In December 2014, Laura Brown joined the Department of Extension as an associate extension educator and community and economic development specialist. She conducts applied research and educational programs that address asset-based community and economic development, food systems development, regionalism, place-making and economic development readiness. Here’s what she said in an interview.
Where did you get your degrees?
I received my bachelor of arts in communications and psychology from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts in 2000. I received my Masters of Science in urban and regional planning from University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2007.
What did you do before you came to UConn?
Before I came to UConn, I worked for a variety of non-profit organizations in Wisconsin, Connecticut and Maine: TeachMaine Americorps, the Hartford Food System, a coalition of community-supported agriculture farms and most recently with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Extension.
I was an associate professor for seven years at University of Wisconsin-Extension, serving as a county-based educator and a state specialist in community, natural resources and economic development. I was involved in a wide variety of projects there, including farm-to-school and farmers’ market initiatives, facilitating entrepreneurship programs, developing a community fund for economic development and facilitating the Wisconsin Basic Economic Development Course. When I was in Wisconsin I also became a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) through the International Economic Development Council.
What will your work here at UConn focus on?
Since I started my position in December, I have been doing a “situational scan,” which involves a lot of listening: getting to know potential partners and learning about local needs and opportunities. This is a new position in community and economic development so it’s important that my work address real challenges and discover where there is interest and energy for partnership with local and statewide organizations. I approach my work from an “asset-based” perspective. This involves understanding the lively diverse communities, historic, cultural, natural amenities, successful industries and educated workforce that Connecticut’s communities can use to address challenges. While the specific topic of my educational programs will vary based on local needs, my goal is to build community capacity to make informed decisions. My programs are still emerging but they will likely focus on food systems and health, place-making, supporting entrepreneurship and economic development preparedness education. I plan to offer the First Impressions program. Developed in Wisconsin, and now used all over the US and Canada, this program allows communities to learn how they are viewed through the eyes of a first time visitor.
Name one aspect of your work that you really like.
Successful community development work is always built on relationships and I love meeting new people. I see myself as a lifelong learner and this position offers many opportunities to do that. I’m also excited to support a new era of innovative outreach scholarship as universities like UConn explore how we can better learn from, partner with and support urban communities that haven’t been traditional audiences for Extension education.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
I really enjoy spending time outdoors, hiking, running, gardening and traveling. My husband is from Rome, Italy, so we spend some time each year visiting his family there and enjoying the simple southern Italian food and sunshine. I also practice a daily meditation technique called Vipassana, a non-sectarian technique that means, “to see things as they really are.” Meditation has many benefits but it’s important to me to have space and time away from traffic and devices to reflect and generate peace and compassion for others.