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Portrait of Nycole Brundidge

Though assistant professor Nycole Brundidge grew up with two parents who were social workers, the Cincinnati native spent her formative years in pursuit of a different profession.

“One year my mom got me a chalkboard, papers and pens, and I would teach my stuffed animals like they were my students,” she says. “All through high school, I thought I wanted to be a teacher.”

Before graduating, an unpleasant internship experience in which a student vomited on her gave Brundidge second thoughts about her future. She enrolled at Ohio’s Wilberforce University for a year but dropped out after realizing she wasn’t ready for college. At her mother’s insistence, she studied at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, where an Introduction to Social Work course made her reconsider her aspirations. 

“There was a career day that happened at Cincinnati State where they said I could finish up my classes there and then go to Northern Kentucky University, so that’s what I did” Brundidge says. “I enrolled in the social work program here in 2003 and graduated with my bachelor’s degree in 2005.”

“I have the time to think about my career path while I’m here. It's great that I have the opportunity to take a class on something that I'm interested in or sit in on a presentation about what others are researching."

At NKU, Brundidge participated in the Public Welfare Certification Program, an initiative she now runs as a faculty member. The program provides a stipend for a student’s final three or four semesters and guarantees employment in Kentucky’s Department for Community Based Services upon graduation. In 2014, she re-enrolled at NKU to pursue a master’s in social work and graduated in 2016.  

“In 2018 I got a call from the social work department, and they asked me if I would be interested in teaching,” she says. “I hadn’t really given it any thought before, and initially thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ But I thought about my time working for the state, mentoring a lot of newer workers coming in, teaching them the ropes of the job. I started in 2018 as an adjunct, and then in August 2021, they asked me to come on full time.”

Brundidge was excited about this new opportunity, but it arrived at a time of uncertainty on campus. 

“Coming here in the midst of a pandemic, there weren’t as many people on campus, and it was pretty quiet. It took a bit to get my footing,” she says.

Around this time, Brundidge noticed an email about an upcoming meeting of the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA), which she decided to attend. There, she met peers on campus that looked like her and were going through similar experiences.

“I think that’s a big part of what kept me here that first year,” Brundidge says. “During the pandemic, it made me feel more comfortable, and that this was going to get better.” In July 2022, Brundidge was elected secretary of BFSA, an opportunity she says gives her joy to be able to participate in activities on campus that she wasn’t able to as a student.

“I wasn't a traditional student,” she says. “I came to class in the evenings. So now, this is really my first time really being on campus, being able to feel out all of the buildings and what goes on in each one.”

Describe your current role in the social work program.
I teach anything that is within the bachelor or the master's program, to some degree. To undergrads, I teach community organization, which is really about getting students out into the community, organizing events and fundraising. I've also taught a social work policy course, which is one of our main criteria classes that students have to take. It is absolutely one of my favorites to teach. On the master's level, I've taught the Field Experience course, which is where they do their practicum. They have to do so many hours at an agency to just kind of practice that work. 

What should a first-year student at NKU know?
I think our small class sizes are a big benefit to students. It's the individual attention that you receive from instructors, and the friendliness on campus. A while back, someone on campus waved to me, and I thought, ‘Oh, so we wave over here!’ It's a friendly, small campus. It's very inviting. Every semester that I'm here, I feel like I'm a part of something good.

You received your bachelor’s and master’s degrees from NKU: What was it about the university that kept you around?
The first time I came here, I realized, ‘Oh, this really is just across the bridge.’ It was just a 20-minute ride from where I lived. It was the proximity that really did it for me. 

Was there a particular experience or professor that you had that shaped your experience as a student?
In my Introduction to Social Work course, here, I learned what poverty really looks like. I don’t think I really had a clear understanding that other people live differently than I did at that time. We were always in open conversation about social work. Dr. Holly Rife was instrumental in helping me navigate the field, because she was very open minded. She gave us a lot of critical thinking questions to be able to just figure out what it is that we wanted to do.

What is your favorite part about working with students and faculty?
The academic freedom. In my previous job, everything was like, ‘Go, go, go.’ Here, nothing is necessarily an emergency. I have the time to think about my career path while I’m here. It's great that I have the opportunity to take a class on something that I'm interested in or sit in on a presentation about what others are researching. I feel like this is the first time I've had the opportunity to really be able to sit down and think about how things are going without everything being a rush.

About This Article

March 2023

Written by
Jude Noel ('18)
Communications Specialist, NKU Magazine

Photography by
Scott Beseler