Nelda Brown, a second-year student in the public administration master’s degree program exemplifies all the characteristics needed to be called a public servant. Brown has been a community leader since her high school days and has continued to take an active role serving the public in her career and her studies.
Brown, from Oklahoma, attended Stanford University for her undergraduate studies where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Both during and after her undergraduate career, Brown devoted much of her time to volunteering in the community in organizations including the Red Cross Disaster Relief program, Realizing Intellect Through Self Empowerment and the Big Brother/Big Sister Program.
“I really believe in the whole idea of giving back to your community,” Brown said. “I feel that there is no better way to do that than through service to the public. That is a big part of the reason why I decided to make the decision to go into public administration.”
Brown spent a few years working for the California Department of Education before beginning her graduate studies at GW. She served as a service-learning specialist and coordinator for state level programs.
Brown said she feels service learning and connecting classroom knowledge to activities in the community is important to today’s education.
It brings something else to the classroom that textbooks simply cannot provide. It also brings the lessons kids learn in life while giving them a whole new importance, Brown said.
“It really changes a child’s perspective on learning,” she said. “I’ve seen kids who really didn’t like school or learning and take a completely different interest when service learning activities were introduced into their classroom. It’s a great way of making kids motivated and interested in learning and also helping the community at the same time. I’ve seen it work with all age groups which is also great.”
Along with her career as a student, Brown currently works for the State Education Agency Service-Learning Network. She serves as the executive director for the national organization which is centered around giving training and technical support to state level coordinators, building public awareness of policy and legislation that affect service learning and building financial resources to support service learning.
“I love my job and working at this level with state departments,” she said. “I think it’s really important that we continue to work on behalf of kids who are from often disenfranchised communities.”
Brown said she feels the government is the business of the people and it is people’s obligation to be active if they feel the way that the government is handling certain issues or policies could be better.
Brown said she has found many members of Congress are very supportive of her organization and its issues. Although the organization is small and relatively young, Brown said she has seen a lot of success and expects it to continue.
Brown attributes part of her success in public administration to her enthusiasm for what she does each day. She feels that her career is an extension of her most basic self.
“I am drawn to the art of public administration because I have learned that the meaningful work of public service begins after the press conference is over,” she said. “I really believe in the work that I do everyday and I think if someone really believes in what they do, it shows. People around me are also so enthusiastic so it makes for a great working environment. The enthusiasm really can spread.”
The National Academy for Public Administration recently awarded Brown the 2000 Herbert Roback Scholarship Award for the Best Public Administration Student in 2000.
Brown was unanimously nominated to represent GW for the honor by the faculty of GW’s Department of Public Administration and competed with various students from schools along the East Coast. The award comes with a $5,000 scholarship.
The memorial scholarship is in honor of Herbert Roback, a highly respected public servant, who became involved in encouraging students to consider careers in giving service to the public. His family and friends established the fund to carry on his work.
Brown modestly attributed her success to the faculty of GW and its programs rather than to her own accomplishments and efforts.
“I really don’t feel like I’m one particular outstanding student,” Brown said. “The faculty here just makes learning so fun and interesting and I think that’s mostly what my application showed. I feel that this is more a selection of GW and its faculty than it is of myself.”
Brown said she did not know the multitude of opportunities available to be a leader in the public administration field before she came to GW. She said she feels the faculty has really opened her eyes to those new opportunities.
“We are impressed with Nelda,” said professor Kathryn Newcomer, chair of the Department of Public Administration. “She has contributed much to improving the quality of life for others in California. I am confident that after leaving our program, she will continue to make us proud of her accomplishments as a public servant.”