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Brian Davis

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’18 African American Studies | Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, The Harker School | San Jose, CA
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Brian Davis

Liberal Arts Major: African American Studies

Liberal Arts Minor: Global and International Studies

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Current Location: San Jose, CA

What enrichment activities did you participate in as a student?

My undergraduate experience at Penn State was filled with so much engaged scholarship both on and off campus. As a liberal arts student, I studied abroad five times. My first experience abroad was to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, with SOC 119. My next four abroad trips were through Global Penn State. I studied in Havana, Cuba, with the Department of African American Studies studying race, gender, and religion in Cuba. After that, I took CRIM 499 in Amsterdam, where I studied the Dutch Criminal Justice System in comparison to the American Criminal Justice System. Later, during the middle of my junior year, I studied abroad in Sydney, Australia, with the School of Visual Arts. I took ART 297, which was a course focusing on cultural and visual exploration in aboriginal history and art. The last study abroad program was in Willemstad, Curaçao, which concentrated on policing in Curaçao. During my time at Penn State, I held more than 22 leadership positions including, but not limited to, Resident Assistant in Pollock Halls, the MLK Jr. Commemoration Evening Celebration Director and Community and Faculty Outreach Director, co-facilitating the RA Course, resident of the Social Justice Coalition, Peer Adviser for the Education Abroad Office, Intern for the Penn State Student Engagement Network, and a Ronald McNair Scholar. When I was a junior at Penn State, I gave a TEDx talk at TEDxPSU. I also created the Penn State Treasure, a resource book I created for first-year and transfer students to get acclimated to the plethora of resources Penn State has to offer.

What was your first job after graduating from Penn State?

My first job after graduating from Penn State was becoming a Fifth Grade ELA Teacher at Caliber Schools in Richmond, California.

Who was your favorite faculty member?

My favorite faculty member is Dr. Nan Woodruff, a former professor in the departments of African American Studies and History. Dr. Woodruff showed me what radical love for students looked like. Nan taught me to read critically, how to engage with the text, how to write like a scholar, and how to ask critical and theoretical questions. Dr. Woodruff helped me with my own racial identity formation with texts that helped me find myself within historical and contemporary contexts. Dr. Woodruff became my mentor, my Ronald McNair thesis adviser, my professor, and my professional aspiration. After taking me under her wing during my junior year, Dr. Woodruff gave me more than 200 books to start my own personal library.

How did your liberal arts education and skills prepare you for life after graduation?

My liberal arts education and skills prepared me for life after graduation by giving me the tools and leadership experience to create systematic change in every role I've held. Having a liberal arts degree from Penn State sets you apart from other college graduates, because the degree program is designed strategically to help you critically think about the ways in which you want to show up for the world, for others, and for yourself. My liberal arts education allowed me to travel to different countries around the world to study governments, systems, ways of life, education, and examine the ways I can bring those things back into my career. My liberal arts degree helped me become a better thinker, a better writer, and helped shape and mold myself for the inclusive and equitable world I imagine.

What networking advice would you share with current students?

Networking is so important. I learned the power of networking through Dr. Marcus Whitehurst, Vice Provost for Educational Equity; Carlos Wiley, Director of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center; and my mentor, Helen Miller, Associate Director of Development in the College of Liberal Arts, who is like a second mom to me. Some advice I would share with current students is to be truthful to who you are, and be genuine with people you meet in the field already doing the work. Consistent communication is also important. When I was an undergraduate student, I would write a long thank you letter to new people I met and share with them the work I did and the work I was currently doing. I'd often invite professors who weren't my own and faculty and staff at Penn State I've never come in contact with. out to lunch or dinner. There was a point during my undergraduate experience, when I was meeting with President Barron about once a month to discuss student initiatives and more.

What role have mentors played in your career progression?

Mentors play a huge role in my career progression, even now. I have a long list of mentors who contribute largely to my current success. I call Dr. Marcus Whitehurst, Vice Provost for Educational Equity, every two weeks for guidance around work that is happening in my office. Throughout my professional career, I have leaned on many of my mentors and advisers at Penn State. I schedule Google Hangouts with some of my other mentors such as Dr. Cynthia Young,  Head of the Department of African American Studies; Dr. Jeanine Staples, my mentor, English professor, and African American Studies professor; and Dr. Ashley Patterson, a professor in education and another one of my mentors. What is so profound about building a strong network at Penn State, is that the network always lives with you. I can always reach out to old faculty and staff at Penn State to catch up and seek advice when dealing with big job decisions.

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Flashback to Brian as an Undergrad:

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