in English literature, and during my Ph.D., I found myself really enjoying student advising and all the different ways culture is fostered here. I worked as an academic advisor for a few years, and when a position opened in the fellowships office, I jumped at it.

Q: In your time at Brown, what stands out most?

I’ve taught at five or six different universities, and working with students at Brown is truly unique. The students at Brown are wildly creative, they are super resourceful, and they do so many amazing things day in and day out. The students I work with are posing necessary questions, living out their questions, and trying to act on the values and principles that they hold — and that’s encouraged me to think of my own values and my own principles and encouraged me to act on them. I’m also incredibly lucky to be supported by a really wonderful team of people — including my team, Ashley Gayle and Amanda Notarantonio, and the co-curricular team of the College — so we’re all working together to address this side of learning.