UCR: Dr. Jennifer Brown to Lead Office of Undergraduate Education
By Dianne Anderson
Growing up in Chicago, Jennifer Brown attended technical high school, expecting to earn her college degree as an engineer, when reality hit.
In college, she came up against a few engineering courses that she couldn’t get into, and her plans were derailed. Her first choice for a career path was nowhere near her eventual calling.
“I was lost for a semester or two. I said whatever do I do?” she said. “But I found a career that enabled me to help the underdog.”
Horticulture, far off the beaten path, was something that she hadn’t given any thought to before, and the prospect opened up a whole new way of looking at the world.
“I used to get teased by family and friends – horticulture?” she said. “I would have never expected that this was something I could do.”
It was, indeed, the field where she excelled.
Today, she shares her message for high schoolers and undergraduates to keep an open mind to careers in less traditional fields. She calls for them to consider the possibilities.
In horticulture, she gained expertise and cornered a very niche marketing area for retail nurseries and garden centers. She traveled nationwide and worldwide within the industry while helping people succeed in their businesses.
On August 1, Dr. Brown steps into her position to lead UC Riverside’s Office of Undergraduate Education as vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Education.
She is currently transitioning from Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Professor of Horticulture at Oregon State University.
The two things that attracted her most to UCR was the campus commitment to diversity, and their partnership with University Innovation Alliance, an organization of several university presidents that are first-generation college graduates.
She said the UIA consortium addresses solutions to help reduce drop out rates in the first and second year of college with an approach and support members that are helping 100,000 students across the nation graduate.
Dr. Brown holds a bachelors and masters degree in horticulture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She holds a Ph.D. in horticulture from Michigan State University, and is skilled in specialty crops and consumer behavior.
At Oregon, where she has worked mostly with students in the masters and postdoctoral programs, she sees some overlap in approach to get students to success at the undergraduate level.
Coming into her new post at UCR, some of her duties include providing a voice and vision for undergraduate education, academic rigor, along with remedial programs. She will collaborate closely with faculty, colleges, deans, students, and advisors.
She said UCR is known as a trailblazing institution with a reputation for moving students to graduation. The university is making strides in supplemental instruction, which uses peers that complete their courses and return to help struggling students.
“There are a lot of universities doing these things, but Riverside is special. One thing that attracted me to them is because of their higher diversity within the community, and their ability to eliminate the achievement gap,” she said.
Coming into her post, she said that her focus is on undergraduate education collaboration, and keeping the bridge open between the provost to better understand, and address faculty and student needs.
“As a young kid from Chicago, I had no idea what graduate school was,” she said. “When they said to me we’ll pay you $12,000 a year to learn, I said, sign me up.”
Undergraduate education is more of a hands-on process than graduate education, but whether students go off to work in an industry or continue to graduate school, she said help in navigating the essentials is a priority.
Overall, the task is to reach them in the early stages, through middle and high school, and help them understand financial aid, career and academic choices.
“I see UCR as one of the leaders, and I think other schools will catch on,” she said. “It takes commitment, not just commitment in dollars. You have to really believe this is the right thing to do.”