Deborah Brown: Decades of Making Business a Real World Learning Experience for Her Students

Deborah Brown, senior lecturer at Poole College, teaching Intro to Business Processes.

Deborah Brown, senior lecturer at Poole College, teaching Intro to Business Processes.

If you happened to be seated on a plane next to Deborah Brown, a senior lecturer in the NC State Poole College of Management, chances are she will have asked, “What would you tell my students about what you have learned in the real world?”. Starting such conversations provided insights and examples that informed and enriched her classroom teaching for decades.

“I talk to people I meet while shopping, traveling, sitting on planes, and with my friends, family.  I’m always asking … I have learned so much and passed that information on to the students,” she said in an email interview with Poole College Communications. “I try to include life lessons that I have learned over the years, bringing the stock market and personal finance into the discussion.”

True to form, she began the June 6 session of her Introduction to Business Processes course – her last teaching assignment before retiring from Poole College on June 30 – asking: “What business news happened since we last met?” Fashion designer Kate Spade died, one student said. A brief discussion ensued.

“What else?”, Brown asked. “China offered to buy $70 billion in U.S. products to ward off Trump’s tariffs,” another student offered, citing a June 6 story in the Washington Post. “What about that?”, Brown asked the students, tapping the one who mentioned the headline to see what more he could find online while other students brought up a series of questions of their own, including: “How much does China buy from the U.S. now?”

Senior Lecturer Debora Brown introduces online stock market game to students.
Senior Lecturer Deborah Brown introduces online stock market game to students.

The discussion then turned to next steps in the students’ participation in the Investopedia Stock Market Game, an online simulation that gives students experience with trading in the global capital marketplace, risk and cost free, with student teams competing against peers at other business schools around the world.

That was all within the first eight minutes of the hour and a half class time.

Making it Personal

I learned everyone’s name, even in the auditorium classes

“I have always loved teaching Introduction to Business to students entering the business curriculum,” Brown said. “I have always tried to make each topic personal for them in as many ways as possible.  I always ask for business news at the beginning of class and have students discuss what is happening right now that relates to the topics we cover.  I talk about what is happening today in the boardroom, in the accounting office, etc. – inside the businesses that are headline news and what they would be doing in that situation.”

And, she said, “I have always learned everyone’s name, even in the auditorium classes, to make a connection with students, to keep them more engaged.”

Over the years, Brown has taught more than 20,000 students. At Poole College, that included students in courses like organizational behavior, introduction to business, human resource management. She was among the faculty teaching in the college’s study abroad courses: Introduction to Business and Human Resources in China, and Ethics in Business in Italy.

She made a lasting impression on many of those students, as evidenced by conversations with those she encounters off campus.

‘I saw students that recognized me at Disney World. I was at a restaurant downtown in Raleigh and a couple came over with a toddler. They tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Mrs. Brown, we both had you for 201, met in your class, now we are married and have a baby.’

Other examples:

  • My nephew was selling a TV in London. A person answered the ad with an NC State email address. My nephew asked if he knew me – he said, ‘Yes, I just had her for 201.’
  • I was in a car on I-95, and a car passed me with a sign in the window: ‘201.’
  • My daughter met a person at a Jaguars game in Jacksonville Florida from NC State. She asked if he knew me: ‘Yes, I had her for 201.’
  • My son in Melbourne, Florida, met his neighbor when he bought a house. He said he was a graduate of NC State. My son asked if he knew me: ‘Yes, I had her for 201.’
  • I went to Mason Jar Tavern in Holly Springs and was eating with some friends. A young man came up to me and kneeled beside me, ‘Mrs. Brown, I’m Jonathan from the China trip.’ He is the owner of the Mason Jar Tavern franchise and has bought a brewery in Fuquay.’

Each example reflects her love of and dedication to teaching over the years. “I enjoy keeping in contact with some students that talked to me about their career goals and told me their plans: one at Boeing in Seattle, one that started his own business as a consultant, and one who is a distributor for CBD oil, one of the few in the country.

“I had one student tell me he would be governor of North Carolina one day, and one who wants to be president. Five of my students in 201 left NC State for the National Football League with over $130 million dollar in contracts between them: Philip Rivers, Mario Williams, Jack Tocho, Nyheim Hines and Mike Glennon. I always tell students where they sat in Nelson 3400 (Nelson Hall’s auditorium classroom).”

Innovations, Collaboration, Keeping it Real

Brown also had a few ‘first’ experiences while teaching at Poole College:

  • Piloting the use of clickers to automate student responses as part of classroom instruction
  • Using the Second Life platform to hold virtual test reviews on the steps of Nelson Hall: Her avatar would talk about the test and her students’ avatars sat on the steps, asking questions in real time.

Her collaboration with other faculty in Poole College gave students real world experiences with various aspects of business. For example, in a project coordinated with Professor Robert Handfield, director of the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative, one of her summer classes participated in a simulation to help identify bottlenecks in the actual supply chain of one of the SCRC partner companies.

Incorporating real world experiences has been part of Brown’s teaching style throughout her career. While teaching at Santa Fe College in Florida, where she was for 13 years prior to joining the Poole College faculty, Brown’s marketing class was invited to preview the pilot program for the first DVR system by Tivo in Orlando. One of her marketing classes created a Florida Public Service Announcement – “Get your head out of the clouds” – to encourage people to quit smoking.  Another project marketed bicycle helmets to youth in middle schools. Her marketing students got MC Hammer, a popular singer at the time, to plug the project at a concert in Gainesville, and Toys R Us issued coupons and free helmets for prizes in a contest. The class also brought Florida’s football stars to the middle school in uniforms and helmets to talk with the students about bicycle safety.

Preparing Students to TH!INK

At NC State, Brown continued to hone her teaching skills, participating in the TH!INK initiative designed to cultivate students’ higher order skills in critical and creative thinking. She was among the NC State faculty who completed extensive training in implementing TH!NK strategies.

As she wraps up her teaching career, Brown was asked what she would say to a new professor in her field. Her response: “Don’t let technology take the place of your impact on the student’s life.  It is hard to balance caring and teaching hard lessons to students.  I had one student who thanked me when I told her business didn’t seem to be working out for her.  She said “Thank you – I was just blindly going where my parents were pushing me and not being successful.”

Last year, students in one of her spring 2018 semester courses created a book for her with letters from former students, going back to 2003. A former student who has been on the Office of Undergraduate Programs staff at Poole College since she graduated – Bonnie Yarboro – and a former teaching assistant – Samuel Holder – assisted with that project.

A final reflection

“It has been my honor to work for North Carolina State University.  I have met and worked with some of the kindest, most professional, high integrity, hard-working people as students, employees and faculty during my time here.”

Leave a Response

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.