By Bethany Deuel
If you don’t let her extensive and impressive resume intimidate you, meeting with Devon Brenner proves to be an enjoyable and educational experience. After working in multiple education-related roles here at Mississippi State University, Brenner currently serves as assistant vice president for Outreach & Initiatives at the Office of Research and Economic Development, a professor for the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, & Special Education, and the interim director at the Social Science Research Center.
Since assuming her role at the SSRC, Brenner has focused her efforts on learning about the center and its people to best give everyone the tools needed to succeed.
“We have a really good team of research PI’s, researchers, projects, and staff. A lot of my work is just making sure that everyone has the tools and resources that they need to do their work. They don’t really need me to tell them what to do, they just need me if there’s an obstacle at the university level, or if there’s a resource that they need,” Brenner said.
Brenner’s main research interests include rural teacher recruitment and rural education policy. Despite rural education not historically being a prominent area of research at the SSRC, she sees her interests blending with the work being done at the SSRC because of the shared core values and would love to help increase research in those areas.
“I’m interested in issues of equity and diversity and so many people, including pretty much all of those at the SSRC, are committed to those kinds of issues and thinking about “how can really well-designed research inform policy, practice, and future understanding?” she said. “Those are the kinds of commitments I have made throughout my career whether its rural education research or literacy research around reading curriculum.”
Brenner started her career in rural Addison, Michigan, teaching fourth grade where she had previously attended school as a child. She eventually left to earn her Ph.D. at Michigan State University, and then came to MSU in 1999. After serving in many roles around MSU, including as the head of the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education, Brenner worked in Washington, D.C. from 2015 to 2016 under U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. While Brenner much prefers the small-town feel of Starkville, she noted how impactful it was to gain that experience, especially now working at a center where policy-making is at the heart of much of the research.
“The SSRC is doing all kinds of work to inform policymaking around tobacco use and around early-childhood development, trying to engage with and improve systems around our state,” she said.
When she returned to MSU in 2016, one of Brenner’s main roles became helping get the Partnership School, a collaboration between MSU and the Starkville-Oktibbeha School District, off the ground. Coordinating with the architects, the construction crew and education staff, she was able to see the school’s creation and is proud of how it thrives today. Brenner describes Partnership School as a “university-wide effort” benefitting the university, the kids, and the College of Education.
Today, Brenner is also the principal investigator on an upcoming National Science Foundation grant titled “Teacher Preparation for Rural STEM Teacher Persistence and Retention (TPR)2.” A collaboration with 14 other institutions across the country, this 4-year $1.4 million grant will allow the team to study factors that bring teachers to work in rural areas.
Because of her many points of service at the university and deep family roots she has grown in the city of Starkville, Brenner knows this is where she will continue to work and serve for the years to come.
“I’m committed to Mississippi State University, I’m committed to doing good work and playing whatever supportive role is the best one for me on campus.”