Stephanie Browning, Columbia/Boone County director of Public Health, values collaboration and community, especially in times of hardship. Browning arrived in Columbia in 1999 from Arizona. She said she fell in love with the community upon her first visit, and the people in it are what motivates her to this day.
What led you to a career in public health?
I originally wanted to be a teacher. I happened to be taking a class with a fantastic professor named Gary Lewers who talked about public health in the class. He and I became friends over the course of my whole time at the University of Central Arkansas, and he was really the one who told me about all the possibilities of what there was out there. I was pretty familiar with public health from a different perspective. My mom was working for the director of nurses in schools in California, so she had frequent interactions with the health department. Growing up, I always had public health on the fringes.
What drew you to Columbia?
I was visiting (from Arizona), and it happened to be one of those lovely spring breaks that are warmer than the typical we usually have so the cold didn’t scare me away. We fell in love with the city and the area. Honestly, working for (then-city manager) Ray Beck, he really conveyed his love of service to the community. I thought this is the kind of place we want to be, and this is going to be the best place for our family.
What is your personal mission?
In our own department in our mission we talk about collaboration and partnership and service to others. I grew up in a family that that’s what they did. They served others, and I learned by example. That’s what we do in our own family.
What keeps you going despite criticism?
My family, my friends; you really see who the people are that really step out and really stand behind you. Honestly, my employees keep me going. And the community keeps me going. Who would have ever dreamed this is the time we would be living in right now? Even though it’s been hard, I think in some ways this community is doing a really good job.
What does winning this award mean to you?
Well, it’s an honor. It’s a shock. There’s a lot of great people over the years who have won the award. I feel very blessed to be in their company.
Is there anything you’d like to say to the community and those who nominated you?
To those who nominated me, thank you very much, and to the community, it’s an honor to serve you. I hope that we can all get through this together and come out stronger on the other side. But I know there are a lot of relationships that will have to be rebuilt, and we are committed to doing that.