By Ashley Blackburn
Contributor, NKU Magazine
“I know that we will still lean on each other for support when we are apart, but I am excited to continue to make my identity as an individual, rather than as ‘one of the twins.’”
In their 21 years of life, twins Amy and Jennifer Brown have never spent more than three days apart. It happened during their freshman year when the two sisters served on separate service retreats. The sisters were so busy that they barely had time to notice.
“But once we got back together,” Jennifer says, “it was different because we had had extended experiences that the other did not. It was weird to not eat dinner with her and to not see her before we turn in for the night.”
It’s hardly a surprise that when Amy and Jennifer enrolled at Northern Kentucky University, the inseparable sisters chose to room together. Both are majoring in Organizational Leadership, with the end goal of working in the higher education field of student affairs.
Before you assume that Amy and Jennifer have no separate interests, however, consider this: Jennifer is working toward a minor in communication studies, while communication studies is Amy’s area of focus.
But it’s also true that Amy and Jennifer Brown began their journey at NKU with completely different majors in mind. During their first year in 2013, both sisters were selected to attend the Breaking Ground Retreat—a retreat specifically designed for freshman to promote leadership building in adventurous activities (e.g. whitewater rafting), to which only the 40 top first-year students are invited.
The experience opened the sisters’ eyes to career paths they hadn’t considered. “The retreat started setting some things in motion for what I wanted to do with my life,” Amy says. “Another retreat my sophomore year really helped me let go of some of my reservations of switching my career path to student affairs.”
What came next for Amy and Jennifer Brown was a total commitment to new experiences—and a flurry of new acronyms to remember.
The twins began volunteering for community service and today have racked up an estimated combined total of more than 1,000 service hours. They became members of the Freshman Service Leadership Committee—one of the umbrella organizations of the Northern Kentucky Leadership Institute (NKLI). Soon, Amy and Jennifer were invited to the Norse Leadership Society (NLS)—a highly selective student organization that fosters leadership and personal development in its 35 members.
Guess who now serves as the NLS president and vice-president?
Jennifer and Amy Brown.
“In my freshman year, I began noticing mentors here at NKU pushing students to go even further, even outside of the classroom, and I realized that I could do that at a college level,” Jennifer says. “That’s when I knew what I wanted to focus more on the actual people and channeling that through student affairs.”
In spring 2016, the two attended the Empowerment retreat in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, where they utilized their spring break vacation to help those in need. They helped lead a group of 30 students to paint and repair homes, and to build a ramp for an elderly family in need.
“We were fan readers, meaning we facilitate and connect with students while leading them throughout the retreat. The Empowerment retreat is a little different than other retreats, because it focuses on leadership on leadership through service. It’s truly an amazing experience,” Amy says.
Unsurprisingly, Amy and Jennifer were selected as NKU orientation leaders for the summer of 2016 (“It was a blast and probably my best summer,” says Amy) and have served in various student organizations and on university committees, volunteered in the NKU community, and became well respected members of the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority. They both served on its executive board this past year.
Tiffany Mayse who met the twin sisters during their freshman year as members of FSLC, describes the Browns as “selfless leaders who are always the first ones to volunteer. Both are hardworking, innovative and committed to go above and beyond.”
Along with becoming masters of time and stress management, “There have definitely been times when both Amy and I have broken down crying to each other,” Jennifer says. “But whenever I get stressed out, I like to relax by spending time with my friends and family. Getting outdoors--hiking, biking, camping, even playing Frisbee golf, and reading or watching Netflix.”
The twins credit a support system of friends and family that keep them going. They also advise keeping color coded planners, eating lots of ice cream, and relying on your network of support when you need to.
“We have a lot of support, especially in NKLI. Just getting the help from your members is huge,” Amy says. “It’s like with the NLS Fall Retreat—we chaired it, but we are not the only ones making it happen. The entire organization pulls together.”
So what’s the plan for life after NKU? Will the two sisters keep their track record of togetherness intact?
The answer is yes and no.
Jennifer plans to join the AmeriCorps VISTA Program, followed by grad school. Amy wants to attend grad school, and then join AmeriCorps VISTA or a similar program. Attempting to separate after graduation will bring a change of life that both Jennifer and Amy feel is needed. They also realize that, ultimately, they may take different paths to reach the same goal.
With advice from NKU mentors, both Amy and Jennifer hope to work for other universities to gain different experiences and monitor how other campuses operate. But both say they plan to return to NKU to work in student affairs.
“It’s wise go to other campuses because it will help you to become a better student ambassador, to make better programs, and to relate to different people. Getting different experiences is a big part of life. But eventually I want to end up back here, because this is my home,” Jennifer says.
“I am definitely nervous about splitting up soon,” Amy says. “We haven’t been apart for very long, and this is going to be a big change. I am not really sure what to expect yet, but I am sure there will be tears and lots of calls and Skype chats. However, I am also excited because it is going to be a new experience, and I can see what life is like without being known as a twin.”
“Splitting up will be difficult for us, but it will be a good challenge,” Jennifer says, “I know that we will still lean on each other for support when we are apart, but I am excited to continue to make my identity as an individual, rather than as ‘one of the twins.’”