As a boy growing up in Detroit, Darren Brownlee had two aunts with diabetes, a grandmother with high blood pressure and a grandfather who died from advanced prostate cancer. As a man, their struggles stay with him.
“My dad is the oldest of 11, so I’ve always had a lot of aunts and uncles in my life, and some of them have gone through some very difficult health issues,” said Brownlee, whose family moved to Germantown, MD, when he was 9. “I have seen everything from heart disease and HIV/AIDS to cholesterol, substance abuse, and mental health issues; you name it. It pushed me to dedicate my life and my career to understanding how I can help others, so they don’t have to go through some of the things my family did.”
The path to that goal brought Brownlee to Hofstra in 2008 as a transfer student from West Virginia University. He completed a BA in psychology and stayed to pursue a Master of Health Administration at the School of Health Professions and Human Services, graduating in 2012. He now works at the Johns Hopkins Medicine health care system in Baltimore, where he is also pursuing a doctorate in public health at Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Despite a busy schedule, Brownlee returns at least twice a year to Hofstra, where he is an active mentor with the campus chapter of the national Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the oldest Greek-letter organization for African-American men in the United States. He also participates in MHA networking events, offering career advice and even inviting Hofstra students to shadow him at work in Baltimore.
“A key message I give students is the power of networking and to grasp onto any learning and mentorship opportunities you can get in your job or career field,” Brownlee said. “Let that outweigh the title and the compensation because it will pay off in the long run.”
Ralph Thomas, a fraternity brother and MHA ’15 graduate, was starting the program as Brownlee was completing it.
“Darren would share his perspective on the program, and he was one of the reasons I attended,” said Thomas, who is a project manager in the Office of Population Health at Stony Brook Medicine. “We still connect to talk about health care industry changes, career advancement, and being able to help our community. He is an amazing spirit who helps foster success.”
In recognition of his professional success and commitment to Hofstra, Brownlee has been named one of this year’s Young Alumni Award honorees.
During his time at Hofstra, Brownlee was able to finance much of his education through five part-time jobs and then a graduate assistantship in the Office of Event Management. “I started out as a front desk worker in my senior year, and then got involved in Conference Services, doing everything from setting up room accommodations to handing guests their keys,” he said. “By the time I was a graduate assistant, I was taking a lead on organizing event logistics, coordinating teams, and handling data analytics. I really grew up in
Brownlee says the skills and principles he learned in Event Management serve him well at Johns Hopkins, where he is a top administrator in the Department of Medicine, overseeing areas ranging from finances and hiring to research-sponsored activities. He also chairs several of the hospital’s community projects, including its annual United Way campaign, its Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration, and its civic engagement committee. He first came to the health system when he applied for a national fellowship after his MHA graduation. He didn’t get the fellowship, but he impressed the staff so much that he was instead offered an administrative resident position created especially for him.
“Earning both my BA and MHA at Hofstra prepared me to work with different people and provided a strong foundation in understanding the health care arena, including its barriers and opportunities,” he says. “If I can make a difference now, it would be toward the oversight of training and teaching others about public health, and making sure that health care is not only efficiently administered but also available to all people of all backgrounds.”
Brownlee’s success comes as no surprise to his professors.
“Darren was an exceptional student who displayed incredible passion in the classroom – a passion that I predicted would benefit some hospital, some day,” said Fred Sganga, adjunct associate professor in the Department of Health Professions, who taught Brownlee in his Leadership in Health Care class.
2017 has been a milestone year for Brownlee. Besides receiving Hofstra’s Young Alumnus Award, he turned 30, got married, is a finalist in a national leadership development program, and will be inducted into his high school’s Hall of Fame.
“I wonder sometimes if I’m deserving,” he said. “Hofstra has been great to me, and I am so grateful for all the opportunities it afforded me. This award reminds me of how far I’ve come, but also how far I still want to go.”