Alumni James and Noel Browne Share Financial Success by Establishing Endowed Chair in Pitt School of Social Work

Issue Date: 
March 14, 2011
Noel W. and James J. BrowneNoel W. and James J. Browne

James J. Browne (SOC WK ‘73G) understands the importance of getting a strong return on investment. The longtime financial planner and his wife, Noel (SOC WK ‘74), recently made a substantial investment in the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work with their financial commitment to establish both the James J. and Noel W. Browne Chair and the Browne Leadership Program.

The couple believes that its contributions have the potential to yield tremendous benefits by supporting a scholar whose teaching will influence future leaders who have the potential to make a major impact on society.

”Whether the cause is where you are born, the color of your skin, the wealth of your family, or your religion, significant inequities exist in our system,” said James Browne, a principal of Allegheny Financial Group and Allegheny Investments, an investment advisory and financial planning firm he cofounded in 1976. “Social justice and capitalism need a level playing field for the artist, the entrepreneur, and the scholar to improve the human condition for all of us. This is what social justice means to us.”

Although both James and Noel Browne are graduates of the School of Social Work, choosing a career path outside the field created the means for James Browne, a one-time Catholic priest, to provide such generous support for the social work values he and his wife have always embraced.

“Most social workers who share Jim’s values do not acquire his level of financial success,” said Larry E. Davis, dean of the School of Social Work, Donald M. Henderson Professor, and director of the Center on Race and Social Problems at Pitt. “He is an exceptional graduate who is able to bestow those financial rewards back to the school.”

The James J. and Noel W. Browne Chair, which will be one of the more than 90 endowed chair positions at Pitt that have been created as part of the University’s Building Our Future Together capital campaign, will not only raise the school’s stature, but it also will accommodate the hiring of a dynamic faculty member whose efforts are expected to have a significant impact on students and to help create greater awareness of social work values throughout the University and the community.

Browne said he hopes the talented faculty members who hold the chair will give the School of Social Work an edge for attracting and influencing the best and brightest students.

“I think it’s important that people are made aware of the inequities in our social system,” Browne said. “Funding an endowed chair in the School of Social Work, I hope, will increase that awareness and lead to the development of new thinking and new ideas to help find solutions to the social problems we face.”

In addition to creating the chair, the Brownes have separately funded the “Browne Leadership Program,” new this year in the School of Social Work. It is a cross-disciplinary program consisting of introductory course work followed by social-problem analysis skill-building and culminating with a six-to-eight-week experiential summer program aimed at addressing a pressing social issue. The students will complete a white paper to summarize their work.

“The goal is for students from diverse academic backgrounds to learn to look at social issues and think about how, as future CEOs and leaders, they will effect change,” said Browne, who wants business leaders to understand the importance of social-work skill sets.

Browne credits the School of Social Work with not only strengthening his awareness of social issues, but also teaching him the skills he needed to succeed in business.

“The School of Social Work teaches communication skills and the ability to listen,“ he said. “Our firm has succeeded because of its emphasis on listening to people and understanding their individual goals.”

The Brownes say they are grateful for all Pitt has done for them and feel “very lucky” to be able to give back to the University. They are confident that they will see their investment yield rich dividends through the major strides in social justice and the work of talented and dedicated Pitt graduates.

Pitt’s $2 billion Building Our Future Together capital campaign has thus far raised more than $1.5 billion and is the largest and most successful in the history of both Pitt and Southwestern Pennsylvania.

To learn more about supporting social-work values through the University’s School of Social Work or to make a gift, please visit or call 1-800-817-8943.