Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Dr. Gates Brown, Department of Military History associate professor, has been named the Command and General Staff College Civilian Educator of the Year.
Brown was chosen as the top civilian educator from seven nominees.
Instructors are nominated by their department and are evaluated by CGSC board members representing six departments on nominee packet submission, instructor observation both in-person and virtual, and an instructor interview.
“I was kind of shocked (that I won) because there were a lot of good teachers,” Brown said. “It means a lot because my colleagues in the college saw what I did, and they thought that it was effective, so I appreciate that.”
Brown has been teaching at CGSC since 2015, but it isn’t the first time he’s taught there. He first started teaching in 2010 as an Army captain and was medically separated from the Army by time he left in 2011.
Brown then attended graduate school at the University of Kansas in Lawrence through the Wounded Warrior Education Initiative. After receiving his master’s and doctorate degrees, he returned to CGSC. It was a decision that Brown said wasn’t a hard one to make once learning of the available position.
“The student population is incredible, and they’re mainly in uniform,” Brown said. “It is really humbling to be able to have a small part in influencing future leaders of the Army … That’s one of the things that drew me back is their professionalism and their excitement for what they do. It’s fun to be part of that.”
Brown said his teaching method works to stay true to the idea that instructors are not supposed to just lecture.
“The intent is not for us to fill two hours of me talking about things. It’s more to get the students involved in a discussion,” Brown said. “We try to have a graduate seminar where the students come prepared with the readings, and they come prepared with questions and insights. My job is more to try to answer their questions and to try to provide interesting and insightful comments or questions to help drive the discussion.”
Brown said he’s tried to keep that dynamic up even when COVID-19 precautions have forced distance learning.
“Normally, I don’t like to use a lot of slides because I try to diagram things on a whiteboard as we’re discussing things in class, …and we can all see the discussion evolve as we mind map what we’re talking about. That did not translate well to distance learning,” Brown said. “It forced me to brush up on my PowerPoint skills and make sure that I could have more effective visual aids.
“I’ve appreciated the leadership of Fort Leavenworth, the college and their flexibility in what I can only imagine is utter chaos. They’ve set up an environment where we’ve been able to do the best we can in a situation that nobody would’ve chosen,” he said. “One thing that has really driven me home is that I’ve always loved being in the classroom. Distance learning can do some things, but it just does not replace the classroom. …It’s been trying, but it’s been also heartening to see the flexibility of the institution but also the care the leadership has for making sure this is a safe environment for students and faculty.”
Command and General Staff Officer Course students offered why they thought Brown deserved the award.
“Doctor Brown’s ability to enthusiastically and effectively guide the staff group’s lesson discussion enables a deeper level of understanding of often complicated periods of military history,” said Air Force Maj. Andy Ashburn. “Our understanding comes from his ability to explain with multiple layers of detail the subject matter in simple terms or through comparison to commonly known terms or experiences.”
Maj. George Fust said Brown is a master of his craft.
“He has just the right amount of humor balanced against his seriousness with subject material,” Fust said. “He also has depth and breadth to cover any adjacent conversations we ask him to pursue.
“On the first lesson, I recognized how good he is. His style and confidence are decidedly different than other instructors. He makes preparing for class valuable and enjoyable,” he said. “I previously taught at (the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.) for a few years and know how difficult it is to employ the adult learning model. Doctor Brown has mastered the ability to read the class and can make a two-hour lesson feel like 10 minutes. I am often wanting more and can’t wait for the next class.”
Army Reserve Maj. Marie Okoro said she was elated that Brown won the award.
“Doctor Brown is a thought-provoking, thorough, stimulating and intelligent professor.
History is typically a bland and dry topic for some, especially for those who have not touched a history book since college,” Okoro said. “Doctor Brown’s approach in the classroom is a facilitator. He encourages discussion amongst the staff group, and if you did not do your part of the required readings, it shows.
“Each lesson has been a discussion. It’s an intellectual exchange between the instructor and us. He walks around the room, he makes eye contact, and you can tell by his body language that he is genuinely passionate about his profession, and it’s contagious,” she said. “A great instructor is accessible, competent, enthusiastic and cares. All these actions help influence the student’s brain plasticity, where the learning changes your brain. It causes more of a long-term memory engagement versus the short-term use-and-lose approach. His passion is contagious, and I think I’ve caught the bug, so thank you, Doctor Brown.”
Brown will go on to represent CGSC in the Training and Doctrine Command Instructor of the Year competition.