His full-time job might be as an engineer and project analyst at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL), but Kenneth Brown has a real passion for education. So when opportunities to make a difference in student learning come along he’s happy to take on the extra work.
Earlier this month, the adjunct professor in the Department of Physics at California State University, Dominguez Hills was appointed to the El Camino College Board of Trustees to fill the seat vacated by longtime trustee Nathanial Jackson, who had been ill much of 2010 and passed away on Nov. 21 at the age of 80. The board selected Brown from a pool of 11 candidates. He will represent Trustee Area One, which includes Inglewood, Ladera Heights and Lennox, until November 2011 under the provisional appointment, after which time he will have to run for election.
Brown said he sought the seat on the El Camino College Board of Trustees because he saw it as a natural progression in his growing interest to have an impact on education at a systemic level. As a liaison for JPL’s high school internship program, Brown has had the opportunity to serve on the California Department of Education’s Technology Advisory Board, Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee, and was a content review panel expert for the 2006 Science Primary Adoption Report.
“To be able to set policy for a school system – that’s thousands of students I could help – I couldn’t pass that opportunity up,” the Inglewood resident who has also taught part time at Santa Monica City College and has been teaching at CSU Dominguez Hills since 2002.
But Brown has no plans to quit his day job.
Brown has been with JPL since he was an undergraduate, starting as an intern on summer breaks from Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he was getting a degree in computer science and physics. He went on to earn his Master of Science in applied physics from Clark Atlanta University before returning to Southern California —he was born and raised in Carson —and taking a permanent job at JPL. As a JPL engineer, he has worked on a variety of missions, including the Cassini mission to Saturn, the Galileo mission to Jupiter, and the Mars Exploration Rovers. This past year he was asked to take a position in JPL’s Project Controls Section as a liaison supporting the Mars Science Laboratory Terminal Descent Sensor on NASA’s next robotic rover, “Curiosity,” set to launch in 2011.
As exciting as his day job sounds and is, Brown admits he gets an even greater kick out of his evenings at CSU Dominguez Hills. (Don’t tell his students though.) Brown teaches Introduction to Science and Technology and Physical Science for Teachers. The classes are mainly for non-science majors, those trying to fulfill a GE requirement or students interested in becoming elementary or secondary teacher. But that’s part of what Brown likes about it: the chance to possibly interest more students in the sciences—and especially for those future teachers spark an interest that they will then pass on to their students.
“It’s one of my goals to teach them that it isn’t that hard,” Brown said, adding that because he is working in the sciences, he believes his students get that there are real-world applications to what they are learning. “They don’t tend to write me off when I say stuff like ‘this is important to know.’”
Brown may have a busy schedule, but he doesn’t really think of it in those terms. He does it because he enjoys it and is passionate about it, and that’s what he hopes comes across at the office, in the classroom, and behind the dais.
“It’s hard to say no to students, and to those who are helping students,” he said.