Hands-on learning doesn’t get much more hands-on than with Mike Brown, whose hands happen to come with green thumbs.
Brown was responsible for envisioning and creating Rain Bird BioTrek, an on-campus simulated rainforest used in education and outreach. In his position as Rain Bird BioTrek curator, he is responsible for growing and maintaining the center’s lushly exotic flora, seeking out grants to support its mission, and running its K-12 outreach programs, which give their school-age participants a glimpse at one of the world’s rapidly dwindling natural wonders.
He also oversees two attached features, the Ethnobotany Garden, which teaches visitors about the environment of Southern California and how native peoples interacted with it; and the Mesozoic Garden, which takes visitors back in time millions of years by recreating the landscape in which dinosaurs flourished. Additionally, Brown uses his finely honed skill of nurturing plants of nearly any variety to provide specimens to biology department lab courses.
“Mike is a jack of all trades, and a master of all trades,” says Craig LaMunyon, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences. “We are lucky to have someone as accomplished as Mike Brown in our department, college, and university.”
Brown began his career at Cal Poly Pomona in 1976 as a student assistant in the horticulture unit and the greenhouse. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biological science in 1977, and was hired as greenhouse coordinator a year later. He earned a master’s degree from Cal Poly Pomona a few years later. His dedication to his work has earned him the Staff Council Outstanding Staff Award in 1997, the College of Science’s Staff Recognition Quarterly Award twice, and the Department of Biological Sciences Staff Excellence Award during the 2014-15 academic year.
For his 38 years of service to the university, he has now been recognized as Provost’s Award Staff Member of the Year. The award is intended for staff members from the Division of Academic Affairs who have distinguished themselves in advancing the mission of the university.
“Receiving this award is a great honor. I feel it is as much for those who surround and support me at CPP, as it is for me. To work with the support of students, other staff, faculty, and administrators is in itself a great honor,” Brown says. “The one thing I have learned working at CPP is that we all have a great impact on others in our lives. By helping and supporting each other, we can be much more successful in what we do.”
He is responsible for designing and teaching BIO 488S, a capstone service-learning course that leads students through the process of designing and developing “interpretive exhibits, tours, and presentations that enhance their audience’s understanding of science.” The course is especially valuable for students with an interest in becoming science educators, and gives them the opportunity to enhance their public speaking abilities.
“A strong advocate for and practitioner of learn-by-doing, Mike plants the seeds of discovery in the minds of all who come into contact with him. He is simply one of the very best teachers that I know,” said Tina Hartney, associate dean for the College of Science, at an event honoring him on May 26.
Brown is a certified interpretive planner and certified interpretive trainer with the National Association for Interpretation, and taught a co-class on museum exhibit development in conjunction with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
“He is a true example of what a university can offer to its internal and external community, and is an inspiring mentor and friend to students, faculty and staff,” says College of Science Dean Brian Jersky. “No problem is too large or small for Mike, and his energy and determination to do his best for everyone is truly remarkable.”