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PowerPlayer: Marisa Quinn

Monday, January 21, 2013


First, congratulations helping to lead Brown in a new direction. What are your top three priorities for 2013?

My role at Brown is to help advance the University’s profile and mission locally, nationally and globally through a coordinated and strategic approach to communications and public affairs. Last year was an important year as we welcomed our new president, Chris Paxson, and introduced her to public and private sector leaders throughout the to help her gain a full and deep understanding of Providence and Rhode Island. As Brown moves forward, she is very interested in developing collaborative partnerships, and these early meetings have been important in identifying possibilities. Much of what Brown does in the coming years will be guided by a strategic planning process taking place right now. As that unfolds, a priority in the coming year will be to identify partnerships to advance our goals in ways that benefit Brown, Providence and Rhode Island.

My portfolio of work includes government relations, and a pressing priority in the year ahead will be to collaborate closely with top research universities across the nation to impress upon our elected officials in the Washington, DC the importance of continuing to invest in federally-funded university-based research. We may be over the fiscal cliff, but the issue of sequestration—or automatic, across the board cuts—remains on the table, and the stakes are high for research universities.

A third area of focus in the year ahead is gearing up for the celebration of the 250th anniversary of Brown’s founding, which we will launch in spring 2014. We hope to use this important juncture to reflect on our rich and shared history with Providence and Rhode Island, to consider the University’s present and future place in the nation and the world, and, perhaps most importantly, to engage our various communities and partners here in Rhode Island and throughout the world.

We've heard so much talk about Brown's positive impact on the community, but many folks don't know the details - can you help tell the story of the positive impact?

Brown makes significant educational, cultural, economic and social contributions to Providence and Rhode Island. We recently commissioned a report to help capture and communicate some of the ways in which Brown contributes, and I invite readers to visit web to read the report http://brown.edu/about/reports/economic-impact/home.

Perhaps the greatest impact is through the teaching, research and service of the students and faculty at Brown. Faculty and students are doing work in areas ranging from autism to Alzheimer’s , to the impact of pollutants on the environment and on our health, to materials science and planetary geology. Brown students and faculty also contribute countless hours volunteering in area schools, and working on issues ranging from homelessness to health care to prison reform.

Brown is an economic engine in the region. With more than 4,000 employees, Brown has been a steady employer, even during uncertain fiscal times. We have been a leading source of construction and related employment over the last decade, as well, and the University, its students, faculty, staff and visitors make an enormous contribution to the local economy through millions of dollars in purchasing. Brown also contributes to the economy by attracting federal and other sources of research funds to the state—approximately $180 million last year. The discoveries made as a result of research conducted can lead to spinoff companies and job creation, which we actively support. 

The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown is a leading educator of the state’s physician workforce and has, since its founding, made a significant difference in the quality of health care available to Rhode Islanders. Brown also contributes in valuable ways to arts, culture and civic life, on and off campus. There are countless lectures, gallery openings, performances and athletic events that are free and open to the public. The growing numbers of alumni who call Rhode Island their home make a difference in our state in myriad ways, too.

Take us through a day in your life. 

My life has changed this past year, as I have sent my son (and only child) off to college. While I miss him, I don’t miss scrambling in the morning to get him out the door, or cajoling him to complete homework in the evenings! With a bit more flexibility, I try to get to the gym at least twice during the week in addition to the weekends. I am a daily consumer of news, and while I get a lot of my news on-line, I still like to read through hard copies in the morning before scrolling through email headlines and Twitter posts. 

Once I arrive at work, there’s no telling what may arise, which is what makes my job always interesting, challenging and never dull. During the school year I am generally in by 8 or 8:30 am, and every day includes many meetings, both on and off campus—generally to plan for something around the corner, like the University’s hosting of Daniel Barenboim and the West Eastern Divan Orchestra in late January—or for something further in the future, such as the 250th Anniversary or Family Weekend. My daily routine involves a fair amount of reviewing, writing, consultation, advising, seeking advice from others, and lots and lots of email. Email has, without question, become the primary mode of communication. During the academic year there are events a few nights each week, either on campus or off. Otherwise, I tend to leave the office by about 6:30 or 7:00 pm.

I arrive home to my husband preparing dinner every night, a highlight of the day for which I am always grateful! I’ll look at my email a few more times over the course of the night, watch the taped NBC Nightly News (I grew up with John Chancellor and Tom Brokaw…), and, I have to admit, I look forward to watching The Voice and Project Runway…total escape TV. 

Brown is one of the education leaders in the world, what are the challenges?

From a communications perspective, one challenge is to convey a full, complete, and accurate portrait of Brown today. There are many misperceptions, such as that an Ivy League education is out of reach financially. Brown established need-blind admission nearly a decade ago and is committed to meeting the demonstrated financial needs of admitted students. With an annual institutional financial aid budget of more than $90 million, approximately 43% of all undergraduates are receiving need-based scholarship aid, and the average need-based scholarship for all undergraduates is $35,288. Nearly 1,000 students at Brown are recipients of the Pell Grant. We want to benefit from the most talented individuals in the nation, and have invested heavily in financial aid to ensure that financial circumstances are not a barrier in college decisions.

Another communications challenge is capturing fully the range of things happening on campus. There’s an abundance of great work being done by faculty and students , and there are many activities and events happening on campus that are free and open to the public. Getting the word out and being heard, in spite of the many electronic tools available, can be challenging. 

Of course, Brown and higher education more generally face greater challenges right now beyond those related to communications. The costs associated with running a major, labor-intensive, research university are high, and there are pressures on every stream of revenue, from tuition, to federal support for education and research, to philanthropic giving. Ensuring academic excellence while moderating costs is a topic on every college campus today. 

Tell us something nobody knows about you. 

I am addicted to KenKen, and do the puzzle every day.

Quick Hitters

Role Model:

My mom. She raised six children, earned her Master’s degree after the sixth was born, worked as a district director for special education, and made breakfast, lunch and dinner daily for her entire crew. She loved her career and her family and exceled at both. She also gardened, baked…things that have never been my strong suit.

Favorite Restaurant:

The Clarke Cooke House in Newport. I worked there during college and still love going. The chowder is the best, and the signature “Snowball in Hell” dessert is a must.

Best Beach:

Scotch Pine Beach on Block Island is a destination spot.

Best Book You've Read in the Last Year:

I went through a phase this year of reading Kate Atchison’s series about Detective Jackson Brodie. My favorite was Started Early, Took My Dog.

Advice for the Next Marisa Quinn:

Build bridges, don't burn them.



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