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Start locally to enact change globally, ASU student advises

portrait of ASU student Kelli Brown

Kelli Brown

September 23, 2020

Arizona State University junior Kelli Brown has a hard time describing what she’s studying to her family over holiday breaks. Her varied interests and thirst for knowledge have led her down an academic path pursuing interdisciplinary degrees in global health and global studies, and certificates in socio-legal studies and evolutionary medicine.

“I’m a little bit all over the place,” Brown said. “It can be hard for me to wrap my head around all of it, too.”

It boils down to her drive to be an involved global citizen with a desire to enact change through education and public policy.

In her time at ASU, Brown has made connections around the world, conducted research and contributed to a soon-to-be-published paper. 

Start small and see what happens

A Flinn Scholar, Millennium Fellow, policy advocate and intern, Brown recommends starting small to make an impact.

“Whatever you feel is really important in a global sphere, you can work on here first, and ASU has a lot of resources for you to start those projects in your community,” Brown said. “Then, you can be more effective at influencing the global sector after graduation.”

This is exemplified in Brown’s undergraduate involvement. As a sophomore, she became involved with a group of motivated ASU students seeking to change Arizona legislation around sex education. The project has grown and now, through the Millennium Campus Network, Brown has contacts at universities in Nigeria, India and France, who have similar goals in their regions. 

Brown appreciates the complexities of sex education policy, understanding a lot of the progress will have to come from changing ideas, attitudes and norms, which relates to a literature review she completed with ASU researcher Roseanne Schuster this past summer. 

The idea of starting small is also seen in Brown’s contributions to a health education program she’s co-leading with ASU’s Changemaker Central. Brown created a program to educate high school students about the transition into college and adulthood, preparing them for success. Perseverance was key.

“That was one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever done in my life just because we hit a lot of dead-ends,” Brown said. 

Now, because of connections developed through Changemaker, Brown and colleagues have a community partner, A New Leaf, and plan to launch remote health seminars in the next couple of months. 

Continuing to grow during COVID-19

Brown kept moving forward over the summer of 2020 when COVID-19 changed her study abroad plans. She continued her research apprenticeship with Schuster, conducting a literature review about norms and behavior change campaigns in sub-Saharan Africa. Brown said the first few months were a lot of trial and error, learning what protocols to search for and how to navigate the USAID database. There were approximately 800 articles to review over the summer.

“Kelli remained dedicated to this study and to our team through the tumultuous spring 2020 semester,” Schuster said. “When COVID-19 was upending many aspects of life and learning, she continued to volunteer on this research over the summer, even training two new students who joined the team.”

Brown said helping train the other students on how to conduct the research was a good way to refocus on the big-picture purpose of the work.

Along with this research, Brown completed a summer internship with the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, where she produced a policy brief about recent changes in child welfare policy and what that means for Arizona’s child welfare system. 

At home at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change

When applying for college, Brown originally wanted to pursue nursing but realized bedside care was not the right fit for her.

“I feel empathy towards people,” Brown said, “but I didn’t think caring for them in that capacity was the best way for me to express that empathy or make it productive.”

In deciding global health was a more fitting path, Brown noted many programs focused largely on public health or pre-med, but found ASU’s anthropology-based global health degree program to be the perfect match. 

Brown’s interests align with the interdisciplinary coursework within the global health program. She was enthralled with Associate Professor Katie Hinde’s “Building Babies” class, noting she had played Hinde’s TED Talk “on repeat” since she was a teenager because she found the research so important and fascinating. 

“I love the faculty, the way they develop the courses and the way they run the courses themselves. My adviser is awesome,” Brown said. “I’ve just been so happy with every aspect of SHESCThe School of Human Evolution and Social Change. It’s just like my home base. Up until now, I was doing homework there all the time. It really felt like the place where I was meant to be, where I’ve wanted to be. And I’ve really loved being a student there.”

What’s next

This fall, Brown is working on her Barrett, The Honors College thesis project, aiming to better understand what compels ASU students to vote, including how social connections play a role in that decision. Brown’s adviser is Alison Cook-Davis, associate director for research with the Morrison Institute for Public Policy. 

After obtaining her undergraduate degrees, Brown may go to graduate school or take some time off. “I’m very much a planner,” she said. “But right now I feel comfortable in my unknown because there are a lot of options and one isn’t necessarily better than the other.”

Either way, she can see herself going into a career in international affairs or public policy, and her experience and research has helped her prepare to be a global changemaker.

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