Finding Their Fit: Amber Brown Helps Students and Graduates Find Meaningful Careers

Public Health; Social Work; Students

Amber Brown received the 2022 Brown School Excellence in Service to Students Staff Award.

As the manager of Career Services at the Brown School, Amber Brown is passionate about helping students and alumni discover their professional purpose. From resume and cover letter support to interview preparation and networking strategies, the Brown School’s Career Services conducts over a thousand individual advising sessions a year. The office also connects employer partners to students and alumni.

“There are so many places where our students can land,” Brown said of the social work, social policy, and public health students that she assists. “I want to help them make their best decisions as they head into the job market. I like being a guidepost to their self-discovery. I love being able to help them hear themselves.”

Brown has worked at the Brown School since 2017. However, finding her purpose and eventual place at Washington University took a circuitous route, though it started pretty straightforwardly. Interested in animal health, she enrolled at the University of Missouri-Columbia in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences. But a big problem arose a year before graduation. “I realized I didn’t like any of the jobs,” she said with a laugh. “But I’m a completionist, so I went through with it.”

This led her to enroll at Northern Illinois University, where she earned a master’s in education with an emphasis on environmental education. Graduating in 2006 – straight into the beginning of a recession – she eventually landed a job at a therapeutic wilderness camp in North Carolina. After a layoff in 2008, she was aimless. A Myers-Brigg Type Indicator assessment suggested she pursue counseling. After some reflection, she realized it made sense because the world of counseling aligned with her interests.

“I realized I was running away from something that I really enjoyed doing because every time I would talk to people, they would always ask me for advice,” she explained.

She enrolled in a second master’s program in clinical mental health counseling at Western Carolina University. That’s how she found her way to career counseling. “I was like, ‘okay, why didn’t I do this before?’” she said. “It was a perfect fit and a realization of ‘Oh, I belong here. It was an aha moment.”

Brown assumed her current role as manager of Career Services in November 2022, after working as a career advisor since 2017. Her responsibilities include building relationships with employers, alumni and students through recruitment events and career development programming. Additionally, she collaborates with campus partnerships to communicate the value of the Brown School to students and alumni. Before joining WashU, Brown worked in career development at various higher educational institutions in the St. Louis area.

Leaning into her own career exploration path, Brown’s advice to students is not to limit themselves to preconceived plans and to remain open to new experiences and opportunities. “You never know where life will take you. Don’t cut yourself off from an experience just because it wasn’t in the plan,” she said, adding, “I’m the queen of options. Never just have one game plan.”

In addition to being an indispensable member of the Career Services team, Brown has contributed significantly to the campus and the broader community by serving on multiple boards and committees and taking leadership roles with state and national career service organizations.

On campus, she serves on the Danforth Staff Council, the Brown School Black History Month Committee, and the Brown School EDI Committee, among others. Outside of the campus community, she is a leader in the career development profession, serving as the president of the Missouri Career Development Association, an official state chapter of the National Career Development Association, and as chair of the Consortium for Career Development in Social Work Education.

Danny Pape, director of Career Services, commends Brown’s dedication to helping students and alumni find their true calling. He counts himself ‘truly lucky’ to be her colleague.

“She shows up to work every day with positive energy to serve and advocate for students and engage the community with employers and others. She always goes out of her way to help colleagues both within the Brown School and the greater WashU Campus.”

Apart from her work at the Brown School, Brown is also in the early stages of starting a career and life coaching business aimed at providing career support and coaching to marginalized members of the St. Louis community.

To hear more from Amber Brown on career counseling, you can listen to her discussing career development in the social work field on the podcast Behind the Science of Career Development.