Celebrating Changemakers: 41st Annual Brown School Awards of Distinction

Alumni; Policy; Social Work

The 41st annual Brown School Awards of Distinction were held on April 11 at the Forest Park Visitor Center. Each year the Brown School honors our remarkable alumni and friends who create positive change for people around the globe. These six individuals were acknowledged for their unwavering dedication, innovative approaches, and exemplary leadership in tackling society’s most pressing challenges. Hear their stories.

Emerging Leader Award 

Bryan Capers
MSW ’12
Director, FLI Network, The Johns Hopkins University

Bryan Capers was born and raised in Bronx, New York and earned his bachelor’s in sociology from Hampton University. After graduating from Hampton, Bryan completed a year of service with City Year, completing over 1,700 hours of service in underserved communities and schools in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana. Following his City Year commitment, Bryan earned a master’s degree in social work from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, with a focus on urban education and youth development. 

Bryan currently serves as Director of First Generation, Limited-Income (FLI) Network at Johns Hopkins University, aligning supports and resources across the university to enable success for first generation and/or limited-income students and their families. As a first-generation college graduate, Bryan brings both expertise and personal commitment to the FLI community and is motivated by the values of equity, knowledge, and opportunity. Bryan’s experience working with FLI students and communities spans across higher education, K-12, and non-profit sectors with a portfolio that includes partner development, leading and managing teams, training and curriculum development, program design, student leadership and advocacy, success coaching, and teaching. Bryan was recognized as an Emerging Leader by Focus St. Louis as well as a 30 Under 30 honoree with St. Louis Business Journal in acknowledgement of his contribution to the field of post-secondary access and success. 

Melanie Goldring
AB ’17, MSW/MSP ’19
Manager, Organizational Capacity & Strategy
DREAM Project | Director of Programs, AYUDA

Melanie Goldring, MSW, MSP, is a dynamic social worker and policy practitioner dedicated to advancing educational and economic equity. With a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a Master of Social Work/Master of Social Policy dual degree from the Brown School, Melanie has honed her skills in program development, strategic planning, and policy analysis. 

In her current role as Manager of Organizational Capacity and Strategy for the DREAM Project in the Dominican Republic, Melanie supports the execution of 18 educational programs impacting 6,500 children and youth. Her strategic leadership includes collaboration with key institutions, grant writing, and impact monitoring and evaluation. Melanie’s commitment to social change extends to her tenure at American Youth Understanding Diabetes Abroad (AYUDA), where she has served as Director of Programs for the past eight years after being a volunteer for five years. At AYUDA, she coordinates diabetes education outreach projects in the Dominican Republic, manages volunteer training programs, and oversees fundraising efforts. 

Distinguished Alumni Award 

Kerry D. Bird
MSW ’98
Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate/Lumbee
Director, N.C. American Indian Heritage Commission

Kerry Bird is an enrolled citizen of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota and heritage from the Lumbee Tribe from North Carolina. He was born and raised in Robeson County, NC. He graduated with a BA in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and holds a Master of Social Work degree from Washington University in St. Louis.

Kerry has had an illustrious career serving as a diversity awareness trainer, interim executive director for Native Americans in Philanthropy, interim executive director for National Native American AIDS Prevention Center, project director for the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs, and development director for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is currently the inaugural director of the North Carolina American Indian Heritage Commission within the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Andrea E. Hall
MSW ’05
Chief Executive Officer, MYSI Corporation

With more than 18 years’ experience serving Chicago families, Andrea Hall (Drea) has advocated for affordable housing, passed legislation and policies to reform the criminal justice system, worked with students and families to increase parent engagement, trained faith institutions on community organizing, and collaborated with national partners to reduce racial inequities in the juvenile justice system. Drea’s personal experiences with poverty and homelessness have shaped her into a dedicated advocate and community organizer working to create a more just and equitable Chicago. 

Throughout her career, she has been committed to racial equity, equal access to education, and empowering individuals to identify their own needs and pursue them. Drea previously served as the Executive Director of the IL Juvenile Justice Commission (IJJC) and IDHS for four years. In that role, she was responsible for federal grant writing and management and served as the grant monitor for federal grants. Drea firmly believes in the power of government to strengthen communities and has dedicated her work to building collaborations across diverse stakeholders to maximize positive outcomes. She currently serves as the CEO at Methodist Youth Services Incorporated (MYSI). 

Valerie Eugenia Patton
MSW ’06
Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer and President, Greater St. Louis Inc. Foundation, Greater St. Louis Inc.

Valerie E. Patton has spent the last two decades building, leading, and designing diversity and inclusion strategies. She is a connector, innovative catalyst, teacher, and a proven thought leader. She is the Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer and President of the Greater St. Louis Foundation at Greater St. Louis, Inc. Her focus includes but is not limited to developing multicultural and racially diverse business leaders and entrepreneurs, supporting workforce and talent development, and championing diversity, equity, and inclusion. In 2006, she founded The Fellows Experience Leadership program, a year-long program that addresses the interests and challenges professionals of color face as they strive to advance in the workplace which has graduated over 1,100 fellows. 

Valerie has been featured in Black Enterprise and Diversity Inc.com magazines. Valerie has also held numerous positions at Southwestern Bell and SBC (now AT&T) and Bank of America in information systems and technology, process, project and product management, supplier diversity, and accounting (budget analysis and administration and cost). 

Distinguished Volunteer Award 

Marylen Mann
AB ’57, MA ’59

Marylen Mann is the founder of Oasis, a 42-year-old national nonprofit supporting healthy aging through lifelong learning, active lifestyles, and volunteer engagement. Oasis trains volunteers to tutor K-12 students every year and has expanded to 55 communities across the country. Since 1982, Oasis has served nearly 600,000 older adults. Marylen continues to serve on the Board of Directors and helps develop programming and new strategies. 

Her civic involvement, in addition to serving on the National Council for the Brown School of Social Work, includes board membership on the St. Louis Symphony, the St. Louis Science Center, the Contemporary Museum of Art, the Newmark Institute for Human Relations, and the Whitaker Foundation, among others. Marylen also served on the Clayton School Board for 13 years, and as chair for three years.