A Profile of a Professor's Positive Influence on a College Campus
Tony Brown, an incredibly charismatic and popular professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke, serves as co-director of the Hart Leadership Program, and previously served as president of the Robertson Scholars Program at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. Within Sanford, Tony, as his students know him, teaches a number of courses that focus on building leadership skills and learning through real-world experiences, with the goal of teaching students how to create change and make an impact in the world. For example, one course Tony teaches is entitled “Social Entrepreneurship in Action.” In this uniquely designed class students spend the semester working in groups on projects of their own creation, which are intended to make a social impact. Along the way, they are paired with alumni of the course who serve as advisors to each group. The objective is that by the end of the semester, each group will have created a sustainable project that they will continue to be involved in for the rest of their undergraduate careers, and which will ideally continue to exist post-founders’ graduation. For many students this is their first experiential learning course, and may also be their first service-learning course. As a result, most find “Social Entrepreneurship in Action” incredibly exciting and engaging. Projects developed in the course are often extremely successful and become integral parts of Duke’s campus life. This is just one of several experiential-learning leadership courses that Tony teaches.
The first class Tony taught at Duke, “Business Leadership,” was a course focused on organizational leadership, which included a leadership map and a team development project similar to that in “Social Entrepreneurship in Action”. This course would later become “Enterprising Leadership”, which remains popular twenty years after Tony first began teaching it at Duke. When asked about his views on leadership development, Tony specified:
I’m interested in change, like the title of your magazine. What I’m really interested in is the notion of leadership as a behavior that any group member can exercise. For example, a walk-on basketball player can exercise leadership. Typically excellence requires everyone to exercise leadership, not just the (obvious) leader.
The ideology that anyone can exercise leadership and everyone should serves as the first cornerstone of Tony’s work. That, in his opinion, is the most effective way to create change.
The second cornerstone of Tony’s work and personal philosophy is the idea of incremental change. For Tony, success comes from small victories that add up over time, a key element of his teaching. Oftentimes students begin his courses with grand, large-scale plans to change the world, but right from the start Tony makes them sit down and think through the necessary steps to make the desired impact. Together, the students and Tony come up with achievable goals, each of which will be a victory if it helps to make an impact and eventually contribute to the larger, long-term goal.
The third cornerstone, in Tony’s words, is, “strong-hearted leadership: the combination of empathy, and courage, and moral fiber, and knowing enough about yourself to act on that.” Tony wants his students not only to become leaders in the world, but also to have a strong sense of self and a strong sense of values so that they can make a positive impact. For Tony, the goal of leadership is to effect positive change.
These three cornerstones are so important to Tony because he is concerned with social impact, and in order to create social impact businesses and people must have moral fiber and think about small change. This philosophy makes Tony a critical component of the Hart Leadership Program’s mission to engage everybody to make the world a better place. Important to this mission, each of Tony’s students becomes a member of the Hart Leadership Program, allowing Tony to maintain a presence in their lives and offering these students exposure to the many opportunities the program offers.
At the moment, Tony is working on developing a network out of the many Duke alumni with whom he has previously worked and has made a point of keeping in touch with, something few professors do. When asked about his goals for this unprecedented network, Tony said:
I have 1800 alumni and I have a pretty active alumni program. I’m keenly interested in what role I, and Duke, can play to continue to contribute to their personal development. It’s not as if people don’t have developmental needs after they graduate. I’m especially interested also in connecting alumni with undergraduate students. I’m very interested in finding new ways to engage alumni in the Duke community in ways that are formative for them and formative for undergraduate students.
Currently, he has an upcoming event in which alumni are travelling to Duke, at which point each alumni will be paired with an undergraduate student for the weekend. As per Tony’s memo, this event, known as 36 Hours at Duke, is a:
New initiative for alumni to come to Duke for 36-hours from Thursday evening to Saturday morning. The idea is to energize and inform alumni participants through conversations with faculty, administrators, students, and each other; attending classes, events, and places of personal interest; and developing or enhancing an enterprising idea based on a strong personal interest.
Tony plans to implement similar programs on a continual basis using his many connections within the greater Duke community of students and alumni. These programs will both keep alumna involved with Duke and contributing to the Duke community, as well as keeping Duke involved in the personal development of its alumna as they go out into the world and become the leaders that Tony has helped train them to be.
Given that Tony has been an integral part of so many students’ leadership development and has helped to implement so many change-making projects, many might wonder what Tony considers to be his greatest achievement. In line with his views on leadership and change making, he said, “I give you an abstract answer because I believe in small victories. The thing I’m proudest of is probably the feedback I’ve gotten about the aggregate body of work of my teaching, and that maybe there’s some value in that for my students. It’s not one big achievement.” To be sure, nearly every single one of Tony’s students over the years has been positively impacted by him and his teaching. Without a doubt, this trend will continue in the future as Duke students both past and present are transformed by Tony into the next generation of leaders.
This article represents the sole opinion of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Change-Magazine.