Rhodes finalist

2019 alumnus Taylor Brown affects social services policy worldwide

By Megan Stroud | Photography by Jeff Montgomery |

During his senior social work field placement, Taylor Brown (’19) got his first taste of social policy, an experience that is changing the trajectory of his career. Along his pathway to career and educational goals, he was named a Rhodes scholar finalist for the prestigious international postgraduate award where 32 students are chosen as scholars to study at the University of Oxford in England. While finalists are not chosen to receive funding, that has not slowed him down. Brown is continuing to work in social policy with government agencies and international organizations through his own consulting firm while teaching adjunct at Harding, helping students through the same senior placement internships that shaped his career. 

“Had I not gone to Harding, I would not be doing what I’m doing now,” Brown says. “Most of the things that I learned that I use everyday, I learned in the social work program in my undergraduate experiences. When I compare myself to my peers in my master’s program, I was leaps and bounds ahead of everyone. I credit that to the social work faculty. Great classes and the opportunity to work in Little Rock really set me apart whenever it comes to policy and politics.”  

Brown came to the University from Paragould, Arkansas, as the first member of his family to attend a four-year college. He originally declared Bible and English majors, but, as a sophomore, began studying social work. Even after changing his major, he stayed involved with ministry, working with River City Ministry, a homeless shelter in North Little Rock, for three years. After only two weeks of working in the local child welfare office for his senior field placement, he was asked by the director of the Arkansas Division of Children and Family Services to serve as a legislative aide for Arkansas’ legislative session in Little Rock. 

“I was super anxious, but I did it, and that really got my feet wet in social policy and politics at a state level,” Brown says. “That completely changed my career trajectory because I had planned on doing therapy and working with kids.” 

After graduating, Brown worked in the Arkansas governor’s office as a research and legislative assistant to the governor’s senior director on issues of child policy including Medicaid, child welfare and juvenile justice. 

In order to move forward in his career, Brown knew he needed to begin his master’s degree, and, after being accepted into all his desired schools, he chose Washington University in St. Louis because of their reputation in macro social work. He began the 1 1/2 year program with a concentration on social and economic development policy and research. 

“I approach quantitative research through my social work training,” Brown says. “I do research with the goal of making the world a better place, even if it’s just a small degree.” 

While getting his master’s degree at Washington University, he continued pursuing professional opportunities. Through a racial equality fellowship, Brown consulted with a K-12 school district in St. Louis and organized their racial equality assessment. He also served in the Missouri state legislature as an aide for the Senate and House of Representatives minority leaders. When the global pandemic began, Brown focused on local campaigns, most notably the campaign for Mayor Ella Jones, the first African American and female mayor of Ferguson, Missouri. After her campaign, he served her as a senior advisor, running a regional economic development task force. 

During summer 2020, Brown had plans to work in Washington, D.C., but, because of COVID-19, worked remotely as a program analyst in the immediate office of the assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families, the largest federal agency for social services in the U.S. He started as a student but became an advisor to the assistant secretary on the policy and politics of social policy. 

“If I had not been working remotely, I would have been working directly with the assistant secretary every day,” Brown says. 

He helped organize the federal response to COVID-19, led the strategic planning process for the agency, and made several policy proposals. He led the inaugural transatlantic foster adoption virtual learning exchange, a virtual summit between ACF and the United Kingdom’s Department for Education. Because of this, the UK is discussing raising their maximum age of adoption from 18 to 21.

“If they follow through with that, it will benefit a whole lot of older foster children who will then have the chance to be adopted for three more years, which is a big deal in the child welfare world,” Brown says. “Social science tells us they’re likely to have poor outcomes when they age out of foster care.” 

He also helped lead the global children and care virtual summit, during which nine young people who had been in different foster care contexts were able to share their experiences to representatives from 31 countries. 

He also was a part of the ACF assistant secretary’s all-in foster adoption challenge, focusing on children whose parental rights have already been terminated and are waiting to be adopted. This challenge resulted in the passing of an executive order, discussing adoption policy reform in all 50 states as well as communication strategy with former First Lady Melania Trump, who promoted the challenge in her Be Best campaign. 

While his contract with ACF ended in January, he has been filling in as a director of communications for the agency during the turnover caused by the presidential election, writing speeches and op-eds for the assistant secretary. 

With hopes of finding a potential funding opportunity for continuing his education in the UK, Brown applied to become a Rhodes scholar at the University of Oxford. 

“I applied expecting not to make it past the first round and ended up making it to the final round,” Brown says. “I was very surprised the whole time, but I was also very skeptical the whole time, because you don’t apply to something like that expecting to win.”

Brown was named a finalist but was not chosen as a scholar to receive funding to attend Oxford. Nevertheless, earning another master’s degree in the UK is still at the top of his list of next steps for his education and career path before beginning his Ph.D. in social work. 

“The UK studies social policy differently than we do here in the U.S.,” Brown says. “They tend to use a comparative approach, comparing the social policy of all the different countries around them. You can apply it to the U.S. by either comparing us to other countries or comparing states to each other. Some of the research in my master’s degree was taking that approach, and I want to learn more about that methodology.”  

Brown completed his master’s degree from Washington University in December and had plans to move to Washington, D.C., to continue his work there. Because of COVID-19, Brown and his wife, Caitlyn Spears (’13), moved back to Searcy where she became the social services director at Sparrow’s Promise, a private foster care agency. 

Rather than viewing the hurdles of the global pandemic as something holding him back, he is taking this chance for new opportunities. 

In September, Brown began his own remote consulting firm to continue to work with government agencies in St. Louis and Washington, D.C., as well as international organizations. Through his consulting firm, he is providing three main services: evaluation and research, organizational development mostly for nonprofit organizations, and political strategy for public officials. 

In addition to his consulting firm, Brown also is teaching adjunct at Harding as a field liaison, mentoring and supervising senior field placements with plans to teach more classes in the fall and get involved with aspiring research students on campus through the Honors College. 

“[Teaching adjunct] is probably the most fulfilling thing that I’m doing right now. I wouldn’t be doing anything I do now without my time at Harding and especially without the mentors that I had at Harding. It’s very valuable to be back with those same mentors. In fact, I’m being mentored again, which is awesome. I also love the opportunity to mentor students and help them grow, especially because I am not much older than they are. I think it’s exciting to show them what they could be doing in the next year or two and tell them that they could be helping the world in a lot of different ways.”

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