Skip to content

Brandi Waters- 2023 Emerging Leaders Award

By Chrissy Natoli
June 10, 2024

Brandi Waters accepting award

Brandi Waters ALM ’18 is the 2023 recipient of the HEAA Emerging Leaders Award. She is a scholar and education leader specializing in the history of the African diaspora in Latin America, and earned a dual PhD at Yale University. At College Board, Waters is the lead author and program manager of AP African American Studies, the first nationally available advanced placement course that offers high school students the opportunity to earn college credit in this field at scale. She works closely with higher ed, high school leaders and educators, and partners. This work stems from her passion for equity and opportunity in education and builds on prior work in international nonprofits.

We spoke to Brandi about her HES experience, what inspires her to take action, and more!

Q: Congratulations on winning the 2024 Emerging Leaders Award! What does it mean to you to achieve this honor?

A: I am so grateful to receive the 2023 Emerging Leaders Award. It is an honor to have my professional achievements and the work I lead recognized for its broader impact. I am blessed to see the influence of my studies at Harvard Extension School impact classrooms across the country. I truly appreciate this recognition.

Q: How did your time at Harvard Extension School impact your achievements?

A: My time at HES had a large impact on my development as a scholar and program manager, two skill sets that prepared me to lead the development of the AP African American Studies course. My graduate coursework in World History, African American Studies, and Latin American Studies cultivated my expertise in these fields and helped me to understand their intersections more deeply. This prepared me to excel in my doctoral studies, and positioned me to create a uniquely dynamic college-level course for high school students that presents African American Studies within a global, diasporic context. For example, as an HES student, I worked with faculty as a research assistant at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and I was a part of the inaugural Harvard & Slavery project, presenting my research on the Underground Railroad on Harvard’s campus. These experiences developed me as a scholar, amplified my commitment to connecting research to broad audiences, and sharpened the program and project management skills I use in my work today.

Q: Why is the work you do so powerful?

A: Creating the first nationwide course in African American Studies that offers high school students the opportunity to earn college credit is powerful because of its impact on the next generation of global citizens and leaders. The course offers access to resources that paint a more inclusive portrait of our society and how we are all connected, at a time when access to these resources has become more challenging. It helps students develop their critical analysis skills by analyzing artifacts of Black history and culture, many of which were not easy to access until recently. This work is also powerful because it was created due to student demand, and is an innovative model for designing opportunities that serve students and respond directly to their interests, and the skills they want for the future. It is also striking in how it helps democratize opportunity. The course, even in its pilot phase, is already expanding access to rigorous, culturally relevant coursework (and its benefits) to a greater number of minority and underserved students. The course has created a platform that extends beyond the classroom, bringing conversations and activations across communities, connecting schools to scholars, and students to museums and community groups.

Q: What broader impact do you envision making within your field?

A: I’m excited to continue to make contributions that connect cultural studies, K12, and higher education. The AP African American Studies course is just getting started, and I look forward to seeing the impact of a generation of students equipped with a deeper understanding and appreciation for this field. I hear them talk about how they want to use this course in their future endeavors, whether as scholars or as policy makers, architects, medical doctors, or artists. This program will only amplify as the African American Studies makes an impact on the world beyond the ivory tower.

Beyond the course, I am dedicated to work that expands academic opportunity, empathy, and cultural understanding, especially in regards to underrepresented communities.

Q: What inspires you to continue to pave this path forward?

A: Leading the AP African American Studies course is not an easy job, but it is an honor and a privilege to do this work. I am inspired to move this path forward first and foremost due to the dedication, excellence, and ambition of our dedicated teachers and students. They are doing amazing work in this course, and creating impactful experiences that shape their communities. I’m inspired to make this opportunity available to every student who wants it, both nationally and internationally.

Q: What brings you joy?

A: Salsa dancing, traveling to new places, and spending time with my family bring me joy.