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Mentor Alum: Deb Mills-Scofield Inspires And Empowers Brown Students

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“As you get out into the world, it gets a little harder to constantly learn about new things,” explains Brown alum Deb Mills-Scofield ‘82, “and coming back to Brown is like grad school for free, I’m learning so many new things.” Currently the owner of her own consulting and strategic planning firm, it should come as no surprise that Deb continues to have an impact on Brown students through her extensive mentorship program and commitment to volunteering for over 25 years.

Deb’s curiosity was evident from a very young age, and it was precisely this curiosity that led her to Brown. “I wanted to study the emerging area of cognitive science,” she says, “I wanted to use a computer to figure out what the brain did.” At the time, the field of cognitive science was still very much in its infancy, but this didn’t stop Deb. Along with classmates and faculty, including Sheila Blumstein and Andy van Dam, she helped create the Cognitive Science concentration at Brown and graduated in three years before going on to work at Bell Labs. At Bell, she worked in UI and UX and created one of AT&T’s top revenue-generating patents on Unified Messaging. Constantly driven by this passion for innovation and learning, Deb went on to become a Partner in an early stage venture capital firm and even start a new consulting company in Northeast Ohio. And it was this very passion that brought Deb back to Brown.

“I wanted to positively impact lives, know that I could impact others, and learn a ton while doing it,” says Deb as she explains her mentorship program. This mentorship program has quickly grown to one of the largest by any alum at Brown, and has touched the lives of dozens of students over the years. Her work hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Brown community, and Deb was recently awarded the Alumni Service Award, recognizing her contributions to Brown students of all ages and concentrations.

Currently, Deb mentors in the Women’s Launchpad Program, Brown Entrepreneurship Program, at the Nelson Center and with students from all parts of the University via referrals from existing mentees. She is an advisor for CS for Social Change, BlockChain@Brown, Design@Brown, and STEAM.

What does the program entail? Deb explains it best when she tells us, “My role as a mentor is not to tell you what to do, but to ask you a bunch of questions to help you get the answer yourself. What do you love to do and are good at? What do you love to do but aren’t so great at? And what do you want to learn, discover, and experience over the future years?” Deb has an interesting concept for the students whom she helps to answer these questions, something she calls a “Blue Lobster”.

What is a Blue Lobster? This question has an fascinating answer. So-called because of its rarity, “A Blue Lobster is someone who by nature challenges the status quo, is very curious about different things, and likes to find connections and make an impact on the world.” Deb helps to provide a space for students to discover and try new things, and to guide students on the right path. Answering her three questions is the central goal of Deb’s work to help students find their inner Blue Lobster and can come in many flavors depending on the needs of each student.

One of the most daunting challenges for any student at Brown is finding their passion, what they want to do in life. Especially for first-years and sophomores, Deb works to help them find concentrations and areas of study that match their interests with their work in the classroom. As an interesting example, recently she guided a student into finding the integration of criminal justice, urban studies, and cognitive science. As students get older, however, the challenge shifts to finding jobs and internships in industries where they can actually apply these passions and skills to the real world. And Deb is with these students every step of the way. “I can network students for jobs and internships,” she illustrates. “It keeps me learning and there’s just a tremendous amount of joy.” With such a diverse background of experiences and connections to draw from, the help that Deb provides students at this stage in the journey is really just invaluable.

It’s clear that Deb has given back in an unforgettable way to the Brown community. But what advice does she have for students trying to find their own inner Blue Lobster? “Slow the treadmill down,” she laughs, “enjoy life and sit on the green for a while, find out what makes you happy.” There’s no doubt that Deb has had a huge impact for so many Brown students, and her words will continue to change the lives of many more to come.

For more information, click the link that follows to contact Brown CS Communications Outreach Specialist Jesse C. Polhemus.