Brand new era (page 2)
for students, faculty and staff, and community members.
Meeting so many people can be daunting. It's not possible to really understand a place in the span of a workday, after all, but the pair gave every person they met their full attention.
Among the first words out of Brand's mouth upon meeting Tom Kirk, a sophomore and the news editor for The Cornellian, were, "How's your block going?" Then: "I'm so used to saying 'How is your semester going?' but that just doesn't work here."
That was a question Brand would ask again and again during his visit.
"During lunch with President Brand and Rachelle, their passion for engaging with the students and their desire to connect with the community was evident," said Taylor Koch, then-Student Senate president. "President Brand showed his attentiveness to what students are up to on a daily basis, asking as many questions as possible, and already asking how he can engage with students and student organizations on campus. I feel comfortable speaking for all who were at the lunch in saying that we wish we could have had even more time because we had so much to share and he had so many ideas for us as well."
His drive to connect continued throughout a day that began with a run to explore both campus and Mount Vernon. He took the chance to observe how things were laid out, took a route into town, and then realized that there was no way to get to Brackett House without running up a steep hill.
"It's physically, geographically, and topographically impossible," he said. A year-round runner, he was offered the chance to run with Cornell athletes—something he said he'd consider, but only when they were tired.
At facilities management, the couple was delighted to be greeted with a poster signed by the entire staff. Brand told them how much he and his family had been impressed with the beauty of the campus, and that he knew their work was essential to that.
Even community members got a taste of Brand's personality.
"It's clear to me Jonathan and Rachelle will be engaged with the Cornell-Mount Vernon-Lisbon community," said Jake Krob, publisher and editor of the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun and an honorary alum. "At the reception, I handed Rachelle a copy of the most current Sun edition. Rachelle genuinely appreciated getting the copy early, as theirs hadn't arrived in Nebraska before they'd left. It was a clear indication to me that they care about keeping up on the news of what will be their new community."
That focus on the people isn't surprising to those who know Brand well. Kim Miller Jacobs '83, vice president for student leadership at Doane College, said he's highly visible, attending as many events as he can, and taking time to walk around campus and visit with students, faculty, and staff.
Jacobs has a double connection to Cornell. Not only is she an alum, her daughter, Kalissa Holdcraft, is a Cornell sophomore, and joined Brand and LaBarge for lunch as a member of the Student Senate Executive Committee. In fact, as Brand made his way from Brackett House to King Chapel for his speech, he carried with him a book bag filled with supplies from Jacobs to her daughter.
"Jonathan leads utilizing collaboration and communication," she said. "He shares information and feedback and is always accessible. He listens carefully to the opinions and ideas of others and trusts the judgment of those with whom he works. He does not micro-manage. Jonathan is the most supportive president I have ever worked for."
Brand's people skills are something Russell Osgood thinks has made Brand so successful. Osgood, former president of Grinnell College, met Brand at Cornell University Law School, where Osgood taught and Brand studied. When Brand returned to Cornell University, he worked for Osgood, and it was Osgood who brought Brand to Grinnell.
"Jonathan has the ability to connect with large cross-sections of people," Osgood said. "He has a great capacity to relate to faculty, students, and staff, and he's uniquely successful in how he can relate to them and be liked by them."
Son of a poet and a principal
Brand was born into a family of educators. His father was a principal, and his mother was an English professor, poet, and creative writer. Education was part of his life from the beginning. He majored in history and French at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and spent a year abroad in Paris. That year, he said, had its challenges, but it shaped his life too.
He earned a master's degree in French literature from the University of Michigan and spent three years in California teaching French. He then decided to switch gears and go to law school.
"It was a moment to decide what was the next step in life," Brand said of the decision. "It happens throughout life, this perpetual state of self-reflection and planning."
He practiced law for only a year before returning to higher education, but in law school he learned more than facts and legal precedents; he learned how to draw together different strands of information and weave them into a coherent whole.
"When I look back on my law school experience, what I'm most thankful for is what students at Cornell College actually learn as undergraduates," he said. "I was engaged in the rigorous intellectual process of synthesizing and creating a unified sense of knowledge."
After working at Cornell University for a year, he became special assistant and counsel to President Osgood at Grinnell, a position he held for seven years. In addition to teaching