Political science professor receives Elsie M. Hood Award at Honors Convocation
April 10, 2015 | By EDWIN SMITH
During Robert D. Brown’s 24 years of teaching at the University of Mississippi, the popular faculty member has earned many honors, but receiving the Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award Thursday ranks as his most rewarding.
The professor of political science was presented the coveted accolade by Chancellor Dan Jones during the 72nd annual Honors Day Convocation. Brown, who has taught the full range of students at the university, was overjoyed and humbled by the recognition.
“I was completely stunned and dumbfounded,” Brown said. “I know and admire several people who have won this award, so the whole thing is really quite humbling.”
Brown joined the UM faculty as an assistant professor in 1991. Over the past two decades, he has been promoted to associate professor and professor, in addition to being co-founder and former director of the Social Science Research Laboratory. Brown is now a senior research associate of the SSRL and graduate program coordinator.
“Professor Brown is being recognized by his peers for outstanding teaching,” Jones said. “I am grateful to him for his commitment to our students and to perpetuating the culture among our faculty of making teaching our highest priority.”
One student noted that Brown “really made me want to learn.” Another said, “ He is by far the greatest instructor, friend, mentor and ally at the University of Mississippi.”
He was presented the UM Faculty Achievement Award for 2005-06, but said the Elsie Hood is “very, very special to me.”
“My home department is full of wonderful, dedicated teachers, and it’s nice to be able to represent them,” Brown said. “I want to be a good teacher, to challenge students to address difficult issues and be challenged by my students in return.”
“I want to help students see things from different perspectives and understand that they can have an impact, make a difference. To think that students thought enough of our experience together to nominate me really means more than I can possibly say.”
Besides teaching undergraduate political science courses and graduate seminars and research projects, Brown has served on the University Strategic Planning Committee, Faculty Senate and the University Smoke-Free Campus Policy Implementation Committee.
A nomination letter from one student notes that “he not only changed my view of his course in Politics, but of all my classes since then, giving me the desire to dig deeper and apply concepts I never would have been interested in doing so otherwise.” Another student, who has taken his classes for three consecutive semesters, said, “(he) gives careful attention to each member of the class and creates an environment where a group of strangers felt comfortable discussing controversial and intriguing questions about society.”
Brown earned his doctorate at Indiana University, a Master’s and bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University. Co-author of 20 refereed articles, book chapters, he has been the principle or co-principle investigator on external grants totaling more than $5 million.
Brown said he considered himself “lucky” to be teaching American politics at the university.
“When I walk into a classroom, I never quite know what I’m going to find,” he said. “Things can literally change from day-to-day, which helps keep the material (and hopefully me) fresh.”
Teaching in the Honors College the past several years has also been fulfilling for Brown.
“I’ve been in class with smart accomplished kids who are going to make a real difference,” Brown said. “I’ve witnessed amazing bravery, empathy and community. These things have touched me deeply and I will never forget them. My Honors students have made me a better teacher and a better person.”
Brown acknowledged several UM faculty and staff for their contributions to his success.
“I’ll begin with my old teacher and friend Bob Albritton, who got me into the profession to begin with,” he said. “He’s retired now, but there’s nobody on the planet who loved teaching political science more than Bob.”
“When I got here I was lucky to walk into a department containing John Winkle, a former recipient of this award and a teaching legend at Ole Miss. His mentorship has been very important to me. The person I’ve spent more time talking with about classes and teaching is my great friend Tim Nordstrom. Being able to bounce ideas around with Tim is something I really enjoy, and he has no idea how many of his ideas I’ve stolen.“
Brown said he owes a huge debt of gratitude to Doug Sullivan-Gonzales, dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and associate professor of history. “Doug continues to give me the chance to work with these incredible students and talented faculty and staff, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunities he’s given me.”
Brown is married to Laura Diven-Brown, director of UM financial aid. Their son, Sean, is a sophomore at Oxford High School.
Each year since 1966, the university has recognized excellence in teaching by presenting the Elsie M. Hood Outstanding Teacher Award. Based on nominations from both students and faculty, the award includes a personal plaque and a check from the chancellor. Recipients’ names are also engraved on a plaque listing previous winners, which is displayed in the J. D. Williams Library.