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Biography

I have enjoyed being a faculty member at Iowa State since 2003.  One of my first college professors inspired me to teach and conduct research at a university.  The experiences highlighted below have most profoundly influenced my career.

Brian's group at Isle Royale National Park.
Team at Isle Royale:  Marcus Mihm (?); my tent-pad-maker-partner Jen from Strongsville, OH; Stuart from Virginia; Joyce McLaren from Tennessee; Teri Hurley from Chicago; leader Chris Letts from Peekskill, NY; and me.

Student Conservation Association

During the summer of 1989, after my junior year of high school, I spent a month at Isle Royale National Park with six other high school students and an adult leader.  The park encompasses the biggest island in the biggest lake in the world.  We repaired campsites and trails at the Feldtmann Lake campground for three weeks. We slept in tents, cooked our meals with food we brought with us (or fish we caught), and washed our clothes and selves using buckets or a Sun Shower.  To celebrate the Fourth of July we slept overnight on the beach at Rainbow Cove.  The last week we traveled around the island by canoe, portaging between inland lakes, with a short dash through the big lake, Superior. There are also programs for college students and college graduates. This is a great way to get into the National Park Service and other state park services. You are not paid in the high school programs, and now there is a fee to participate. But there are modest stipends for the college and post-college programs. My concern for the environment and desire to work out-of-doors resulted from my time at Isle Royale.  It was also my first time away from my family, and I gained a lot of self-confidence. 

 


Summer Undergraduate Research Experiences

After my sophomore year I worked at the University of Minnesota Biomedical Engineering Institute with along with several other college students from across the country.  It was there that I figured out that I didn't want to be a biomedical engineer or work in a hospital! This discovery had nothing to do with the program itself, but simply verified what I already suspected: I'm uncomfortable in hospitals. I designed a relational database for Dr. Stan Finkelstein's and Dr. Jay Cohn's research on human blood vessel compliance (elasticity) and its relation to hypertension (which can contribute to high blood pressure). This program paid a stipend. Note that finding out that you don't like something is as important as finding out you do like something. I think there are several things I would have enjoyed doing for my career. It didn't have to be microwave remote sensing. But I'm glad I didn't continue on the path that I thought I would like, being a biomedical engineer. (I thought I wanted to design running shoes!) My experience in Minnesota steered me away from that, and I'm glad it did!  Another benefit to these programs is the chance to live somewhere else for a short period of time.  The Minneapolis/St.Paul area is a neat place and our group did a lot fun things together.

Undergraduate researchers.
Top left:  Tiffany Harper, North Carolina A&T, 2016.  Top right:  Jackie Ducket, Wesleyan, 2018.  Bottom:  Lisa Bramer, Purdue, 2006.

After my junior year I worked at the Iowa State University Microelectronics Research Center with another group of college students.  This was a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU). It was not well advertised, and I found out about it only after mailing several letters and resumes to professors in the electrical engineering department at Iowa State asking for a job for summer. There are many REU at schools all over the country each summer. Look here for a list or you could contact professors directly as I did. This particular program at Iowa State consisted of both coursework and research. I took a class with lab on designing and fabricating semiconductor devices and also did some research on using amorphous silicon to make electrical contact to shallow emitters typical in microwave devices. A competitive stipend was paid. From a faculty member's point of view, this is a great way to attract good students to their research. Keep that in mind if you are accepted into one of these programs. Your advisors would like you to come to graduate school and work with them if you do well in the program. This is an area of research that I found to be OK but not "the thing" that I wanted to do. But again, I'm glad I had the experience, because I learned a lot both from the research and by living on my own (cooking with ISU All-American runner Dmitry Drozdov at 263 Campus Ave) and made more friends.  

Hosting summer undergraduate researchers is a priority for my research group.  Several have been part of the George Washington Carver program.  As important as it is for undergraduate students, it as just as important for graduate students to learn how to lead research projects.  When I was in that position as a graduate student, it was originally extremely frustrating as I felt I had my own things to get done rather than to supervise an undergraduate.  But eventually I realized universities are in the business of training new scientists (or helping students find out if they want to be a scientist) and now it is one of the most rewarding things I do.

 


Brian with Clarksdale High School students.
Top:  physics class party.  Bottom left:  cross country team awards.  Bottom right:  1996 graduate.

Mississippi Teacher Corps

After learning from many great teachers during my high school and college careers, I wanted to try and do the same for others. After graduating from college, I joined the MTC and began taking education classes at the University of Mississippi that summer. During the next two academic years I taught five classes of chemistry and one class of physics at Clarksdale High School in Clarksdale, MS, and attended Ole Miss every-other-weekend to take classes. Before the end of my first year I was a certified high school teacher, and by winter break of the second year I had my M.A. in secondary education. I earned regular first-year teacher pay and benefits and a stipend during the summers.  Tuition for the M.A. degree was provided. Teaching was very hard, but enjoyable, work. If you're interested in the teaching profession, this is the best non-traditional certification program of which I am aware. The twenty-or-so teachers in my class became a great support group. I worked harder teaching than I have at anything else, but it was such an important experience for me professionally and personally.

 


Graduate school collage.
Top:  at SGP'97 field experiment in OK.
Bottom:  collecting data for dissertation.

Graduate Fellowships

I was very fortunate to receive a three year graduate study fellowship from the National Science Foundation.  As an undergraduate, it was my impression that I had to know exactly what type of research I wanted to do before attending graduate school. I had heard about the NSF fellowship but also thought it was specifically for students who knew exactly what they wanted to study. I have found that this is not true. Although you must write a compelling research statement, this does not mean you have finalized your plans, but only that you have put significant thought towards them. Plans are just plans, and my graduate experience definitely did not follow my initial plan.  In my application, I wrote about how I would study communication systems. When I visited the University of Michigan later that spring, a professor told me about remote sensing and I was hooked.  I immediately changed my plans and decided to pursue coursework in electromagnetics. I submitted another plan of study near the end of my fellowship at the request of one of the program directors, who commented that the NSF is not supporting me and my graduate study as a whole and not specifically my research. The NSF fellowship gave me time to carefully choose what I wanted to study and who I wanted to work with after arriving at Michigan. This is a luxury: many incoming graduate students are "attached" to a faculty member at the start of their graduate careers in order to receive support (tuition and stipend). In some cases, although definitely not all, it can be hard to move from that faculty member. For some students, this is not an issue because they know beforehand the type of research they really want to do. Some students can secure TA positions, which also give you independence, and fewer still acquire departmental fellowships of some kind. I believe that NSF fellowship recipients have excellent grades, excellent recommendations, good GRE scores, undergraduate research experiences, and a well-thought-out initial research plan.  I was also very fortunate to receive a three year graduate study fellowship from the Environmental Protection Agency after I had been in graduate school for three years. Although my area of research was certainly on the fringes, if not outside the scope, of traditional EPA research, I carefully read through EPA documents that identified science goals and priorities and figured out how my research could help accomplish those goals. I then wrote a plan of study that emphasized how my work would help accomplish a specific goal, and elaborated on this topic. EPA's graduate fellowship program has been consolidated with the NSF's.

 


Extracurricular Activities1993 Brown Cross Country Team after Harvard-Dartmouth with the Alden Trophy.

Extracurricular activities have been an important part of my life because they provide different learning opportunities, teach you how to work with others, and provide structure and value to your life.  In high school I played the flute and piccolo in concert and marching band and participated in cross country, basketball, and track.  I continued participating in athletics in college as a member of the Brown cross country and track & field teams.  My children have been fortunate to be part of a high school state championship team, achieve all-state runner status, and participate in the World Food Prize.  I continue to be active athletically as it provides me with a time to be creative and a way to stay mentally and physically healthy.  My sport of choice has been distance running. I particularly like the following quote.  "You can run to become a better runner.  Or a better teacher. Or a better doctor. Or a better spouse. Or a better friend. You can run to become a better runner. Or you can run to become better."

 

 



Personal

I am originally from Shenandoah in southwest Iowa.  An early interest was baseball, and especially the Kansas City Royals.  I married Jalene Miller from Essex, Iowa.  All three of our children were born while I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan.  We have enjoyed taking vacations together.  They are now old enough to have experienced many important life events.  I have been involved in a church all of my life and currently attend the Methodist church in Nevada, Iowa, where we live.  My cousin Keri Hornbuckle is also a faculty member, at the University of Iowa.