KINGSTON, R.I. — June 29, 1999 — Kermit the Frog tells us that it’s not easy being green. He might have said it isn’t easy being dean. But then, he never met Dr. Winifred Brownell, affectionately known as Winnie to her friends and colleagues. She makes her demanding job as new dean of the University of Rhode Island’s College of Arts and Sciences seem like child’s play.
Yet Brownell isn’t kidding around when it comes to what is best for students and faculty in URI’s largest and most diverse College, which has more than 300 full-time employees, 22 departments and more than 60 undergraduate and graduate programs, research centers and institutes, concert, performance and fine arts series, and outreach programs. As its interim dean for the past three years, Brownell has a thorough knowledge of the College which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.
“People often ask me ‘What do you get with a liberal arts education?’ My answer is SUCCESSFUL,” says the dean. “We produce well-educated citizens who are prepared for change.”
“Winnie is a strong advocate for the College’s students and faculty and a champion of its programs,” said M. Beverly Swan, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “I feel privileged that a national search resulted in the appointment of an individual with Winnie’s talents and dedication. She is both tough and compassionate, a wonderful leader and a great colleague,” said Swan.
Brownell is also aware of limited resources. To gain flexibility and support for the College, the dean has worked with Robert Beagle, vice president of University Advancement and his staff — especially Thomas Zorabedian –to help raise almost $2-million for the College since 1996.
Brownell says that in the past, the University has often pursued and disseminated knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Today, the University seeks partnerships with business, industry, and the private sector to increase economic development, support basic research, and enhance the quality of people’s lives.
The dean calls the College “the vibrant heart” of URI. It offers 40 undergraduates majors and 16 graduate degrees, and its faculty are involved in the University’s four focus areas and each university-funded partnership. Under Brownell’s leadership the College has added majors in public relations, African and African-American studies in collaboration with Rhode Island College, marine biology, and a graduate program in communication studies. Plans on the horizon include enhancement of Native American, African and African-American, Asian, and Latin American studies and further diversification of the faculty. An interdisclipinary information resource management graduate program, a graduate program in forensic science, a bachelor of arts degree in computer science, a film study major, and programs in Hellenic studies, justice, law, and society are also being considered. The College also hopes to launch an arts management program with the College of Business Administration.
Like a proud parent, Brownell can cite chapter and verse the multiple accomplishments of the College’s faculty, students, and staff. “The challenge is to provide a supportive climate where our talented students, faculty, and staff can excel,” she says, adding that the key to success is to listen with care, to delegate when appropriate and work collaboratively.
Under Brownell’s direction, the College has expanded its arts programming and has rewarded excellence. For example, last year she established the versatile Hope and Heritage Fund which is used to support both faculty and student excellence. To date, more than 100 faculty and students have received awards from the fund. The dean recently purchased an ink drawing by Stephen Thompson, a graduating senior whose art was part of the graduating seniors juried art show with fund money. She plans to purchase a work each year from the senior show and hang them in one of the 15 Arts and Sciences buildings.
Brownell came to URI as an instructor of what is now known as communication studies. She has served on more than 60 committees for the University. For eight years, she served as director of URI’s Speech Communication Center, twice coordinated honors colloquiums, chaired the Faculty Senate, coordinated the organization of URI’s College of Human Science and Services, and served as a member of the American Association of University Professors Executive Committee. Her research and publications have addressed aging and communication, new communication technologies, and communication skills.
Always a good sport for a good cause, Brownell joined URI Professors Chet Hickox and J. Morton Briggs last year to win the South County Center for the Arts Spelling Bee. Brownell lives in North Kingstown with her husband Gary Brownell, associate executive director, American Mathematical Society and their two children.