Emelia (Hostetler '04) Brown
2012 Outstanding Young Alumni Award
The award recognizes a graduate within the previous 10 years who has gained distinction through service to people, community or church, or has made significant contributions in his or her career.
Although a number of her family members were Bluffton graduates—including her father and grandfather—Emelia (Hostetler '04) Brown wasn't sure about her college choice until she had visited many campuses.
Her eventual decision to come to Bluffton and pursue a degree in early childhood education has served Brown well. After several years in classrooms as a teacher and an early childhood specialist, she is now director of the Spartan Child Development Center at Michigan State University, and this year's recipient of Bluffton's Outstanding Young Alumni Award.
"From an early age, Bluffton felt like a second home," says Brown, whose father, Daniel Hostetler III '80, had brought her to May Day and other campus events when she was younger.
And ultimately in her college search, "Bluffton was where I thought I should be," she says, noting that she was drawn by its small size and opportunities for involvement. Once on campus, the 2000 graduate of Sugarcreek (Ohio) Garaway High School became a three-year member of the Marbeck Center Board and a resident adviser for two years.
Early on, when she questioned her choice of major, her adviser, Dr. Gayle Trollinger, "had a talk with me, and she convinced me to take one of the first education courses," Brown remembers. That course put her in front of a classroom for the first time, which "reinforced my initial thoughts and feelings that education was for me," she says.
Graduating four years later with an early childhood endorsement—certifying her to teach prekindergarten through grade 3 in Ohio—she found a "rough" job market. So, after marrying Ben Brown '04 that June and moving back to the Sugarcreek area, she took a long-term substitute position for a kindergarten teacher in nearby Dover.
During that year, her husband decided to pursue a master's degree and, after he was accepted at Michigan State, they moved in August 2005 to East Lansing. There, Emelia got her first full-time teaching job, with children ages 4 and 5 at the Spartan Child Development Center.
"I was a little scared at first," she admits, recalling that she had to learn how to provide developmentally appropriate structure for the preschoolers. With the help of other teachers who mentored her, however, "I fell in love with the whole early childhood environment," she says.
After two years at the center, Brown joined the Lansing School District to teach preschool, which was funded through the Great Start Readiness Program. In Michigan, Great Start Readiness is a state grant-funded program for 4-yearolds who are deemed at risk educationally by having at least two risk factors.
She continued her work by supporting the Great Start Readiness classrooms in Lansing schools as the early childhood specialist—a post she assumed after teaching for three years and earning her master's degree in educational administration from Michigan State in May 2010.
"I had always thought of myself being in an administrative role," says Brown, who focused her master's program on leadership and development of teachers. As the early childhood specialist, she worked with 42 educators in 21 classrooms on curriculum, professional development and compliance with grant and child care licensing requirements.
At the same time, Brown reconnected with the Spartan Child Development Center, both through her first child, Izabelle "Izzy," now 2, whom her mother wanted to attend the center, and by working with its director on an internship for her master's degree.
Last fall, the director told Brown she would be leaving, "and my name came up" as a possible replacement, she says. She questioned if she had enough experience for the job, but, she adds, she and her husband had always believed that "God will lead us where we're supposed to be." And, as she talked to colleagues, "it started becoming more and more clear to me that this was an opportunity to grow and learn," Brown says.
That's exactly what has happened, she continues, in her first year as director of the center, which provides education and child care to about 140 children.
Brown says she hopes to stay at the center for the foreseeable future but also, eventually, to earn a doctorate and "continue to develop young professionals" as a college professor.
She is drawn to helping others, she explains, because of the encouragement she has received. In her personal life, that support has come from her parents, husband and in-laws, and at Bluffton, through the mentorship of Trollinger; Don Schweingruber, now vice president and dean of student life emeritus; and Korine (Steinke) Wawrzynski, former residence life director and still a close friend.
"I never thought that I would be a director so young, but I honestly could not have gotten here alone," Brown says. "I pushed myself to learn and develop into a young professional, but God gave me the path and the supports to make it all possible."