Opportunity after opportunity leads to over a decade-long career with R&I for Rachel Brown

In 2007, when Rachel Brown started in her first role with Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division, she probably didn’t think in 2023 – an amazing 16 years later – that she would still be working here, making an impact on the college research industry, and loving it as much as she does.

Rachel Brown is the Manager, Finance Operations and Compliance, for Niagara College’s (NC) Research & Innovation (R&I) division.

In her role, she oversees the budgets, reporting, metrics, and compliance of all research grants. She liaises with R&I funders and keeps on top of what’s happening with changes in policy and procedures in the college research industry to ensure continual compliance with various funder requirements.

Currently, she keeps these duties for around 30 R&I grants.

Rachel is one of the early members of the R&I division, now having worked at the College for nearly 16 years in a career that is still going strong.

Her time at NC started in 2007. She was enrolled in the Business Administration, Operations Management program at the College and heard of a student job opportunity with R&I through a presentation at the beginning of one of her classes.

“Our coordinator spoke at the beginning of one of our classes about this opportunity (with R&I) and I thought it was the perfect fit because of the hours, being on-campus, and it wouldn’t take away time with my young daughter,” said Rachel.

In 2007, on the administrative side of the division, it was just three people: her role as a Research Assistant, a director, and a manager. Fast forward to 2023, the division has grown exponentially. “For the core R&I team, before we even add in students, our division is around 30 staff members. It’s been great seeing the growth because for the longest time, it was a small team, and now we are seeing new job postings frequently, new faces joining the team, and more opportunities for students,” said Rachel.

There have been so many growth opportunities over the years, especially at the beginning when the division was so new, that have allowed Rachel to grow professionally with R&I.

She enjoyed the Research Assistant student position so that much that she came back to the division to do her eight-month co-op.

When that was done during her last term of school, she interviewed for a full-time role with the division and landed it just before graduating. “I essentially finished school on the Friday and started full-time with the division on the Monday,” Rachel said with a laugh.

“The College basically created the position around what I was doing over my co-op and student roles, so that was really neat knowing a lot of the processes that we have in place are variations of what I originally created,” she said.

There are relationships on the team that go beyond the everyday at the office – she noted some have even watched her daughter grow up, and vice versa. “It’s a genuine support on the R&I team. For the division to succeed, the individuals need to succeed, and so you know see a real camaraderie there where everybody is. We’ll all show up and do extra to help somebody else to make sure we all do well,” said Rachel.

Having just wrapped up year-end work, which is always a busy time for the whole division, Rachel and her team are now looking toward annual reporting and preparing financial reports that are due to various funders.

Another project to keep in line with continuous improvement is the operations team taking on an audit of existing processes to identify areas where things can be improved or made more efficient.

“It’s a genuine support on the R&I team. For the division to succeed, the individuals need to succeed, and so we see a real camaraderie on our team. We’ll all show up and do extra to help somebody else to make sure we all do well.”

Efficiency is the goal

“Having a new team member (Jesse Hayes) working with me has been great because she is bringing a fresh set of eyes and perspectives to the table for an exercise like reviewing processes and policies. Anything that can make our division run more efficiently and more effectively is the goal,” said Rachel.

For Rachel, after all these years at the College, no two days are the same. “Even when I’m reviewing a budget for one Innovation Centre versus another, it can be a totally different experience, even though it’s a similar task. Some days things may not be coming together, and it’s like a puzzle, so I find it enjoyable,” said Rachel.

But her favourite part of the job is the team. “The R&I team is amazing and the relationships I’ve built over the years and the trust that’s been built is so unique,” she added.

More exciting news in Rachel’s world is that she has recently been appointed to the role of Vice President on the Canadian Association of Research Administrators (CARA) executive committee. Before this appointment, Rachel has been an active member since 2011, been the co-chair of the College Special Interest Group from 2017 to 2022, and on the conference planning committee since 2016. She is proud to be a voice for colleges across Canada to help grow the recognition of colleges in research administration.

There’s no question – Rachel is a fan of the R&I division and proudly sings the praises of working at NC. “It’s a good place to work because even though we’re growing, we still have the feeling of a small tight-knit college and division with a real sense of collegiality,” said Rachel.

A final full-circle moment Rachel shared from over the years was when her daughter graduated from Niagara College. “As a proud NC graduate myself, it was pretty surreal to see my own daughter walk across the stage,” she said with a smile.

With her sister also graduating from NC, it seems that the love for NC runs deep with Rachel’s family.

If you know Rachel, you know she is a huge lover of musical theatre, but you may not know that she really likes to go hiking and do cross stitch.

She’s also working toward her Leadership Development Series Certificate to build on existing skills and experience and can apply her learning in the workplace.

Looking to the future, she’s excited to open the possibilities of research to those in other divisions with the upcoming Research Opportunity Fund (launching soon). “This opportunity will allow us to be able to impact more areas with research and will also give students even more chances to conduct research,” she noted.

As the division continues to grow, Rachel Brown will be right there for the ride.

Visit the Research & Innovation website, or if you have a project idea to share, contact David DiPietro, Manager, Business Development, at [email protected]