Ron Brown honored with Teaching Excellence Award

Tuesday April 24, 2018

The Chemistry and Biochemistry Department on theRon Brown third floor of Zurn Hall has been likened to a cul-de-sac by one professor, who describes its faculty and students as a tightly knit group of “neighbors”.

Those neighbors gathered on Monday, April 23, to pull a surprise on one of their favorite professors when they confronted him in class with a bouquet of balloons and a certificate honoring him as the 2018 recipient of the university’s coveted Teaching Excellence Award.  Chemistry Professor Dr. Ronald Brown was nonplussed as he graciously submitted to the fanfare orchestrated by incoming provost Dr. Leanne Roberts.

“He was born to be a teacher,” said department chair Dr. Clint Jones of his colleague. “After 19 years at Mercyhurst, he still goes into every teaching situation with the same enthusiasm you’d get from a beginning teacher.”

In response to the honor, Brown said, “I have been at Mercyhurst long enough to recognize, and often regard with awe, the tremendous amount of expertise, commitment and creativity exhibited by so many of my colleagues as they fulfill the educational mission originated by the Sisters of Mercy. To be given this award, and to be included among those for whom I hold the highest respect, is the greatest honor of my professional career. I look upon my job as trying to cultivate, channel and communicate my passion for science to my students. This award is a testament to all of the great students and colleagues from whom I have received so much over the years in that they have allowed me to be a part of their development and awakening as scientists, and that has sustained me as I continue to try to learn from them as an educator and researcher.”

A native of Flint, Michigan, both of Brown’s parents were teachers. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemical physics from Michigan State University and his doctorate from the University of Minnesota. In 1999, he began his career at Mercyhurst, where he teaches the General Chemistry sequence and Physical Chemistry, including thermodynamics, kinetics, quantum chemistry and statistical mechanics.

Brown served as the chair of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry and the Department of Physics at Mercyhurst from 2004 to 2012, a time of tremendous growth and change. Among the many committees he has served on are the Executive Committee, the College Council and the Rank & Tenure Committee. He was promoted to associate professor in 2005.

Dr. Michael Elnitsky, dean of the Zurn College of Natural and Health Sciences, said Brown has a tendency to fly under the radar because he is quiet and unassuming by nature. “But in his humble, merciful way, Ron epitomizes the Mercyhurst mission, always putting his students and their success first,” he said.

Students said Brown has a gift for simplifying the most complicated concepts. He’s also known to return to campus in the evenings to hold office hours for students who have conflicts during the day. It’s clearly important to him that his students fully understand and master the content he teaches.

“This dedication to students is also highlighted through his work over the past few years to develop an intensive research curriculum for our majors, beginning with work done by freshmen and carried through a senior capstone experience,” said Dr. Amy Parente. 

Brown’s research interests include the investigation of the properties of intriguing, relatively newly discovered materials such as carbon nanotubes and graphene. He has been published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry BThe Dekker Encyclopedia of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and The Journal of Chemical Education, but is proudest of the intensive research experiences he has been able to provide to the undergraduates in his computational chemistry research laboratory during his 19-year career at Mercyhurst, many of whom have gone on to graduate work (including several who have earned their doctorates).

Indeed, his colleagues say that when you ask some of the chemistry alumni who have gone on to graduate school or medical school who helped prepare you the most, it’s a resounding “Dr. Brown”!

But it’s not just the students he has mentored, it’s the faculty.

“He has been the biggest influence on my teaching,” Jones said.

Dr. Chris Taylor agreed. “Ron is responsible for developing a culture in the department that everyone must commit to being good at teaching,” he said. “He’s the anchor in this department in that regard.” 

Brown lives in Erie with his wife, Elizabeth Guldan, and 12-year old son, Owen.

PHOTO: Incoming provost Dr. Leanne Roberts presents Teaching Excellence Award to Dr. Ron Brown.