Dr. Meredith Brunen, who has helped Northwest Arkansas Community College raise millions of dollars over the last decade, is leaving the Bentonville school next month for Florida.
Brunen, executive director for development at NWACC, has accepted a job as associate vice president of university advancement at the University of West Florida, a four-year college in Pensacola.
Her last day at NWACC is Oct. 7.
Brunen, who turned 35 on Thursday, said her professional goal is to be a college or university president. Accepting the job at UWF seemed like a natural progression in that pursuit. She said she had no personal connection to the school or the area, and the decision to pursue the job was purely professional.
“It is certainly bittersweet to leave, especially because we have had so much success, and we’re involved in some major projects right now, but I think there comes a time in anyone’s career when they start considering their long-term goals,” Brunen said. “I know this is the right time for me personally and professionally to pursue those endeavors. This is the next step to take in terms of reaching my long-term goals.”
Megan Gonzalez, a communications officer in the UWF advancement office, said Brunen will begin her new job Oct. 31. A search committee selected her in August from a group of five finalists who each had an on-campus interview for the job.
UWF is a public university founded in 1963. It serves an enrollment of approximately 13,000. Gonzalez noted the university is in the midst of an exciting point in its short history. UWF is scheduled to announce a new president on Sept. 15, and the university is fielding a football team this fall for the first time. UWF competes in NCAA Division II.
As associate vice president, Brunen will serve as the principal adviser to Dr. Brendan Kelly, UWF’s vice president of advancement, on all division matters and work with him to create an effective fundraising team. She will provide leadership, strategic planning, counsel and assistance to directors of units within the division on matters relating to fundraising, accountability and staff.
In addition, Brunen will also lead and manage campus-wide development activities in consultation with the deans and directors of individual colleges, schools, direct support corporations and athletics.
“We are thrilled to have Dr. Brunen join the team,” Kelly said. “We had a variety of highly qualified people interview for this position. Meredith’s demonstration of strategic thinking and her ability to quickly develop and nurture relationship in others instilled faith in her abilities in the hearts and minds of everyone that met her, as well as my personal thoughts. We look forward to working with her.”
Brunen, a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, joined NWACC’s development office in 2005 and was promoted to her current leadership role in 2010, managing the daily operations of the college’s nonprofit NWACC Foundation. In January 2010, the foundation announced the successful completion of a five-year, $16 million capital campaign benefiting scholarships and capital projects.
Brunen said increasing the number of private scholarships and bringing new facilities and equipment for students to use are points of pride from her NWACC tenure, adding that seeing the tangible results of what can be achieved through philanthropy has been rewarding.
“To provide students with such meaningful things that contribute to the learning environment is certainly something I am proud of and glad that we have for the students of today and tomorrow to enjoy,” she said.
Born and raised in Fayetteville, Brunen earned three degrees from the University of Arkansas, including a doctorate in higher education in 2012 and a master’s degree in higher education in 2005. She also holds a bachelor of arts degree with a double major in Middle East studies and international relations.
Brunen was recognized by the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal in 2012 as a Forty Under 40 honoree.
She is married to Kyle Brunen, a health and wellness manager for Mercy Northwest Arkansas, and they have two sons: Jude (2 ½) and Beau (1 ½).
NWACC president Dr. Evelyn Jorgensen, who just started her fourth year with the college, said it will be difficult to see Brunen go, especially at such a critical juncture.
NWACC is currently fundraising for two major projects — the Brightwater culinary school in downtown Bentonville, and an expansion into Washington County in Springdale.
The college is planning to build a 50,000-SF facility on 20 acres next to Arvest Ballpark. The $15 million capital campaign kicked off the silent phase of fundraising last fall, with a goal of going public in the first quarter of 2017.
“This is a great career move for [Brunen], and I can’t fault her at all; she is doing what we all try to do in our careers, which is move up,” Jorgensen said. “But we are sure going to miss her. She has done so much to help the college grow and expand and been involved in so much to bring awareness to the college through financial support and philanthropy.”
Jorgensen said the college is already advertising for the position and collecting applications. She hopes to have the position filled by October.
“We really don’t want much lag time,” she said. “We want to keep the [fundraising] momentum going.”