Brenda Dann-Messier was nominated by President Obama as assistant secretary for vocational and adult education on July 14, 2009. On Oct. 5, 2009 she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and began her official duties on Oct. 13, 2009.
As the first assistant secretary for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) who is also an adult educator, Dann-Messier leads the Department’s efforts in adult education and career and technical education, as well as efforts supporting community colleges and correctional education. She oversees the administration of 11 grant programs in these areas, totaling approximately $1.9 billion annually. Dann-Messier is committed to collaboration, both within the Department and across federal agencies, including working with the U.S. Departments of Labor, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Commerce.
OVAE’s vision is for all youths and adults to have multiple opportunities to obtain lifelong education and training in order to achieve rewarding careers and family lives, participate in their communities, and attain their personal goals. OVAE is devoted to equipping youths and adults with the literacy, numeracy, language and technical skills and the training necessary for success in the 21st-century global economy, by expanding capacity, improving quality, and increasing accountability through innovation and collaboration.
From 1993 to 1996, Dann-Messier worked for the Clinton administration under Secretary Richard Riley, serving as the secretary’s regional representative for Region I, which includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Prior to returning to the Department, Dann-Messier served for a decade as president of the Dorcas Place Adult and Family Learning Center, a community-based adult education agency based in Providence, R.I. Under her leadership, Dorcas Place expanded to serve more than 1,000 adults statewide through a range of programs, including day and evening adult basic education, adult secondary education, English for speakers of other languages, and GED classes. Dorcas Place also offers English literacy and civics, and financial literacy education, family literacy, college preparatory programs, and sector-based workforce education and job training programs linked with employers and industry, including sector-based career academies. She also established the Developmental Education Institute for reading and math, in collaboration with the Community College of Rhode Island.
Dorcas Place was one of only ten sites in the nation to receive a five-year, federal Full Service Community Schools grant to establish school-based family literacy and support services at five inner city elementary schools in Providence, RI. That same year the agency opened the Rhode Island Welcome Back Center, one of only seven programs in the nation to help foreign-trained health professionals enter the health care workforce.
Dann-Messier earned her B.A. in history and secondary education, plus a teaching certificate, at Rhode Island College, and went on to complete her master’s in instructional technology with another certificate in adult basic education. Dann-Messier received her Ed. D in educational leadership, with a dissertation analyzing access to higher education for welfare recipients, from Johnson and Wales University.
The daughter of immigrants seeking new opportunities in America, Brenda Dann was born in West Orange, N.J., to a German father and an Italian mother. At age 6 months, she moved with her family to Warwick, R.I., where she grew up. The assistant secretary and her husband, Daniel Messier, a retired middle-school science teacher, reside in Washington, D.C. They have two sons—Dana, an airline pilot with Delta Airlines who lives in St. Louis, Mo., with his wife and daughter, Anna, and Curtis, an assistant teacher who is working on a master’s in elementary education at Hunter College in New York City.
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