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A&M-Central Texas alum triumphs after earning degree

Special to Leader-Press 


At 72 Beaver Dam Road in Bellport, New York, about 70 miles from Manhattan, a modest home on a lush, tree-lined street is tucked somewhat anonymously into a residential area surrounded by industrial warehouses, paving companies, trucking lots, and construction supply facilities.

Crystal Brown, 36, was born in the Village of Patcogue on the Great South Bay of Long Island, 20 miles from that home, the second of five children, to parents, George, a custodian, and mother, Lucille, a homemaker. 

And she remembers a moment on the front lawn of that home where she played with her siblings. Her cousin, Kim, was visiting. And she had news. 

That memory – almost three decades ago – stayed with her throughout the years. 

“In that moment, I remember wanting more,” she said. “Kim was letting the family know that she was going to law school, and it inspired me to set goals like that for myself.”

As it always does, the years passed. Brown graduated from Bellport High School in the same community in which she was raised, an “average student,” the first in her family to reach for a college education.

“All I knew then was that my family would never be able to afford to send me to college,” she said. “So, I started applying for scholarships and talking to the Army recruiter.”

By mid-summer, Brown would be mid-way through basic training and a member of Charlie Company, Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. During a phone call back home, her grandmother, Henrietta, told her that she had received a letter from the Boys and Girls Club. 

It was one of the applications she had made for a scholarships, and it was notifying her that she had been selected. In fact, it was a lot more than a scholarship; it was a full-ride scholarship: tuition, fees, housing, and books to Briarcliffe College in her hometown.

The news of that scholarship came too late, she said. She was already sworn in to military service, assigned to 92 Yankee, a supply specialist in a military intelligence battalion, and quickly assigned to Wurzburg, Germany.

Over the years, she says, she took classes, “here and there,” collecting credit hours in German, English, and biology, but she admits, deployments to Iraq and additions to her family meant that her path toward her degree would take longer.

By that time, Brown had also been honorably discharged from both the Army and the Army Reserves. She had married and they have four children: Chad Brown, Jr., 18, Sincere Harrison, 13, Serenity Brown, 9, and Mareena Brown, 7. The family settled in Killeen.

Her husband, Chad Brown, former Army medic, had also served in Iraq before leaving active duty and opening up his own business doing paint and body work.

She worked at Ft. Hood as a CNA at the Soldier Medical Readiness Center for five years, transferring to the Olin Teague VA Hospital in Temple for a position as a health technician in audiology.

“It took me 10 years to do it, but I graduated from Central Texas College in 2013 with my degree in general studies. And When I was doing my paperwork to graduate, they told me about A&M-Central Texas.”

Brown admits that applying for admission was both exhilarating and frightening. She didn’t know, she says, that the University’s admissions policy only required a 2.0 GPA with a minimum of 30 hours of college level coursework. 

She was all but certain to be admitted, but wouldn’t know that for sure until she was notified by the admissions office in 2016. She would graduate by 2018 with a bachelor of science in liberal studies, concentrating in social work and psychology.

Looking back, Brown seems amazed at her accomplishment, crediting the faculty in the A&M-Central Texas social work program with inspiring her to reach higher.

“Dr. Claudia Rappaport taught a class called Biological Foundations of Social Work, and I remember her spending the whole semester teaching us the importance of looking at the whole person, physically and behaviorally,” she said. 

“She opened up my mind and taught me to see just how incredibly complex people are. I knew in those moments I would want a graduate degree in social work when I completed my degree at A&M-Central Texas.”

And so it was, she says, that she and a friend, former A&M-Central Texas student and alumn, Kino Hickey, would sit with her at a Starbucks and discuss her desire to attend Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.

He was one year ahead of her, already at Baylor for his MSW, and they had similar backgrounds. Both military service, both took longer than they had liked to complete their educational goals. But both had persisted, and he was now encouraging her to do the same.

Taking an extraordinary leap of faith, Brown followed his advice, applying to Baylor. She found out that she was accepted on February 15th, three months before her graduation from A&M-Central Texas.

“I think I remember crying,” she said. “I remember reading the letter and being full of so much joy.”

Brown smiles when she speaks of that moment, but the irony of it – and the decisions that followed – is shaping a very new life for her and her family.

“Social workers are taught to work from a strengths perspective when working with clients,” she explained. “But I never really focused in on my own potential until I finished my degree at A&M-Central Texas and got accepted into graduate school.”

And, as it often does, one leap of faith leads to the strength for another.

She quit her job, she says, to pursue the graduate degree at Baylor, took out only enough in student loans to cover essentials, and has recently completed her first full year as a graduate student, anticipating graduation in May of 2020.

“I am in the most joyous place of my life,” she said, flashing a 1,000 watt smile. “I’m remembering that young nine year old girl I was, standing in my front yard, imagining what it would be like to be a professional.”

It’s like, she says, stepping into a new self; a self that is fundamentally the same, but one who has learned to experience and revel in her own potential.

“I found that at A&M-Central Texas,” she said. “And I will never stop being grateful for that. Ever.”

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