Teacher Feature: Dr Chris Brownell Edition

Highlighting the Teachers of FPU

FPU is home to a slew of amazing professors. Part of what makes FPU so special is the amount of work and dedication our beloved instructors put in daily to deliver their students a quality education while making them feel at home, like family. While we acknowledge and appreciate their work, many students on campus do not see how little we know about our professors. Aside from maybe a “get to know me” icebreaker on the first day of school while going over the syllabus, students are left pretty much out of the blue as to how interesting their favorite instructors truly are. Sometimes, we might run into a professor at the store and be stunned to see them with their family. Or, we might catch them at a sporting or musical event and realize how similar our interests may be. One thing is for certain: students are not aware of how little they truly know their professors. 

In an effort to break down that “fourth wall,” the Syrinx has decided to begin a series that highlights the professors that make FPU awesome. This is a series in which we highlight – not the voice of the students – but the voice of those who see us grow as students. We love our instructors, and it is time we let them have the spotlight!

Our first ever “Teacher Feature” highlights Dr. Chris Brownell. He has a slew of publications and presentations under his belt, and he has been teaching at FPU for some time now, having taught high school mathematics for 14 years. The story of Dr Brownell starts in Bakersfield, where he was born. A bit after this, he was raised in Arvin and Davis, California before finally moving to Fresno at age 9. He graduated from Hoover High School in 1978 but took some time to himself before enrolling in City College in the spring of 1981. He was asked about his favorite activities growing up, and he responded ecstatically. 

What are some things that interested you growing up?

“When I graduated high school, I wanted to ski for the rest of my life. As long as I could ski, if it was summertime then water ski, or maybe hit the beach and learn to surf… that was really all I was deeply interested in as an 18 year old graduating high school. The summer after I graduated, I spent probably three days a week at the lake waterskiing with friends. And late in the fall, as soon as the first snow would fall, I started my job up at China peak in those days. I worked at China Peak through that first winter. And then when that was over, I moved to the beach, and I swam and slept on the beach for the next summer and fall. That’s what I wanted to do and I went about doing it with gusto. So, yeah,  when I was growing up those were the things that intrigued me. I like to read. So I always had books around and I kept reading, but as much as I could, I took these marginal jobs that required very little of me, outside of the eight hours that I would work. And then the other 16 hours of the day were available for me to do the other things that I was really interested in,” Brownell said.

Dr Brownell also opened up about his current interests when skiing is unavailable. 

Have your interests now shifted from when you were growing up?

“Now, my interests are a little more academic. I have collaborations with people around the world, and that’s a really interesting thing for me. I love being able to put these ideas together with people who have different perspectives on life. So, you know, you talked to somebody who was raised in a Hungarian school, and then moved to Finland, and now is a Finnish citizen and a university professor in Finland, who’s also a professor of creativity and STEAM education and those sorts of things that sort of fit with my larger passions,” Brownell said.

Students may think professors spend their free time reading and writing course material. This assumption could not be further from the truth! Brownell, like the rest of society, indulges in pop culture! We asked him a couple questions to gauge his likes when it comes to music, film, and literature!

What is your favorite musical artist or genre?

“Okay, so right now, I’m going to have to tell you, my favorite artist of the day is Olivia Rodrigo. But it’s because the drummer is my daughter… but that’s definitely a bias,” Brownell said. 

“My musical tastes when I’m not following my daughter around… I tend to go back to my roots, which are in the progressive rock era of the 1970s. So, I love bands like Yes, and Emerson Lake and Palmer and Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin and that whole genre, including some more early metal bands, Aerosmith, and Kiss, and so on. But I love the 80s Punk. The 90s kind of got blurry for me, I know I recognize tunes, but I don’t know that I always recognize all of the artists, but I like Soundgarden from the 90s. I also love 70s funk music like Earth, Wind and Fire and more and all those guys. And I like jazz,” Brownell said.

What are some of your favorite movies or movie genres?

“I like action movies. You know, I had friends who thought that the latest Matrix film was terrible. I found it reasonably entertaining. I always suspend my belief when it comes to movies. Like The Matrix, this one was reasonably entertaining. It wasn’t deeply philosophical. It wasn’t challenging. It was a nice Lark for an hour and 45 minutes, or however long it lasted. Mysteries, Dramas, Comedies… I just kind of like stuff that’s well done,” Brownell said.

Any other things out there that you enjoy? Books, shows?

“I like things that sort of challenge you. You know, I like a good story. Right now I’m listening, I don’t have much time to sit and read, so I listen to novels instead of reading novels. And I’m listening to a novel by Richard Powers that’s titled The Overstory. That book is just, it’s just creeping in on my mind. Whenever I listen to it, it’s just always there (in my mind). And before that, it was Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary. What a fabulous book about intergalactic species connections. It’s very much science fiction, a human is shipped off in a faster than light ship that can travel at 99.9% of the speed of light for 13 years on a tour to another star 13 light years away. He’s been sent on a mission to save Earth. When he gets there, he encounters a being from another planet that’s on the same mission. And the whole story is how these two connect and meet and learn to communicate, learn to do things, and how they’re completely different worldviews and ethos. They at times clash until they learn to get along. And it’s just a really great story, I highly recommend it. It kind of sounds like what we should be doing on Earth right now (trying to understand people),” Brownell said.

One of the much more intimate things shared in our interview was the question of why he got into teaching, and why he loves it. Primarily working with teenagers up to early 20s students most of his teaching career, Dr Brownell had a beautiful answer. 

What got you into teaching, and why do you enjoy it?

“If you were at all intrigued by education, I understand why people think that early childhood is just a wonderful time to work with people, right? Little kids, they’re just, the world is full of wonder and joy and everything, everything is new to a four year old. Right? They have so little experience. And so the world is very fascinating.I like that. I find that that’s an area of interest in research for me, but an area of excitement for experience is working with y’all (late teens early 20s) because to you the world’s not necessarily new and exciting. It’s exciting… and there’s a lot of new things about discovering freedom that you’ve been sort of held back from all your life. And what are the limits of that? And what are the dangers of that? But at the same time, watching you try those first steps, and stumble and fall and get up and keep going. That to me is just, it’s a pleasure. And I kind of get to do that in the context of the study of mathematics, which is arguably one of the most beautiful things humanity’s ever created. It’s a fabulous study, and it’s a great way to look at the world. And if I can help people see that then my day is complete,” Brownell said.

The last little piece of advice Dr Brownell gave before the end of our interview was targeted for his students, former and new. 

 What advice would you like to give your students?

“Beware of hubris but at the same time, embrace the joy of living. So we are not all we think we are, that’s the “beware of hubris.” We’re not as special as we think we are. Do you really think that this planet was made for our species? Really? I mean, really? To think so is very narcissistic and full of hubris in my opinion. So beware of that sort of attitude, but at the same time, there’s rich green pastures to wander around in and in the field of the mind, in the field of activity, or profession of applications…There’s things to do in life that can bring you joy, and you ought to go out and find which ones work for you. Be bold,” Brownell said.

Evidently, Dr. Brownell is qualified in his works. As an established professor in the mathematics department with countless work under his name, FPU is lucky to have someone as professional as Dr. Brownell. The Syrinx thanks him for his time and for allowing us to interview him for this story. 

Written by: Julian Alcaraz | Editor

Graphic by: Liza Larrabee

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