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In the C-Suite: DTCC President Mark Brainard

Katie Tabeling
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NEWARK — Mark Brainard’s resumé reads like a carefully constructed journey, mapped with logical stops along the way. 

Mark Brainard | PHOTO COURTESY OF DTCC

But if you ask him yourself, it was more about having the right skillset in hand when the door of opportunity opened.

“At the time living it, it was a very crooked journey,” Brainard said. “When I came to Del Tech I never contemplated I would be in this position, I thought I’d be the vice president of the northern campus. But I really like the saying, ‘Luck is the intersection of preparation and opportunity.’ I would say I was prepared.”

Since 2014, Brainard has served as Delaware Technical Community College’s president and overseen policy at its four campuses that teaches thousands of students every year. But before that, he worked in the Delaware legislature and in the executive branch, and later on for the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce.

Brainard describes himself as a non-traditional student, as he enrolled at Del Tech following a few years of working after graduating from Dickinson High School. After stepping into the classroom though, he was enthralled with the collection of instructors with hands-on experience. 

“A retired Delaware State Police lieutenant was teaching criminal law, and the former director of a halfway house was teaching my counseling courses. My other criminal justice courses were taught by former probation and parole officers,” he said. “It wasn’t just sitting in a classroom with 25 students, with someone who talked about the theory, it was combining it with hands-on, specific examples and real experience.”

That appreciation for hands-on learning followed him to his first job in the Delaware legislature. Working alongside former Senate Pro Tems Richard Cordrey and Thomas Sharp and House Speaker Orlando “Lonnie” George and others, he found himself among giants in each of their industries, all while working to improve the community.

“I really found myself surrounded by impressive people. When you got involved in a policy issue with them and others in the caucus, you were working with experts in the field,” he said. “I just loved every minute of it. It was like going through a master’s degree program of leadership.”

Brainard ultimately served as the chief of staff for the House Minority Caucus for seven of those years. While studying for a law degree, he also served as Delaware Department of Transportation’s director of external affairs. After he graduated, he became assistant vice president at Del Tech and later moved on to an executive role at the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce.

Come 2002, he received a call from Gov. Ruth Ann Minner to serve as her chief of staff. In those six years, he observed her way of work: offering support when needed but not being afraid to lay down the law.

“She always had this intuition that you were having your roughest moments, but she also wasn’t someone you messed with,” Brainard said. “She’d put her foot down and made it clear this was the final negotiation and she wasn’t moving on something important.”

“I’m convinced she woke up every day and came to work, thinking about how her decisions would impact the families in Delaware,” he added.

Alongside Minner, he helped build a consensus for the SEED program, which covers full tuition for select high school graduates to get an associate degree. It’s estimated that 10% of Del Tech students are SEED scholars.

As Minner’s term was ending, Brainard came back to Del Tech and worked in several roles until he became executive vice president. When it was time to take the helm after George, he inherited a stable and growing institution.

“You obviously want to preserve what was in place, but at the same time, you have to take a look at the priorities and areas we can improve,” he said.

In those first few years, Brainard’s priorities were immediately securing state funding to maintain and improve the community college. Some buildings were almost a half a century old. In 2019, the legislature passed Senate Bill 50, which gave Del Tech the authority to issue bonds for capital projects and deferred maintenance. The bill also guaranteed the General Assembly to appropriate at least $10 million for deferred maintenance in the next five years.

“That was probably the highlight of my last eight years. It gave the ability to invest $50 million back into the community college when it was desperately needed,” he said.

Looking to the future, Brainard plans on leading Del Tech into an era of self-reflection. In 2018, the college was admitted to Achieving the Dream, a national reform network focused on helping community college students – mainly low-income students or students of color – to stay in school. Del Tech will be working with coaches and receive data analysis to help guide next steps to improve graduation rates.

In a sense, it’s just a new chapter in education for Del Tech.

“Really, lifelong learning is the key to navigating success. If you stop pursuing information and new networks, there’s no way in the world you’ll be able to succeed, no matter what success looks like to you,” he said.

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