Brandy Foster Receives the Presidential Award for Faculty Excellence in Community Engagement

Brandy Foster. who is a senior lecturer in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and who serves on our Executive Committee as an at-large representative for NTE BUFMs, has received the presidential Award for Faculty Excellence in Community Engagement. Most BUFMs who were not acquainted with Brandy before last year’s strike got a firsthand chance to appreciate her enthusiasm, energy, and organizational skills during those three weeks. Although she is relatively new to our Executive Committee, she has been contributing in many imaginative ways to our efforts to move beyond the strike and to build in constructive ways on the sense of solidarity and shared purpose that it has fostered.

Brandy Foster

The Presidential Award for Faculty Excellence in Community Engagement recognizes a faculty member at any rank who has been instrumental in helping the university achieve its mission of transforming the communities it serves. For the purpose of this award, community engagement is defined as faculty work involving a partnership with the public that achieves university goals and benefits the community in a significant way. The award can recognize teaching, research and/or service that demonstrate the ways community partnerships (local, regional/state, national and global) can enhance learning and serve the public good.

The letter in support of Brandy’s nomination for the award from the College of Engineering and Computer Science provides a detailed description of the major ways in which Brandy has development important linkages between the university and the communities that it serves:

We are proud to support the nomination of Brandy Foster for the President’s Award for Faculty Excellence: Community Engagement Award. Through her work across a wide range of initiatives, Brandy exemplifies Wright State’s mission to transform the lives of our students and the communities we serve.

The ONEIL Center at Wright State University:  Brandy’s inspiration for what would become The ONEIL Center came from her own experience as an English major who had the opportunity to translate the skills from her academic program to new contexts when she was embedded in a Mechanical Engineering graduate research group as a technical editing intern. That experience changed the trajectory of her career and led her to develop a model for experiential learning opportunities for students from any academic program.  In 2017, twelve years after her own internship, she attracted a 5-year, $675,000 corporate gift from O’Neil & Associates, a Miamisburg-based company, to found The ONEIL Center. This company was impressed by her vision of providing meaningful internship opportunities and sees the center as creating a workforce development pipeline to it and to the Dayton region. Brandy serves as the center’s executive director.

The center, which is believed to be the first of its kind, provides on-campus internships to students from every college and both Wright State campuses. The center is unique in that it functions as a transdisciplinary and highly collaborative ecosystem in which students work together to support the small business and research communities. Over 40 students have had paid or unpaid internships to provide services such as proposal writing, marketing and branding, social media management, web development, technical graphics, project management, technical editing, coaching for public speaking, and more to small businesses, start-ups, non-profits, and campus organizations. Additionally, the center has funded a Computer Science graduate student through the Robert J. Heilman Fellowship to perform research related to augmented and virtual reality.

Engaging Dayton’s Startup Community: Leaders in Dayton’s vibrant startup community are very excited about the ways The ONEIL Center supports new and growing businesses with its affordable services and creation of a workforce development pipeline. Brandy has secured partnerships with The Entrepreneur Center (TEC), the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), with The ONEIL Center being a client service provider referred to each of these organization’s clients–several thousand in number. The center’s model attracts businesses that support its mission to provide experiential learning, so these clients enjoy visiting the center and working with the students. The collaborative nature of the center extends to its clients, and Brandy and her students frequently host meetings to facilitate introductions among people pursuing complementary goals.

In addition to these partnerships, The ONEIL Center has been a valuable supporter of the annual TechStars Startup Week Dayton, especially through its named sponsorship of the Pitch Competition, during which startups compete for cash prizes and in-kind services to the winners. During the startup community’s most important annual event, Brandy volunteers as a moderator for fireside chats on the Main Stage, conducts multiple workshops and sessions, engages potential clients at the Resource Fair, and announces the winners of the Pitch Competition.

Given Brandy’s unique relationship to Dayton’s startup community, she has recently been sought as a collaborator on proposals, which benefit both her students and the community. For example, she has recently won federal funding to design and launch an internship pipeline to the medical technology startup ecosystem; another recent grant supports her students’ storytelling about Dayton’s new companies. In 2018, Brandy won a $225,000 defense subcontract on a project related to human performance; this work supports the defense community and has funded numerous undergraduate interns at a rate of $20/hour and Brandy’s first graduate research assistant. 

Engaging Community Organizations: Brandy works closely with the internship program in the College of Liberal Arts, her alma mater, to provide unpaid internships to students needing to meet program requirements for graduation. She works closely with these students to identify a campus or community organization that could benefit from their project and supervises their work. To date, students have completed projects supporting the Raider Food Pantry, TheZe Dealz Thrift Shop, eMerge (a minority-owned social entrepreneurship program), Emergency Services units, a Wright State Neuroscience capstone course, and a virtual museum dedicated to celebrating Black culture in the countries comprising the African diaspora.

Outside of her work in The ONEIL Center, Brandy has volunteered as the executive director of Simman Wound Care & Fellowships, a nonprofit organization focused on advancing research into therapies and technologies related to wounds, which impose a significant social and economic cost. Under her tenure as executive director, she recruited new board members, led the board in strategic planning, and planned and hosted the organization’s first major fundraisers.

In the Spring of 2019, Brandy was invited to be on the fundraising team to support Mr. Hernan Olivas’s candidacy for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man of the Year competition. Brandy helped to plan and host fundraising events and campaigns during the intense multi-week competition.

Given her diverse interests, Brandy has been sought for speaking engagements for various organizations, including the Dayton Think Tank, the Dayton Society of Professional Engineers, Antioch University’s panel on artificial intelligence, Wright State’s Masters of Public Health program, and many more. She was selected to deliver a talk on being a generalist in a specialist’s world at TedxDayton in October 2019.

Building a Better Community: Brandy is an active member of the District 10 Indivisible for All chapter and is a committed advocate for a more equitable community. She has participated in phone banks and has organized several postcard writing campaigns to raise awareness of issues and as part of a non-partisan effort to increase voter participation. During a few months in the Fall of 2018, Brandy and her family handwrote over 2500 postcards. As part of her volunteer work, she has shared her experience as a survivor of incest and sexual assault and subsequent mental health issues and provided mentorship to other survivors not as far along in their recovery. This work has positioned her to arrange an internship for a student in the Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies program, which will provide introductory activist organizing projects of great interest to the student and benefit to the community. 

Brandy has demonstrated her commitment to building a better community by volunteering to work on collaborative proposals of significant impact. For example, in 2018, Brandy assisted with the writing and project management of a proposal to the Ohio Third Frontier program. This successful effort was led by her colleague Dr. Thomas Wischgoll and involved a consortium of every institution of higher education in the region; as a result, the greater Dayton region benefited from an infusion of $975,000 in artificial and virtual reality equipment to support workforce development.

Those of us who work with Brandy know that she can be fearless in her eagerness to serve. This has never been more apparent than when she, on the basis of an informal conversation with a brand-new acquaintance, decided to pursue the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition for a single, $100 million grant with the potential to provide economic revitalization, new jobs, clean energy, more democratic forms of transportation, and international attention to Dayton.  With fewer than 5 weeks before the submission deadline and no one else stepping up to lead, Brandy built a team that includes Wright State and many departments and units, the City of Dayton, SOCHE, Third Sector Capital Partners in Boston, and numerous startups and non-profits. Her enthusiasm for the project and her can-do attitude carried the massive project to submission, and the team has learned that its proposal has now successfully made it through the first review. 

The sheer breadth of Brandy’s community engagement is impressive, but her impact on workforce development for both students and the communities we serve exemplifies Wright State’s critical role in the region.


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