Danita Brown Young, ’97, Ph.D., 2023 Professional Achievement Award Recipient
“College institutions must address the basic needs of our students, regardless of age, ethnicity, background, etc., in order to holistically support and develop them. If a student’s basic needs are not met, then they will not be able to learn or be successful.”
Danita Brown Young, ’97, Ph.D., has more than 25 years of experience in higher education and student affairs. She currently serves as vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
As she has advanced in her career, student needs have been the driving force behind her work in higher education.
“Student wellbeing, support, engagement and advocacy lead to student success,” Danita explained. “College institutions must address the basic needs of our students, regardless of age, ethnicity, background, etc., in order to holistically support and develop them. If a student’s basic needs are not met, then they will not be able to learn or be successful.”
Her student-centered approach and advocacy for leadership development and service learning have played a central role in her career. After graduating from Kent State with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1997, Danita earned a Master of Arts in Community Counseling from Loyola University Chicago in 2001, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Ohio University in 2007. Throughout graduate school, she worked at her respective universities in roles focused on student organizations and campus life.
“I highly value community service and engagement with our local communities, which is a key component of the public university mission,” Danita explained.
She is currently the co-chair of the Community Action and Public Engagement working group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Since 2020, this group of university and community leaders have worked in partnership to create and implement the Campus-Community Compact. It is a combined effort that focuses on student- and community-based initiatives to combat important issues facing both the campus and community. The six areas of focus are access to technology; community relations; economic development; health, wellness and resilience; inclusivity in education and workforce development.
“As a part of this initiative, we are carefully designing action steps for all our students to participate in academically integrated and community engaged learning experiences,” she said. “Our goal is to prepare students to be active community members, professionals and scholars.”
Since completing her doctorate, Danita has worked in leadership roles at West Virginia University, Purdue University, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and now the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2021, she received the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Foundation’s Pillar of the Profession award for her career accomplishments, service to her profession and lasting impact on the institutions at which she has worked.
“She has been instrumental in providing students with leadership skills and opportunities for service learning as part of the college experience, establishing student assistance programs for those in financial hardship and working with campus resources to help students who are in crisis or experiencing a mental health and wellness need,” said Stephanie Meadows, ’97, M.Ed. ’01, teacher at Arlington Public Schools in Falls Church, Virginia, and member of the Kent State Alumni Association's National Board of Directors.
Among her many accomplishments, Danita served as the first Black dean of students at Purdue University when she was promoted to the position in 2011. She is a past board chair for NASPA, and she is a former chair of the Council on Student Affairs for the Association of Public Land-grant Universities.
Above all, Danita is dedicated to creating an environment that enables students to thrive.
“She is a continual advocate for college students, ensuring that they have a successful, safe and well-rounded college experience that will prepare them for the world,” Meadows said.