A willingness to say ‘yes’ 

Jennifer Brown, director of access and outreach initiatives for the Office of Academic Access Leadership and Development, shares her motivation for pursuing a college education with a focus on the people who mattered most in her academic journey.

Jennifer Brown had no idea what her yes would lead to. 

“As a first-generation student, there were financial, academic and social challenges I experienced,” said Brown, director of K-16 access and outreach initiatives for the Office of Academic Access and Leadership Development in the Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity. “The biggest challenge for me was the desire to be in college the way that everyone else was experiencing college.”  

Although Brown’s parents didn’t finish college, they stressed the importance of a college degree to her and her siblings. 

“Everything that our parents did for us, led up to wanting us to have the opportunity to go to college,” she said.  

Now, Brown holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Westminster College, a bachelor’s degree in applied science in chemical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis and a Master of Science in college student personnel from Western Illinois University. 

Brown uses her experience as a first-generation college student to help the next generation of scholars and encourages them to establish relationships that can propel them forward in pursuit of their dreams.  

Establishing relationships  

Brown describes herself as “a highly introverted individual” when she started college, but by the time she graduated, she built a network of support that has contributed to her success today. 

Jackie Weber, former assistant director for campus activities at Westminster College, gave Brown her first chance to develop socially.  

“She gave me opportunities to work with the Campus Activities Board and develop social skills I wouldn’t ever have developed and opened doors for me simply by building relationships,” Brown said.  

Individuals who supported and encouraged her throughout her college journey, didn’t stop with Webber.  

“I remember my advisor and physics professor, Dr. Kent Palmer,” she said. “After I failed my first physics test, he took the time to have conversations and work through problems that I did not understand.”  

Moments like those are the most memorable experiences that Brown had throughout her academic and personal journey in college, and these experiences continually lead to new opportunities for growth. 

“I think there is an individual tied to every single significant moment in my college career. There’s a person that I could specifically name who made it possible and who supported and encouraged me.”  

Brown remained open to building relationships while taking advantage of the opportunities that came with it – that’s how she came to Mizzou.  

“John Comerford, who was the dean of Student Life at Westminster, told me that I would be great for Missouri Scholars Academy at Mizzou,” she said. “I applied and spent seven years working with Missouri Scholars Academy.”  

With the skills she learned, Brown continued building relationships, and eventually took a role within MU’s Residential Life as a residence hall coordinator and then moved to assistant director for the Office of Undergraduate Research.  

As the assistant director for the Office of Undergraduate Research, she was working on forums and presentations for students while providing opportunities for them to showcase their work. That is where she met NaTashua Davis, associate vice chancellor for Academic Access and Leadership Development (AALD), and later moved to her role in AALD.  

Adding value 

Brown’s experience working with first-generation students has helped her to identify areas where students can grow – obtaining relationship-building skills and simply gaining knowledge.  

“A common struggle tends to be knowing what to do first, and then connecting with people,” she said. “Sometimes there is just a hesitation to take on everything in the first semester.”  

Brown understands the importance of tailoring outreach efforts to individual students’ needs in their first semester on campus. To Brown, this is an area where Mizzou has grown. 

“I’ve been at Mizzou for 10 or 11 years, and we have really stepped up our game in terms of communicating what students should be doing around the different weeks of that first semester.” 

Brown has seen how being present and holding space for first-generation students while showing care and concern beyond academic support, allows room for them to grow.  

“What I do to support first-generation students is be available, present and leave my door open so I can respond and be available to them.”