Brown seeks to be difference-maker for ECSU students
By Reggie Ponder
Friday, July 13, 2018
The new head of the Division of Student Affairs at Elizabeth City State University said he wants to make the kind of positive difference for students that a similar official at N.C. Central University made for him when he was a student there.
Gary Brown, ECSU’s new vice chancellor of student affairs, began his work at the university on Monday, coming to ECSU from the Division of Student affairs at N.C. Central. Brown joined the staff at NCCU in 2007 as assistant dean of students and coordinator of Greek Affairs. He also served as dean of students, director of student rights and responsibilities, and assistant director of student support services.
A native of El Paso, Texas, Brown came to North Carolina to attend N.C. Central University in Durham — not far from Henderson, where he has relatives.
“I went to college intending to be a high school guidance counselor,” Brown recalled in an interview this week.
But the dean of students at NCCU had a significant impact on him, Brown said, leading him toward work on a university campus. Brown recalls the dean once asking him whether he had ever considered working with students at the university level, since he would work with a much greater number of students at a university than at a high school.
Brown said it was the first time he had ever thought about the possibility of working at a university, and it changed the course of his career plans.
His work with students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during his time as a graduate student at N.C. State University cemented his interest in working in student affairs at a university, he said.
“It just kind of became a passion,” Brown said.
Brown holds a bachelor of arts degree in history from NCCU, a master’s degree in education with a concentration in higher education administration from NCSU and a master of divinity degree from Shaw University. He currently is pursuing a doctorate in leadership studies at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro.
Brown puts his divinity degree to use as pastor of a small church in Apex. Despite the distance from Elizabeth City, he plans to continue serving the church in Apex as he begins his work at ECSU.
Brown said he’s passionate about both his church work and his service on the university campus, and he sees running through both a common thread of “investing in people so they can make a difference in the world.”
One of the ways ECSU has invested in students recently has been the renovation of the bowling center on campus, a popular student destination that has been closed because of mold and other building issues.
Heating and cooling system renovations to the bowling center were completed this week. Currently the center’s pool tables are being refurbished and a few other details are being taken care of in anticipation of a grand opening event sometime the latter part of August, according to Brown.
“It’s just a great space for students to get together,” Brown said.
He said he can’t really take credit for the project since it was mostly complete before he arrived. However, it’s still exciting to come in and see the project being completed for students, he said.
The center will include bowling, of course, and also pool tables, ping pong tables, foosball, and electronic gaming systems such as Xbox and PlaySation, Brown said. There’s also some general space just for socializing.
“Students just want to be engaged in a variety of ways,” Brown said. “We want them to have some balance. They are here for their education but there is a need for them to do some socializing as well.”
And students don’t just learn in the classroom but also through interactions with other students outside the classroom, he said.
For that reason, Brown said he’s committed to “operating the Division of Student Affairs like a second classroom.”
Brown said he wants student affairs to provide programs and activities that not only are fun but also are “truly impactful.” He said he plans to find ways to help students engage with graduate schools and prospective employers from the time they enroll at the university, not just during their senior year.
Brown said his goal is to have “cutting edge” programs in the Division of Student Affairs “and in order to do that obviously you have to engage with students.”
So while he won’t be spending his whole day playing in the game room, he will be there sometimes, he said.
“I’ll be everywhere that the students are,” Brown said.
During the times he is in his office he will have an open-door policy for students, he said. If he’s not in the office he will return calls promptly, he added.
In just his first few days on the job at ECSU, Brown said he’s found the Elizabeth City community to be fully invested in the success of the university.
“On another note, it’s beautiful here,” Brown said.
And the town boasts refreshing coastal breezes, he noted. He said one day this week he stepped outside his office and noticed how pleasant the breeze was.
“I hadn’t felt a breeze like that in Durham,” Brown said.