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Alverno welcomes new president

Alverno welcomes new president

When Christy L. Brown stood in front of the Duke University School of Law graduating class of 1994, she shared a quote with the peers who elected her as their commencement speaker.

Not just any quote – a Scripture passage. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48).

These are the wise words that have guided Brown through a career that has always been centered on helping others.

“I’ve been completely blessed, and I want to give back. That’s why I’m still in nonprofits. That’s why I continue to do the work that I’m doing,” she says.

The early years

Brown grew up in Milwaukee, the third of four children born to Joyce and the late Charles Brown, each an inspiration to their family. Her father was an Air Force veteran and postal employee who later purchased his father-in-law’s commercial waste management company, leaving a stable job for a riskier path as an entrepreneur in a segregated city.

“When my grandfather started the company in 1941, white waste management companies did not pick up Black-owned companies’ garbage. He saw a path there. My dad bought the company in the early 1970s and did that for the rest of his career,” Brown recalls.

Brown’s mother worked at the Veterans Administration and Allis-Chalmers until starting a family. After, she worked part-time jobs, including as a secretary for a lawyer and Avon sales representative, in order to be present for her children before and after school.

“My mother probably should have gone to college,” Brown says. “She was very smart, and some of her friends were going. She recalls always having been number one in her high school class, until they brought in two white male students right before graduation to take the valedictorian and salutatorian spots. So she graduated third in her class.”

Neither of Brown’s parents attended a four-year college, they expected their children to pursue higher education – and they did. Brown chose Stanford University at the recommendation of a guidance counselor.

“I didn’t know anything about it, other than it was in California. I didn’t know it was a prestigious place. I didn’t know that a lot of people applied and didn’t get in,” Brown recalls. “When I got the letter saying that I was in, I was ecstatic.”

Finding her path

At Stanford, Brown originally declared an electrical engineering major because of her aptitude for math and science, but it wasn’t the right fit. She changed her major to psychology after her first year. “It should have been day two!” she laughs.

After graduating, she worked for the financial aid office and thrilled in remaining part of the campus community, attending lectures and campus events – that is, until she received an important call.

“I talked to my grandmother on the phone, and she said, ‘Baby, you’ve been out there a long time. I think it’s time for you to go home,’” Brown recalls.

Back in Milwaukee, Brown worked part-time at Pathfinders as an outreach coordinator and counselor for teen mothers, then as an admissions counselor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she loved encouraging youth in their higher education journeys.

Four years after graduation, Brown headed to Duke University to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a lawyer. Brown had first been introduced to the law and its utility as a tool to help people through her mother’s work as a legal secretary.

Transforming lives and institutions

Brown worked at a Milwaukee law firm for three years before returning to the nonprofit world, first as vice president and corporate counsel at the Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. There, she embraced the organization’s mission to “help people improve the quality of their lives, motivated by the compassion of Christ” through a wide range of services including refugee resettlement, adoption, foster care, community-based residential facilities for youth, and mental health care.

Then, as executive vice president & general counsel at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), Brown partnered with human resources to ensure that all facets of the college – from faculty to administrative staff – reflected the diversity of the student population.

When Brown became vice chancellor for Finance and Administrative Affairs at UWM, she led a team that secured state approval for $300 million worth of capital expenses to enhance the university’s research capacity.

“It was incredible what our team did because it had never been done before at UWM. That was more than what the university had gotten approved in the previous 20 years total,” Brown says. “I listened to the people around me who had good ideas. If you’re a good boss, you say okay, let’s do it.”

In 2012, Brown joined the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast as chief executive with a mandate to raise the visibility of the organization.

“It was a well-kept secret in a lot of communities. We wanted people to know about the benefits of Girl Scouting, particularly in those places where we have populations that are underrepresented,” she says.

The mission of Girl Scouts is to build “girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” Brown knows firsthand the power of building girls’ confidence. For the first 12 years of her childhood, she was very quiet and shy.

“I often wonder whether my not talking much before seventh grade also just had to do with being a girl and feeling like my voice wouldn't be heard,” she says. “That’s why I wanted to do this job at Girl Scouts. When I started, my daughter was seven. I want her to be anything she wants to be, and that’s what Girl Scouts helps girls see.”

Now at Alverno, Brown views her work as the next phase of the Girl Scout mission.

“I feel like I’m still going to be doing the same thing, just in a different environment,” she says. “It’s on a continuum of building women’s leadership and helping women and girls find their voices.”

Alverno Strong

In fact, Alverno’s history as a women’s college is one of the many reasons Brown was attracted to the presidency.

“We know this environment provides benefits for young people and for women, because they won’t have that environment when they go out into the real world,” she says.

Other strengths that Brown sees are the 8 Abilities, the diversity of the student body, the Franciscan values that center on social justice and equity, and the dedication of faculty and staff.

“I was completely blown away by how much they care about Alverno, the students and their learning,” she says. “I think some of the awards and recognition that Alverno has received over the years are a testament to that level of dedication and caring.”

Together, these are the reasons that inspire students to choose Alverno – and Brown wants the world to take note.

“I feel like on some level, Alverno is still a very well-kept secret and we need for people not only in our community but outside of our community to understand what a jewel it is,” she says. “I’ve always admired Alverno from afar, and during this process, I learned so much more about it and how much people love it. And now I love it, too.”

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