Kent State alumna working on Obama initiative with Jill Biden

Lauren Garczynski

Kent State alumna Brenna Parker, ‘17, recently started working at an Obama White House initiative and was named to the U.S. National Commission Youth Working Group to UNESCO

Parker is the digital coordinator for the College Promise Campaign, an initiative under the nonprofit Civic Nation. The campaign works to build momentum for free community college and is chaired by Dr. Jill Biden, a community college professor and former Second Lady of the United States. The campaign launched in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in 2015, which called for two years of free community college. 

Graduating from the School of Journalism and Mass Communications in May with a degree in public relations, Parker was brought onto the campaign right after her time at Kent.

During her senior year, Parker served as the vice president of professional relations for the Kent chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, (PRSSA). In this role, she already demonstrated her initiative to help students by connecting them with guest speakers who could provide a perspective of what the professional world is like.

“Brenna has a very strong work ethic,” said Latisha Ellison, the current president of PRSSA. “She’s so passionate about students being able to get an education, especially for those who cannot afford it.”

As a consequence of her own experience of receiving a college education, accessibility to higher education continues to be an issue that is important to her.

“Going to college was the greatest investment I made in myself,” Parker said. “Higher education completely changed my perspective about the world and my place in it. I credit so much of who I am today to the education that I received at Kent State.”

She interned in Washington D.C. the summer before her senior year, and credits her time in D.C. to helping her find her career path.

“I think like a lot of students I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do after I graduated,” Parker said. “I knew I wanted to work for an organization that was trying to make the world a better place.” 

Civic Nation runs many of the initiatives that launched under the Obama administration including: Vice President Joe Biden’s, It’s On Us campaign, First Lady Michelle Obama’s, Better Make Room campaign and The United State of Women.

As digital coordinator, Parker runs all digital efforts for the campaign including their websites, social media accounts and digital content. She also works as their art director and produced their 2016-17 annual report.

“Free community college is an issue that people on both sides of the isle can come together on,” Parker said. “The fact of the matter is a high school education is not enough to succeed in this country anymore. Students will need some sort of higher education to make it in the middle class.”

This year, California, Hawaii, Rhode Island, New York and Nevada all passed statewide free community college legislation for students. The College Promise Campaign has identified over 200 local College Promise programs across the country.

“My family was significantly impacted by the Great Recession,” Parker said. “I knew since I was a little kid that I had to pay for my college education on my own. I worked as an RA [resident assistant] to cover room and board, and I got super involved on campus because I needed to get the most out of my college education. 

According to the Association of Community College Trustees, one in three community college students experiences hunger, 51 percent lack secure housing and 14 percent are homeless. The College Promise Campaign says the U.S. used to lead in the number of college-educated adults, today the U.S. is 12th.

“One hundred years ago this country came together and recognized the need to make high school free, universal and accessible,” Parker said. “We can do it again with community college.”

Parker was recently named to the U.S. National Commission Youth Working Group to UNESCO, a collection of 12 leaders under 26 who have set out to advance social progress, and sustainable development.

The group works for social change in the U.S. and abroad on issues from peacebuilding to sustaining development. The group runs a series of different global initiatives including Our Climate Voices, a storytelling platform that gives a first person narrative to climate change and its impact on young people.

Parker says her professors in the public relations program helped her think critically about the world.

“I loved that Brenna thought beyond Northeast Ohio,” said Professor Michele Ewing, a public relations professor and advisor to PRSSA. “She used her internships to Skype in professionals in D.C. and was able to bring these career paths to students.”

Parker says students should find an issue that is important to them and identify ways that they can get involved and help.

“Young people truly drive social change in this country,” Parker said. “Every major social movement from women’s rights to the anti-war movement has had young people driving change. I am looking forward to working on new projects that are bringing young people to the table to solve our greatest problems.”

Lauren Garczynski is the College of Communication and Information reporter. Contact her at [email protected].