As a first-generation college student and native of Richmond, Whitney Brown had high aspirations to improve life in her community. She channeled those ambitions into public service in Virginia and Richmond, where she will continue to serve after graduation, and has never looked back.
Prior to attending Virginia Commonwealth University, Brown was an officer with the Richmond Police Department. Her work experiences have given her perspective on the complexities of governance and public service.
“Being a police officer has helped me emphasize the importance of community engagement, community outreach and maintaining strong relationships of mutual trust between the government and its constituents,” said Brown, who earned a master’s degree in May. in public administration L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “I also think it helped me frame things through a social justice framework and an equity lens.”
After earning her undergraduate degree in legal studies, government services and public policy at Penn State University, Brown, who grew up in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, sought further education and became familiar with the strong reputation and ranking of the MPA program at the Wilder School. She liked the idea of staying local and also got tuition coverage as a double Wilder Graduate Researchers scholarship holder, a key factor that determined her decision to go to doctoral school.
In addition to her rigorous coursework, Brown gained work experience as a Virginia Fellow of the Governor at the office of Governor Ralph Northam’s Secretary of Administration. She made such an impact that when her fellowship ended, she was chosen to stay on as a special assistant and program manager.
Brown has conducted research on policies related to COVID-19, data compliance, gender and sexual orientation in worker protections and employee engagement. She has also provided strategic advice and analysis on policy developments and implemented diversity, equity and inclusion pilot projects in state agencies. Additionally, she wrote speeches and talking points for the Governor, First Lady, and President Pro Tempore of the Virginia Senate and served as Program Coordinator for the Annual Meeting. women in innovation conference.
While at the Wilder School, Brown gained extensive research experience. She has developed several research projects, including the Goochland Housing Needs Assessmentand author blog posts for Housing Forward Virginiaauthored an article on “Ensuring health protection in prisons during COVID-19” with recommendations for the Virginia COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force and presented research on best practices for local government transitions as Founding Member of the American Society for Public Administration 2022.
Somehow, during her busy schedule, she found time to become the General Vice President of the Public Administration Student Association of VCU and a member of the Board of Trustees of the City of Richmond Human Rights Commission and Maggie Walker Community Land Trust. She has also volunteered with the Richmond OAR, for Richmond City Council member Stephanie Lynch, and even refereed basketball for Richmond area high schools.
“My inspiration for giving back is to give people access, or better access, to things that I never had,” Brown said. “It’s a way of combining my passions and the things I love with the needs of others. I want to make the world a better place than it was when I arrived, that’s why I give back.
Brown has accumulated numerous accolades, including fellowships with Housing Opportunities Unlimited and Housing Forward Virginia, the VCU 2021 Edward E. Willey Graduate Award for Excellence, a VCU Department of African American Studies Black History in the Making Award, and induction into Pi Alpha Alpha National Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration. His team achieved third place in the international ranking Network of Schools of Public Policy, Business and Administration NASPAA-Student Batten simulation contest.
“I think the two things that helped me succeed at VCU were not being afraid to fail and taking advantage of opportunities,” Brown said. “A lot of things I received or did were because I wasn’t afraid of rejection or failure.
“Honestly, I was overwhelmed at times, and got myself into awkward positions trying new things, but it all worked out, and being uncomfortable helps you grow.”
She will soon be sharing more of her experiences and perspectives as a graduate candidate speaker at the Wilder School launch event.
Brown credits her success to the support and affirmation of her mother and the career guidance and support she received from Wilder School Dean Susan Gooden, Ph.D.; Shajuana Isom-Payne, Ph.D., Associate Dean of Student Success; Nia Rodgers, Public Affairs Research Librarian; and faculty members of Brown’s MPA program, among many other supporters along the way.
“I’m by no means the perfect student, but I work hard and always try to do my best,” Brown said. “I deserve all the good things that come my way.”
After graduation, Brown will focus on his new role as Chief of Staff and Council Liaison for Richmond First District Council Member Andreas Addison. Brown’s career aspirations continue to grow, but her goal is clear.
“I just want to continue to be a public servant who works directly with citizens,” Brown said. “I want to help inform policy and legislation to build a more equitable world.”
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