Texas State's 17th Piper Professor teaches geography students to think critically and to solve problems
When most people think of geography, they think of maps and climates. But that’s only part of the story, explains associate geography professor Brock Brown, who this year was named Texas State’s 17th Piper Professor.
The title, given annually to Texas college teachers by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation, honors well-rounded, outgoing teachers devoted to their professions and who have made a special impact on their students and the community.
Geography is about much more than memorizing the cities on maps, Brown says, his enthusiasm for the subject lighting up his bearded face.
“Geography is a broadly applicable, interdisciplinary perspective,” he says. “Geographers can observe and analyze anything distributed across earth space — political behavior, precipitation, crime,health problems, levels of educational attainment — and try to investigate the underlying spatial processes responsible for the observed patterns.”
In Brown's office, more than a couple of chairs invite students and colleagues to gather and stay awhile. Brown, who sips his coffee from a recycled Ball jar, has taught at Texas State since 1992, and he's proud to have contributed to what’s now the largest and one of the highest ranked undergraduate geography programs in the country.
Students are attracted to the geography program for many reasons, he says. Texas State’s location in San Marcos provides a unique laboratory for students interested in environmental studies, physical geography, water resources, economic, and urban geography. The San Marcos River is home to eight federally listed endangered species found nowhere else in the world.
Brown’s classes focus on urban and economic geography. He sets an example with his life outside the classroom. His San Marcos home is an exercise in wildscaping, a practice that uses native plants to mitigate the effects of urban growth.
“Wildscaping provides a habitat for native species, conserves water, and provides private rural-like spaces and views in an urban environment,” Brown says.
As an instructor, Brown’s goal is to teach students the critical thinking and reasoning skills they need to find correlations between seemingly unrelated phenomena.
“I want to teach them life lessons, not just content,” Brown says. “Content changes all the time. What we can do is teach students to observe, analyze and work intelligently to identify and solve problems.”
Brown says his students have been his inspiration for the past 16 years. The next generation, he says, is going to be charged with solving problems such as urban sprawl and sustainable transportation, environmental change, and economic uncertainty.
“My students understand the uncertainties they face and want to learn everything that they can. There’s a large number of students who are vitally involved in what they’re doing,” Brown says. “My students go down and clean the river and support good causes. I have students who are going to make a difference, and that’s the balance in my life.”