In Focus: Darren Brownlee
How did you decide to transfer to Hofstra University?
I began my college career at West Virginia University where I majored in Exercise Physiology and played Division I football. When I decided I wanted to transfer schools, I got in touch with my old high school coach who keeps in touch with many college recruiters. We talked about my goals and how I still wanted to play football so my coach mentioned Hofstra to me. Hofstra University had recruited me back in high school so I remembered a lot about the program. I got into contact with the coach there and they offered me a scholarship. Once I visited the campus, I knew I definitely wanted to attend Hofstra. I graduated with my BA in 2009 and immediately began thinking about graduate school, particularly programs in the health field. My mother is a nurse practitioner and I had always enjoyed the injury prevention and recovery aspects of sports. When coupled with my interest in science courses in college, these experiences drove me to explore the Master of Health Administration at Hofstra. I went to some of the Hofstra Graduate Open Houses to learn more about their graduate health programs and when I spoke with faculty, I knew the MHA degree was for me.
What was it like moving from West Virginia to New York?
Well, my mother was nervous. My mom and dad are big influences in my life and my mom was concerned about the potential unfriendliness of a big city. It took a little bit of getting used to but I enjoyed learning. Having a million people in one area, you need to be a little bit more assertive to make your way. Hofstra’s Long Island campus location allows me to still have some of the open space that I am used to. The Hofstra community has been great. I also connected with the Hofstra chapter of my fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha. They welcomed me and provided a familiar connection here in New York.
Tell us about your internship experiences.
At first, I felt out of place in the program when my peers were already working in health-related fields and I had such little experience, especially because I felt football dominated my undergraduate experience. The small class sizes at Hofstra and the personable professors who really encourage interaction in the classroom made it easier for me to adjust. I was able to have many networking opportunities also. The faculty here are top notch; many are CEOs in their fields. My first networking opportunity was an American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) event held at Hofstra. I was introduced to Dennis Sheridan, Vice President of Administration at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, New York. He saw something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself. He brought me on as an intern and taught me professionalism in healthcare, office etiquette and many other administrative skills. It was my first opportunity. Then last fall, he referred me for an internship at The Silvercrest Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Queens, New York where I began working with Natasha Elie, Vice President of the organization and an alum of Hofstra’s MHA program. Talking with Ms. Elie helped me learn and grow so much that I extended my internship there.
How did you learn about Fellowship opportunities?
As I began thinking about graduation, I learned about possible fellowship opportunities through Hofstra and the ACHE seminars that Hofstra participates in. I realized that I could gain more exposure to the field and learn the industry quickly through a fellowship. I applied to six programs, including a very selective fellowship at Johns Hopkins in Maryland. I began the review process in October, 2011, when a coordinator from Johns Hopkins came to New York to hold interviews. Eventually, I became one of sixteen national finalists and travelled to Baltimore, Maryland for a final interview. There, I found out I was the fourth runner up but they were so impressed that they still offered me a position. I will begin an Administrative Residency in the summer, where I will work in areas such as materials management, medical affairs, and oncology. I will even have the opportunity to shadow one of my interviewers, who was impressed with me from early on and encouraged me to keep in touch. I am hopeful that this fantastic position will lead to several opportunities beyond my year long commitment.
How are you involved with new students in the Health Administration program?
When I first entered the program, I had a lot to get used to. Now, I am the one sharing information with new students. I use my experiences to ease them in and encourage interactions so they don’t feel isolated. We are all together in this. That’s Hofstra Pride. It was tough for me but I found my path. It still amazes me that I have been afforded such great opportunities since I entered the program straight from undergrad, and I would definitely promote the program to anyone interested in administering programs in healthcare, whether they have a lifetime of experience or a new passion for the field.
Did you find mentors while studying at Hofstra University?
Until he retired last year, David Weiss was a great influence on me. He was my first professor and despite being nervous, he gave me motivation to continue to learn and to try my hardest academically. I was able to take some life lessons from football and use them in the classroom. I use a similar mentality on teamwork, work ethic, and time management as a student now. I feel fortunate to be on this path.
Some other individuals who really helped mold me are Fred Sganga, Estelle Weinstein, Robert Shapiro, and Julie Agris. We would talk after class and they referred me to other learning opportunities. I like the way Hofstra is connected. If you are humble, personable and eager, people will want to help you out. I am thankful for this opportunity and the network I’ve built.
How were you able to finance your education at Hofstra?
While I worked to complete my BA, I began as a student aide in Hofstra’s Office of Event Management. Until I was lucky enough to receive an assistantship through that department in my second year of the MHA program, I was very proactive and sought out a number of work opportunities on and around campus. During my time in Event Management, Steed Alberti and Rich Wolcott were two people who helped me so much. I couldn’t ask for anything else. I thank Hofstra because the people here have helped mold me through all the different opportunities I’ve had. The positions I have held within the last four years in New York have brought me a lifetime of experience. It’s up to individual students to be hungry and put themselves out there. Everything happens for a reason.