Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education--Biography
Archived Information

Color photo of Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education
Print photo

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. On May 6, 2013, the president also named her acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education.

As the first assistant secretary 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 runs the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) [formerly known as the Office of Vocational and Adult Education], which oversees the administration of seven grant programs in these areas, totaling approximately $1.7 billion annually.

OCTAE's vision is that all youths and adult students (1) are ready for, have access to, and complete college and career pathways; (2) have effective teachers and leaders; and (3) have equitable access to high quality learning opportunities on demand.

As the head of the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE), Dann-Messier serves as the secretary's chief advisor on higher-education issues and administers more than 60 programs, totaling nearly $2.5 billion annually, that are designed to provide financial assistance to eligible students enrolled in postsecondary institutions. OPE supports higher education facilities and programs through financial support to eligible institutions, recruits and prepares disadvantaged students for successful completion of college, promotes the study of foreign languages and international affairs, and supports international educational research and exchange activities. Notable among its programs are the eight TRIO programs, institutional development programs for minority institutions, teacher development programs, and the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. OPE runs the well-known Byrd, Fulbright, Javits and McNair programs and certifies all regional and national accreditation agencies, so they, in turn, may qualify institutions to receive federal financial aid and Pell grants.

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 in partnership with the Community College of Rhode Island; and sector-based workforce education and job training programs linked with employers and industry, including sector-based career academies. Dann-Messier also established the Rhode Island Welcome Back Center, a program that assists immigrant professionals resuming work in their careers. From 2006 to 2009, Dann-Messier served as a member of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education and chaired the Academic and Student Affairs Subcommittee.

In her role as assistant secretary, she has led extensive strategic planning and policy initiatives to craft a blueprint for reform in the U.S. career and technical education system and codified new legislative priorities for the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act in order to transform service delivery and build viable career pathways for low-skilled youths and adults. Dann-Messier has established collaborative partnerships with the private sector and other public agencies to increase resources for immigrant integration, correctional education, career pathways, and disconnected youths; and she has spearheaded a ground-breaking federal partnership with the Department of Energy to vastly expand the availability of open education resources through an innovative e-training platform. Dann-Messier has led OCTAE's portfolio investments in research, and high-quality technical assistance and professional development for state and local education providers to promote college and career readiness, teacher effectiveness, and postsecondary access and completion—including development of the Adult College Completion Tool Kit for states' use. Dann-Messier also has represented the Department in numerous international conferences and high-level consultations in South America, Asia, and Europe.

Dann-Messier earned her B.A. degree in history and secondary education, plus a teaching certificate, at Rhode Island College, where she 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, Kim, and their two children, Anna and Ian; and Curtis, an associate director with CareerPATH at City University of New York, who lives in New York City with his wife, Emily, a journalist with Newsday.

Last Modified: 02/06/2014