On Campus at Goodwin College – An Interview with Brooke Penders

Goodwin College

Goodwin College was founded in 1999 with the goal of transforming the former Data Institute, a small business technology training center, into a regional force for economic development and educational access. It has done just that.

Brooke Penders

Executing the philanthropic vision of a growing academic institution is no small task.

But it is one that Brooke Penders, VP for Advancement at Goodwin College, does gracefully, with a contagious energy that highlights her dedication to her work. Below is an interview with Brooke about what it takes to accomplish such a tall task, and how she does it so well.

(G+Y) So, let’s dive right in- who are you in 100 words or less?

(BP) I often think that who I am and what I do are two totally different things, but there are parts of who I am that make it easier to do what I do…I am an extrovert from a different part of the country who loves to bring people together for mutual benefit… I’ve found a way to talk with people that allows me speak on behalf of an institution which helps make wonderful things possible for our hardworking students.

You’ve touched on the idea that what you do goes beyond education, what would you say is the most important part of your job?

The connections I make are built upon creating relationships, and about telling Goodwin’s story. Lately, we’ve realized a great deal of clarity about who we as a young college are; who we are is about turning hardworking students into sought-after employees. At our core, we are about providing opportunities to students and meeting them where they are in life. At the same time, while we’re doing that, we are an economic development driver for the community.

So would you say there is a more holistic approach to education at Goodwin?

Absolutely. Most of our faculty consider themselves case managers; for them, it’s not just about teaching, it’s seeing who you’re teaching and getting a sense for all the different things they’ve brought to the table. Everyone’s got their story, so how do you help them navigate where they are now? Technology has certainly helped a lot with staying connected to our students. Email and other web-based platforms are often a less intimidating way for professors or administrators and students to communicate, so we use all the tools in our toolbox to help our students. Our Student Services Department really offers comprehensive support for the people who need it. Financial education, social services, even mental health counseling are things that we’ve seen and provide support and referrals for.
MC'd the Real Life Real Women brunch last year

You MC’d the Real Life Real Women brunch last year. Why is it important for Goodwin to recognize women in their community?

We honored women who shared similar experiences with our students or who had a unique connection to our community, and it was a wonderful event. Our student population is over 81% women, why wouldn’t we want to show our hard-working female students, who make up a majority of our student body- and most of whom are single-head-of- household- good role models? It’s important to find ways to bring those people together. Events like our Real Women’s Brunch help us to inspire our students with other people’s stories.

Goodwin Big PlansGoodwin has seen a lot of change and has big plans in the works. What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing as your non-traditional school grows in more traditional ways?

Telling the story of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and how it all comes back to serving our students, as well as our community. In addition to this, also helping to create a more vibrant and viable East Hartford is so very important. Our challenge will continue to be taking on both the role of educator and economic development driver. Some people are still having a hard time understanding why we’re not just focusing on education, and it’s because we have the opportunity to grow our community as well, and to serve more people in a different way. Why wouldn’t we?

What’s one thing that you’re working on right now that you’re really excited about?

Last December we were sitting in a scholarships selection committee meeting- these meetings are both exciting and also kind of sad. Obviously, you’re only able to give out as much money as you have to give out, and the need is often far greater. At the end of the meeting we were lamenting how many people we weren’t able to provide scholarships for, so we asked the question: “how many people aren’t going to graduate in June because they won’t have enough money to register for classes and finish school?” We did the math and it was about 7 students who needed about

$27,000 cumulatively. I sat there for a second and I said, “Okay, I’m going to go find that money”. That began the Finish Line Fund. Long story short, within 15 minutes I had secured the funds. This success came with a challenge of raising more money to continue this effort. So I am. We are now using our new crowdfunding platform, GiveCampus to fund this and three other efforts that are close to our hearts.

All that happened on December 23rd, so on Christmas Eve I got to call seven students and tell them that their balances had been paid, that they could register for classes and would be graduating in June. It just reinforces the idea that any amount of giving makes a difference. When I see the community getting behind these efforts it is so powerful.

“A lot of what I do doesn’t have to do with money, it’s just about starting a relationship. Making connections is everything we do. ”

– Brooke Penders


Goman+York is proud to be the economic development and real estate consultant for Goodwin College. Learn more about our work with Goodwin here.