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Alcorn president credits team for honors

Alcorn State University President M. Christopher Brown II speaks during the school’s 2013 commencement ceremony at the Dave L. Whitney  Athletic Complex in May.
Alcorn State University President M. Christopher Brown II speaks during the school’s 2013 commencement ceremony at the Dave L. Whitney Athletic Complex in May.

Ask Alcorn State University President Dr. M. Christopher Brown II what it means to be HBCU president of the year, and he’s not going to talk about himself.

He’s going to talk about Alcorn.

Brown was recently named Male President of the Year by the Center for Historically Black Colleges and University Media Advocacy. Brown — who at 39 was the youngest HBCU president when he was named to the top post at the nation’s oldest land-grant university in 2010 — described the recognition as a “high honor” not only for himself but also for those who work with him.

“More than anything, it really speaks to what an institution can achieve with a great leadership team,” Brown said. “I have been very fortunate to have a very strong team of vice presidents and directors who are both competent and manage performance tasks very well, and I think that is critically important for any campus.”

But rather than focus solely on the two categories for which the school was recognized — Alcorns’ Myrlie Evers Williams was also given the title of HBCU Female Faculty Member of the Year — Brown said he likes to consider that the school was nominated in five other categories, which included:

4Best student organization —ASU Diversity Champions Best

4Alumni Publication — Alcorn the Magazine

4Best Research Center — ASU Center for Conservation Research

4Best Nursing Program

4HBCU of the Year

“Seeing that spread and diversity of nominations for me was significant because it is not as if the campus is strong in one area, it shows that the campus is strong overall,” Brown said.

“We can look at this and see that student engagement is working. We can see that the media and external relations is working, that research is working.”

Alcorn was recognized as the HBCU of the Year in 2012, and Brown said the ASU campus had hoped to capture the recognition for a second year.

“Certainly my students more than anyone wanted to be HBCU of 2013, and we did all we could to get that for them by trying to be excellent in all our endeavors, but Spellman College just had an exceptional year on all fronts, and I am really excited that the students at Spellman could have that honor,” he said.

“What is really — even personally — exciting is that we did not win in all of the categories (in which ASU was nominated), so not only is Alcorn strong, but other HBCUs are also strong.”

But that doesn’t mean that Brown and the Alcorn campus as a whole aren’t committed to pursuing excellence and growth — including possible future HBCU of the Year recognitions.

“When I arrived, the campus was already pregnant with possibility; what we tried to do was water our areas of excellence,” Brown said. “Alcorn will not do all things — we can’t do all things — but the things we choose to do, we will do well.”

“I think one of the things that the campus community is now clear about is we have to be really conscious about what are the areas we want to grow and what are the areas we want to be known for.”

The president said he has tasked the university’s various units with making goals that are specific and measurable, and that as a whole Alcorn has four critical areas of focus.

Those include making sure academic programs are strong and that the agriculture program — Alcorn’s historic focus — is strong, Brown said.

The school likewise needs to ensure its two satellite campuses — in Natchez and Vicksburg — are strong, he said.

“As president, I know you can be consumed by the Lorman campus, so it is very important for us to pay close attention to growing our second locations,” he said. “I have charged our leadership teams this year to design new business plans for our branch campuses. I want to see those branch campuses growing with the same level of integrity that we have seen on the Lorman campus.”

The final area of critical focus is athletics, Brown said.

“We want the people of Vicksburg and Natchez to know that we don’t want all our best athletes going to (Louisiana State University),” he said. “We need to have strong athletic programs in our state for them to choose.”

And Brown’s philosophy plays out simply — improvement begets improvement.

“Because we continue to perform, now the campus — even though it is rural — is becoming extremely attractive to new students and new staff,” he said. “We cannot post a job that does not have dozens and dozens of applicants from a wide swath. That means the campus will continue to get better because we are able to attract better students and staff.”

The school also has plans for new construction on campus, including housing and academic buildings, Brown said, and will continue to do its community outreach through economic development and extension service programs.

“People always think of the university as a producer of degrees, but we have to be very careful to make sure we support our community,” he said.