Tobago native says Northcentral, higher education just part of her family

"Well, about half as long, anyway," said the new Master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy recipient in an interview prior to commencement ceremonies held June 11 for Northcentral University's Class of 2011.

"I've been married 34 years, and I've been in school one way or another for 17," Brown said.

"That's a long time, so I guess you could say I'm married to education, too. I know my husband thinks so," she added with her ready, heartfelt laugh.

Receiving her Masters in MFT from Northcentral is an important first anniversary in that long, happy union with higher education. Her "always supportive" husband is the center of her life, but social service agency administrators in Tobago said Brown's work and research has a widening, positive ripple effect on larger society. Her unique approach is to "marry" the distresses at home with the stresses of troubled youth in Tobago.

"A lot of problems in society today have a genesis in the family," she said. "If we want to help society, we have to help the family.

" She said she was "late" starting out for her advanced degree. Until 1994 she was a customs agent. "But I've had a connection to helping youth since I was a child. It was just something I always knew I would do."

A Master's from Northcentral is Brown's second degree. Her first is from City College in Seattle. She said online learning was her only option for a Master's, given the spectacular cost and time required at traditional brick-and-mortar campuses, including those that supplement programs with weekend or online courses for adult Students.

Northcentral became the first online Master's and Doctoral degree programs in Marriage and Family Therapy to meet the education standards of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy nearly two years ago.

"That experience helped me get the most out my academic experience here," Brown said.

Youngsters, even in a place whose national motto could be "don't worry, be happy," are as easily swayed toward indiscretions and carrying-on as youth anywhere, Brown said.

Brown has not only helped the tiny island nation get a grip, she's providing a new handle to hold for families, social service agencies and the courts: People younger than 18 in the criminal justice system are provided counseling sessions in which not only the youth but an adult family member or legal guardian participate.

A special youth and social development project organized in part by the World Bank accurately predicted 10 years ago that one of the weightiest problems facing teens in Trinidad and Tobago was to help them navigate the hazards of adolescence as the cultures of developing nations became caught in the inertia of an ever-more-global, increasingly complex and intermingled world.

"Every problem of modern youth can be found there," Brown said. "Some would prefer that we hold on harder to tradition and avoid the influences of the modern outside world.

That provides a necessary anchor and stability, but helping young people negotiate rather than drown must be part of the collective response in any healthy society."

Brown said she wouldn't have been able to negotiate her way to obtaining her Master's without the abiding guidance of her faculty mentors and academic advisors at Northcentral.

"I am now more prepared to continue my work with families," she said. "But, just as important to me, is I've added to my own extended family. The people at Northcentral aren't like family, they are family."