Open Curriculum: "Becoming a more thoughtful leader"

American Studies concentrator turned entrepreneur Michelle Frea ’14 shares her thoughts on the beauty of a Brown education and its inherent lessons in leadership, discipline, and responsibility.

As the University continues its yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Open Curriculum, alumni are sharing their reflections on Brown’s distinctive, student-centered approach to undergraduate education. Here, Michelle Frea ’14, co-president of the Class of 2014, explained the ways in which the Open Curriculum shaped her experience at Brown and beyond.

Michelle Frea ’14


Becoming a more thoughtful leader

How did the Open Curriculum shape your time at Brown?

When I first got to Brown, my intention was to do something that would lead me to law school. I was definitely drawn to humanities, but I think it wasn’t until sophomore year that I decided on American Studies. That was part of the beauty of the Open Curriculum — I was able to take so many classes in different departments and see what I liked best. The nice thing about not having a core curriculum is that it freed me up to take such a variety of courses across several disciplines. I feel like I concentrated in American Studies, but I really had several different academic areas that I got to strengthen.

The open curriculum really allows an individual to shape the path at Brown, in a way that I don't think you would find anywhere else. What's really special is that Brown gives and trusts their students to do that. So they're saying, "you're a freshman, but we are going to let you take whatever you want, and trust that you're going to make decisions that will help your future." I think when I was a freshman feeling that level of responsibility and understanding that the University trusted me to make my own decisions was really powerful. It allowed me to accelerate my path to becoming a more thoughtful leader, and I think that really gave me invaluable professional lessons for down the road.

You joined a start-up shortly after graduating. How did the Open Curriculum prepare you for working in an entrepreneurial setting? 

The Open Curriculum is not about not having any core classes. Really what it's about is developing as a leader of your own life, [someone] who takes responsibility for your own path. Having agency over your future is so powerful, and it taught me lessons in leadership and the importance of discipline and responsibility. I think that's what drew me to the entrepreneurship path after graduation.

You’re currently co-president of the Class of 2014 and a board member with the Association of Class Leaders. What is it that keeps you dedicated to Brown? 

Volunteering for Brown in this way just allows you to keep feeling the same euphoria that you felt on graduation day. There's something so special about walking through those Van Wickle gates, and I think every time I have a conversation with someone at Brown —  whether it's a staff member from Maddock or a classmate, or someone who reaches out to send a message to our class — it ignites that kind of fire that always burns for Brown, and it's really special. I can't imagine not being involved with Brown because I just want to keep feeling the school spirit.

What would you say to a classmate or other fellow Brunonian who might be thinking about getting more involved?

I would encourage people to volunteer and stay connected with Brown. There are so many people here for our fifth-year reunion, and you can tell by everyone's faces that they're so happy to be back. What they don't realize is that if they just chose to stay involved, if they have that desire to do so, they can experience Brown year-round, every year, not just every five years. So, I would say there's a role for everyone in so many different capacities. I chose more of a leadership role, but there are also just so many other facets of Brown after graduation that you can take part in.


At Brown, Michelle was co-president of the Class of 2014, president of Ivy Council, president of Residential Council, CEO of Kappa Alpha Theta, and vice chair of Greek Council. She currently serves as co-president of her class and as a board member of the Association of Class Leaders. Since Brown, she has worked in entrepreneurship and is currently developing a business incubator program for a Providence nonprofit.