Living in Chicago, Monique Brunson is far from the rolling hills of Arkansas. She cannot see the towers of Old Main standing high above the trees or hear the thousands of Razorback fans calling the hogs in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. However, she exemplifies all of the characteristics of an Arkansan, a University of Arkansas alumna and a Razorback through her hard work, dedication and pride within the Chicago Foundation for Women and the Chicago Arkansas Club.
“The University of Arkansas gave me a foundation as diverse as the field I am in now,” she said. Growing up in Little Rock, Brunson always wanted to be a Razorback. Liking the idea of going to the “top school in Arkansas,” she applied and received the Dr. J. Michael Stair Endowed Scholarship, becoming the first of her siblings to go to college.
Unlike many students who enter college and are undecided about their field of study, Brunson knew her calling was in social work. “My family, we were part of a church that had a daycare and many of the kids were in foster care and had been abused or neglected. I worked there during high school and wanted to know more about children and social welfare, which ultimately led me to want to become a therapist for children,” she said.
Focusing on her studies, she made time for student involvement by joining Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and the Black Students Association. However, getting involved in the student organization, S.W.A.G. (Social Work Action Group), led her to become more knowledgeable about the field of social work, as well as prepared for what is needed to become a successful social worker. As she neared the end of her four years at the University of Arkansas, she realized the importance and necessity of obtaining a master’s degree in the field.
Before graduating in 1999, she spoke with Dr. Joe Schriver, her social work professor. He knew Dr. Barbara White at the University of Texas at Austin and urged Brunson to apply for the program. “He literally made me apply and asked Dr. White about getting me a fellowship opportunity so that I could go to school there,” she said. Only taking one year to complete, she received her master’s degree from UT Austin in 2000.
Entering the professional world, her goal to work with children remained. She worked at a center for youth and families in Little Rock, helping to place therapists within the schools, which enabled her to work with children in the school system every day. As the years passed, her resume included working as the director of clinical services at Hull House, an independent clinical therapist and director of violence prevention coordination at Cook County Department of Public Health.
In the 13 years since she graduated from the University of Arkansas, her goals have slightly changed but her passion for serving and helping others remain. Today, Brunson works as the senior program officer for the Chicago Foundation for Women, which is an organization that helps to “raise money and support organizations that are dedicated to helping women and girls succeed in the Chicago area.”
Overseeing the grant making process, she looks to see that the organizations they are supporting have the ability to do the work. “We offer the money and the assurance that these organizations can do the work they set out to do,” she said. As a leader in the organization, her involvement in helping others succeed is just one of the rewards of her profession. “The idea that I am seen as a partner to these non-profit organizations is such a great reward,” she added.
Her passion for helping others, especially students, can not only be seen through her work with the Chicago Foundation for Women, but through her work with the Chicago Arkansas Club. As a member of the Arkansas Alumni Association, Brunson was looking for a way to stay connected and up-to-date on campus news. Joining the Chicago Arkansas Club, she became the scholarship and recruitment chair. “We currently only fund one student, Collin Pitts. The scholarship pays for his tuition and the University waives his out-of-state tuition fee,” she said.
Since Pitts will be a senior this coming year, Brunson looks forward to what the future holds for the Chicago Arkansas Club, saying,” I want to see us raise more funds, but we need to work harder at engaging local alumni and promoting the U of A as a place where Chicago kids can go to school.” One other aspect that she hopes to see expand is the career network that is available to recent graduates. “This career program helps so many kids find jobs; however, I would like to see it expand to major cities.”
Witnessing the positive impact of professional and personal growth in herself, Brunson is proud of her alumna status at the University of Arkansas and hopes more students will see the University as a school that can stand up to the rest. With a 10-month-old daughter at home, she is raising her to be a future Razorback and looks forwarding to seeing her name etched on Senior Walk one day.