When you are a student at Huntington University, you have one perspective on what life is like as a student. When you’re a professor, you have a different one. What happens when you’ve been both a student and a professor?
By Cristian Rodriguez, Contributor
Thomas Brown was a student at Huntington University in the 2010s—and is now a visiting professor of history. While at HU, he studied theology, philosophy, history, international development, communication, and journalism.
“I come from a very musical family, both of my parents were musicians,” Brown says, who was born in Muncie, Indiana, in 1994.
He plays piano, trombone, guitar, drums, bass, keys, and several other horn instruments. He is a professional trombone player and has recorded many songs.
“I took a lot of different classes because I enjoyed learning and I was excited to go to class,” Brown says.
Brown was an involved student during his time at Huntington University. He was a part of the soccer team, Joyful Noise, and was a resident assistant during his junior year in Wright Hall.
But he stated: “I was fired because I confessed to drinking off-campus.”
Thomas Brown had valuable experiences as a student at HU that changed his perspective and gave him a new view.
“While studying the Bible at a very high academic level, I began to realize there are several things in the religious environment that I did not agree with, and I was learning how to separate those thoughts while trying to learn how to have a deeper spirituality,” Brown states.
After graduating from Huntington, Thomas applied for a graduate program at Northern Illinois University and was accepted on a full-ride scholarship. During his time there, he studied Southeast Asia and American foreign policy.
He discovered an opportunity called the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship and applied for the summer program. He got accepted. FLASF included living in Cambodia for 10 weeks while taking language classes, doing work in the archives, and experiencing the country.
“The reality of his experience involved challenge and struggle,” Benny Brown, his older brother, says in a Zoom interview.
Thomas Brown says living in a country where you do not fluently speak a foreign language can be mentally tough.
“I got really good at learning the language by conversation, of actually just talking with people. I learned how to navigate with the tuk-tuk drivers, to bargain with the tuk-tuk drivers.”
According to EthnoMed, before Cambodia was independent from France, it had a “solid economic foundation.” After that, the country fell into poverty.
“My experience in Cambodia was difficult. My living conditions were very primitive,” Brown says. “I lived on a mattress on the floor with no air conditioning and lizards and cockroaches. I’d wake up and I’d have a cockroach running across my stomach.”
“We made it,” Brown states, talking and laughing about how they survived their experience in Cambodia.
Coming back to America was also challenging. He spent time as a grad student at Decal University, where he was a TA. Then the professor he taught for died unexpectedly.
“I had to take over the class for the semester,” Brown says. “And my advisor at the time was going through a very crazy legal battle, and there was a ton of drama in the department.”
All of this led to anxiety in Brown’s life.
After his master’s degree, Brown applied for 60 different jobs in a two-month span.
He only got one—Papa John’s, as a delivery driver.
“I worked so hard that I got promoted to manager in two months,” Brown says.
While he was working at Papa John’s, Brown received a call from Dwight Brautigam, a history professor at HU, telling him they probably had an opportunity for him to teach history at the university.
“I went through the whole process, and I got hired as an adjunct. My contract was only for one year until they could find another one.”
After this opportunity, Brown got another contract for one more year at Huntington.
“The History and Political Science Department faculty were blessed to have Thomas Brown return to campus to serve as Visiting Assistant Professor of History,” Jeff Webb, professor of history at Huntington University, stated in an email interview.
Brown now has received the funding to complete his Ph.D. at Northern Illinois University with a full-ride scholarship and three different advisors who want to work with him. He will begin his coursework next fall.