PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — For each of the more than 3,000 people who came to campus Oct. 16-18, the defining experience of Family Weekend may have been the football game, an a cappella concert, an insight-filled panel discussion, or a chance to learn more about how the University serves students. But for all of them, the weekend was an opportunity to sample what their Brown student sees every day: The boundless energy of a campus community engaged in fulfilling bold aspirations.
President Christina Paxson set that tone right from the start Friday evening. In her keynote address she outlined how Brown, with the unique student opportunities provided by the open curriculum, will strive to reach a new degree of academic excellence and diverse campus life with a comprehensive campaign set to launch next week.
“So Brown’s rigorous and inventive academic programs — the ones we have existing, the ones we have planned for the future — will do more of what Brown has done for every generation: emphasize collaboration in preparing students to innovate, push the boundaries of knowledge, and evolve into deep thinkers and doers,” she said to members of many of the 1,382 families who came from as far as Alabama, Alaska, Jamaica, and Japan.
Speaking not only as Brown’s chief executive but also as a new Brown parent, Paxson described the University’s plans to increase support for financial aid and diverse faculty hiring, to build up teaching and entrepreneurship programs, and to encourage multidisciplinary, engaged scholarship around major global challenges.
“As these and other academic programs take root and grow, I believe Brown will cement and grow its reputation as a place where the novel is really routine,” she said. “Brown will be the place that continues to bring neurosurgeons and engineers together to improve the lives of people with different neurological disorders — we have a great group working in that area. This is going to be the place where economists, public health experts, and anthropologists at the Watson Institute tackle development problems, and this is going to be the place where technology, design, art, and literature combine to generate fresh cultural narratives.”
After her address, Paxson fielded questions read by alumni and parents Marcy Sandler and Jim Janover. Over the course of the weekend she also continued to speak with families at “office hours” on Saturday afternoon and an alumni reception later that evening.
The family of Nancy Hormozi, Saeed Ghanian, and daughter Soha Ghanian, a neuroscience junior in the Program in Liberal Medical Education, attended Paxson’s standing-room-only talk in a huge tent on Simmons Quad. The family visits campus often from Phoenix, Ariz.
Soha Ghanian said she was excited to hear Paxson talk about a fellow PLME student she knows and about the importance of undergraduate research opportunities, which she plans to pursue next semester. She also praised the emphasis on financial aid, which she said is what has made her attendance at Brown possible. Saeed Ghanian said he was glad to hear about plans for expanding the faculty.
“We’re very pleased with Dr. Paxson,” Nancy Hormozi said. “She’s taking the institution to a much higher level. This not only benefits members of the Brown community, but socially and economically benefits the State of Rhode Island.”
Over the course of the weekend, Nancy Hormozi said she would catch some lectures, while Saeed Ghanian was making time for the football game.
And as all that wound down by Sunday afternoon, when many parents were headed back home (out of some unseasonable New England cold), students were invited to Paxson’s campus home for an open house with apple cider donuts for everyone.
The open house was planned to achieve the “platinum” status of total compostability. During the weekend, the University also reduced the need for plastic water bottles by providing water from “quench buggies,” and did not issue name tags this year to save natural resources.
In all, the weekend offered students and their families scores of ways to enjoy the best of the University, no matter how one defines what that means.
The intellectually curious took in academic forums on topics ranging from the invention of novel musical instruments, to the future of the Euro, to the difficult problems of human trafficking and antibiotic resistance. There were panel discussions on women in war zones, race and journalism after the strife in Ferguson, Mo., and exhibits about space exploration, archaeology, and the artistic representations of slavery in American culture.
Fans of the arts, could take in 11 musical performances ranging from orchestral concerts to jazz bands to several a cappella groups. Nightly dance concerts featured several new works, and many campus galleries were open for viewing throughout the weekend.
Family Weekend is also time for parents to learn about the University. In addition to the President’s Office Hour, there were many other seminars and events where families could gather information about campus health care, international programs, the LGBTQ Center, and military and veterans programs to name a few.
Families of 144 first-year medical students from 29 states gathered for a moment of particular pride as their future doctors received the white coat they will wear throughout their studies. The class includes the inaugural 16 students of Brown’s first-in-the-nation Primary Care/Population Medicine dual-degree program.
And, of course, a fall weekend involves football. The Bears came out on top in a thrilling-to-the-last-play battle with the Princeton Tigers, 38-31. Other forms of fun included a family photo booth and popcorn machine in the Petteruti Lounge of the Roberts Campus Center.
And for the first time this year, all visiting family members were invited to share in a continental breakfast on Simmons Quadrangle on Saturday Morning.
From the moment the first families set foot on campus Friday afternoon until the last donut was served, Family Weekend produced not only the chance to make memories, but also to experience the University as it embarks, after its first 250 years, on the next stage of its future.