With March Being Women’s History month, it’s a perfect time to share the spotlight of Alumna Andra Greene Ellingson. She was appointed to the Brown Women’s Leadership Council by Ruth Simmons (That’s my President!) in 2009 and is actively involved with the promotion and celebration of 130 years of Women at Brown, and 120 years of Women of Color at Brown. One of my favorite things about talking with alumni is when I can hear, see, and feel them light up when talking about their experience at Brown. I had that privilege while virtually sitting down with Andra. Here are just a few of her accomplishments:
Andra’s victories on behalf of some of the country’s most recognized companies have led to such accolades as being named one of the “2019 Top Women Lawyers in California” by the Daily Journal. She was also recognized as the “2018 Orange County Bet-the-Company ‘Lawyer of the Year’” by Best Lawyers in America for her successful defense of cases including class actions. In 2016, Andra was named among the “Top 50 Women Lawyers” in the nation by the National Diversity Council. She was also honored as one of the “2014 Women Worth Watching” by the Diversity Journal.
Over the course of our 30-minute conversation I learned that Andra attributed her self-empowerment, drive and success in large part to her years at Brown. Gratitude for our time on College Hill was something we shared in common.
Here is a transcribed portion of our conversation (or click this link for the audio at our YouTube channel https://youtu.be/JKNS8Pt-lZ4 ):
Tell us about yourself what are you doing now in life professionally, personally or otherwise that you’d love to share with some of the other alumni in the area?
Well, I felt that Brown was a good launch pad for me to go on to law school. It was a liberal arts education so there was not a pre-law curriculum. I learned to be curious, to be creative, to have self-confidence. All of those factors helped me be successful not only in law school but throughout my career. I've been very blessed to have just celebrated my 40th law school anniversary. I didn't attend my reunion and that was hard. I always say there were two things I really liked about Harvard Law School, getting in and getting out. In between not so much. But I am very glad obviously that I went there, that I got the training
that I did. My heart is with Brown because that's where I really felt that I got the foundation for success. I always say I give nothing to Harvard. All my philanthropic endeavors for higher education go to Brown.
I was blessed with a 40-year career, and I'm somebody who can look back and say it went well. It certainly didn't go as I would have predicted after graduating from law school, but I don't regret anything. I wish everybody could be as lucky as I have been.
I thought it might be interesting to start our conversation talking about the 130 year commemoration of women at Brown. Tell us a little bit about your involvement and what this event means to you.
I think that Brown from the time I was there, obviously before but from my own personal
standpoint, really made a difference in developing its women students and the opportunities for them. It is a milestone that we look back on, it's 130 years since women began taking classes at Brown, 120 years since women of color began attending Brown. We've made obviously tremendous strides, we're no longer curiosities at the university but it is something to celebrate. Brown alums are obviously well known [and many] have gone on to great success in all kinds of fields, it's something that the university takes pride in. The alumni take pride in.
And starting at the 120th anniversary of women at Brown 110 years of women of color attending Brown. Brown offered events to celebrate that milestone. Ruth Simmons was president, she worked with the Women's Leadership Council, of which I am a member, to develop a program to bring together the community of women. To celebrate our successes. To talk about the future. To engage, to really be about community and that was tremendous.
The Brown Women's Network which is an affiliate of the Brown Women's Leadership Council is overseeing a wide array of programming to celebrate the achievements of all the women at Brown to have events to bring our alumnae community together to help mentor the next generation of Brown women. Really exciting, varied programming that should appeal
to a wide variety of interests, age groups, people in different locations. We have a website for the Brown Women's Network with a page devoted to all the activities available for the 130th Anniversary of Women at Brown and 120th anniversary of Women of Color at Brown. Most of these are virtual events given the times that we're living in. It's actually a great opportunity to participate in an expansive array of offerings, whatever interests you. We're having a program for example about women in Washington with a number of notable Brown alums who hold key positions in agencies in Washington who will be talking about their experiences. We try and have breakout groups in these programs with an opportunity for people to connect
and to have more one-on-one conversations. We have podcasts in a series called Women's Voices Amplified, highlighting a particular alum on a topic. We have mentoring programs. We have industry nights. Really, I urge everybody to check out the offerings, there is certainly something for everyone. I have the privilege to be head of the content strategy advisory
group on the women's leadership council executive committee, to oversee and help with all the programming that's being offered this year. I’m very excited to do that, and I've enjoyed the programs that we've had so far. Our kickoff program was with president Paxson, so of course always great to hear her. She actually was just starting at Brown at the time of the 120th anniversary, so it's amazing to me that 10 years has gone by already.
When you think of your Brown education, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
The open curriculum was so beneficial to me. That was one of the big attractions about Brown when I first interviewed there. But I also remember walking on campus, I went with my father. I remember it was raining, gray, but I took that tour with the student guide and I just knew I had to go there. My father knew this would be the place I would end up, and we just crossed our fingers. I was somebody who had very definite likes and dislikes. I hate math and science, love the social sciences. When I got to Brown because I wasn't required to take math
or science I thought I would take none of them. However, I got the guts and the interest to
take some of those courses because I wanted to and not because I have to. So, I was able to
trust my own judgment in what would be good for me and of course be very beneficial. And like everybody at Brown, you come in thinking you want to take one thing and you end up changing. I ended up as an economics major, something I would never have thought I
would be interested in, but I tried it. And I really liked it. That foundation
served me well in my legal career because I was a trial lawyer in complex business litigation cases and so of course having an econ background was very helpful for
that. And so what stands out for me about my education was, you know, putting aside the great faculty, the great classes, was that Brown gave me the opportunity to figure out what worked best for me, without artificial constraints.
Who impacted you the most on campus?
Well, you know, it's funny when you say that, it's not professors. Although certainly there were many that stand out in my mind. It would- it was my peers. I learned so much from them and had so much support from them in whatever I wanted to do. One thing that really stood out for me about Brown, and was in a great contrast to my experience at law school, was at Brown you definitely had high-achieving people at Brown, overachievers, super achievers but people were collaborative. They were not competitive with each other. We all were trying to rise with the boat not sink somebody else and that's what stands out in my mind. How much I learned from my peers, all of whom were there to learn but with different interests… If you were to ask me what course I remember the most, ENGN 9/90 with Barrett Hazeltine. I love the access, direct access, to faculty instead of grad students. Not that I don't love grad students but
but still it was nice to be taught by the names.
3: QUICK FIRE
V dub (Verne Wooly) or Ratty?
Oh the Ratty. You know dinner was not a quick thing, it was like being in a salon. You were
there at least two maybe three hours, unless you're serious. And I remember the soft [serve] ice cream and the date bars.
What was your Freshman Year Dorm?
That was far out there right?
You know, it was funny because I felt like I was out in Siberia but I made wonderful friends there I have so many stories I probably- I could talk about 10 hours about Brown.
The Rock or the Sci-Li?
The Rock. Yeah and the chocolate chip cookies from Corb's bakery at the top there.
Thinking back, what lasting impact did Brown have that is still prevalent today, or any closing thoughts?
I really urge any, alumnae, here or wherever they are located, to participate in what’s called the Women's Launch Pad. The university pairs an alumna with a- we're now starting at junior year, used to be just senior but junior year with a woman, a Brown student, to act as a mentor. And the relationships that one forms through doing that are really extremely special it's a way to give back it's a way to be in touch with current Brown students it's a way to help someone as she launches her career. I have had now I think eight mentees, and I've learned as much from them as I’m sure they have from me- I’ve probably learned even more from them than they have from me. But it's been so special and it's such a way to celebrate what women are accomplishing at Brown, and how wonderful this current generation is. I have a lot of faith in the future of our country learning from these women and seeing
Brown Women’s Network-
Brown Women’s Launch Pad-
March 16th, Examining the Evolution of Women at Brown
March 22nd, Filmmaker Betsy West '73 on "My Name is Pauli Murray"
About the Author: A.J. Cruz is a member of the 2013 graduation class from Brown University. He is an Orange County native who moved back home after a 7 year professional football career. If you would love to get involved and even be featured as an alumni spotlight please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org