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By Kelly Morgan (Whetstone Staff Writer)
Whatever you do, don’t call her the chaplain.
Rev. Erica Brown is the college’s new director of spiritual life and community engagement.
Brown replaced former college chaplain Dr. Mark Pruett-Barnett, who transferred out of Wesley last summer.
“I want to be visible,” said Brown, who has an office on the third floor of College Center. “I want to be where the students are.”
The title change was the college’s idea.
“Everything I do is the same that Dr. Mark did,” she said. “My approach is to focus on getting to know the students and finding out what their thoughts are.”
Brown also will help involve students in community service.
“It’s a privilege to receive an education, so we want people in the community to recognize that we are here to help, too,” she said. “We want to help facilitate that connection with the Dover community.”
Brown and Dr. Jessica James, associate professor of history and American studies, are flirting with the idea of a service learning opportunity course.
“I’m extremely passionate about the service commitment at Wesley,” James said. “I have experience with service learning and [Brown] is going to help us establish partnership with the community.”
Brown said she wants to create a course at Wesley that has an academic and hands-on component.
“There are courses that require students to do service, such as nursing, but I think this is the first [course] involving volunteer service and curriculum,” she said. “You’re learning by getting your hands dirty.”
Dr. Susanne Fox, professor of history and American studies, supports Brown and James’ idea.
“I think poverty is something our students really need to understand,” Fox said.
Brown received her Bachelor’s in English from Mt. Union College, in Alliance, Ohio, in 1993, and earned her Masters of Divinity in 1999 at the University of Chicago.
She was ordained in 2000 and became a minister in Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Brown has served in three previous churches.
For six months, she served as an interim pastor at the Christian Church of Villa Park in Villa Park, Ill., and was an interim assistant for two years at Central Christian Church in Danville, Ill.
For seven and a half years, Brown was assistant chaplain at Northwestern University, near Chicago, Ill.
Brown fondly remembers her tenure.
“I love working with students,” she said. “I learned a lot, but I was ready to have a sense of ownership of a program. It’s hard to be an assistant for so long.”
Brown, who kicked off her first year at Wesley College during freshman orientation, coordinated a community service event, “123 = ABC.”
“It was a joint effort between Wesley College, Habitat for Humanity, Dover Housing Authority, City of Dover and Senator Carper,” Brown said. “Our volunteers covered a 20-block radius by picking up trash, painting curbs and beautification.”
Sarah Smith, director of student activities, worked with Brown during this event.
“We had almost 600 Wesley College students venture into the streets of Dover to beautify the community around our school,” Smith said. “Chaplain Brown assisted in setting up the various locations, putting together the materials needed and making sure the sites were going well. She visited the sites and worked with the students side by side.”
Emilie Milcarek, junior Media Arts major, sought the help of Brown during the second week of classes when Milcarek had to interview students interested in the public relations position for SGA.
“I contacted the chaplain because I needed a judge who would be unbiased and would look at the applicants in a clear light,” Milcarek said. “I asked her to listen to the applicant during their interviews, have an open mind, get to know them and we’d go off that.”
In between serving at Northwestern University and arriving at Wesley, Brown spent one year in Gerard, Ohio, at a homeless shelter, Family Promise as case manager.
“It was a great way to spend my time even though I was out of work,” Brown said. “It gave me a great perspective of what people have to go through every day.”
She helped families stay together.
“I worked with the parent or parents,” she said. “I helped them figure out a plan and work towards goals. I helped them get a job, find transportation then find a place to live.