The Office of Public Affairs at Mississippi State recently interviewed Rhodes Scholar Field Brown and asked questions that had him reminiscing about the past and contemplating what’s on the horizon. Here are his answers.
Talk about the role of your parents in bringing you to the point where you could see yourself as a Rhodes Scholar.
Growing up, my parents read to me a lot–Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears, Bible stories–and my dad, who’s a big history buff, would read to me from the Almanac. He’d have me name the U.S. capital cities, the biggest cities in the world and other interesting facts. It was an environment where we saw education not as a burden, but as something that’s fun. It helped make learning a lot easier, and it made academics something I wanted to do as I got older.
What were your goals about your college experience?
I was looking for a university where I had individual time with my professors and where they had time to spend with me. I’m also a big sports fan and SEC fan, so I also wanted a school that was big enough to get that experience as well. When I was a junior at Vicksburg High School and attended MSU’s Spring Preview Day, the English professors told me that the majority of my classes would have about 20 people and would largely be discussion based. After talking with them, I knew I had found the right combination in what I was looking for, and it proved true during my four years here.
With the benefit of hindsight, what’s different about you now as a student?
I think I’m a much more critical-thinking person than I was coming out of Vicksburg High School. I had this naive mindset where if I read something I usually accepted it as the truth. When I got into my academic studies at Mississippi State, I began to read Aristotle and Plato–two people who obviously didn’t agree on everything. I realized that many times what we read is usually not wholly true. We have to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each person’s argument and just be more critical.
What sort of personal discipline is required to be positioned for a Rhodes Scholarship?
You have to love reading, and you have to love reading about current things that are going on in the world. I read the New York Times every Sunday and at least three or four times a week. You can’t just know about the field in which you’re studying. Many people can be engineers or chemists, but you have to be able to fit the knowledge of your field with current debates over such things as public policy. A well-rounded person sees things more in a disciplinary sense than someone who is just stuck in their one field.
What did you do to become a Rhodes Scholar?
I gave a lot of time to the Rhodes Scholarship process. I was president of numerous organizations, including the Philosophy and Religion Club and Golden Key Honor Society, and I was a co-founder of the Street Car, a new literary magazine on campus. I also did a lot of research, and my professors helped me find research opportunities I could do during the summer. I went to the University of Iowa after my sophomore year and to Stanford University the next year to do research. Those are just a few of the big things that I did to accomplish this goal.
When you look back on your time at Mississippi State, what is one thing that you will hold on to in terms of who you are and who you want to become?
I’ll definitely hold on to my time as a Roadrunner student recruiter. I recruited a lot of students and gave tours once a week. It was a big time commitment, but I always kept my word on doing my part. There were days I’d be busy with other things, but I’d still take that genuine time to share with prospective students considering Mississippi State. I want to always be the person that takes time to give back.
What does it mean to you to be a Bulldog?
I think it means to give everything 100 percent, and I think that’s one thing I’ve done since I’ve been here. I’ve learned from looking at my professors and looking at other students around me. Being a Bulldog means to have that tenacity, to have that passion, to always give your all.
What does it mean to Mississippi State for you to have obtained this very high honor?
It shows that a lot of bright students go to Mississippi State, and I was just one of many students who I feel could have gotten this honor. It shows that MSU has a lot of great professors that are putting in a lot of time with students helping them to reach their dreams. Students who have intellectual curiosity that they want to explore in any field of study are going to have professors leading them in that direction. Mississippi State may be known for agriculture and engineering, but it also has great programs in the liberal arts such as English and philosophy.
Was the support network at Mississippi State important for you as a student?
The support network was great, especially in my two departments of English and philosophy, and in the Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College. All my professors had office hours and encouraged me to come by any time. They always had welcoming, smiling faces when I’d come to see them. I also was involved with the Philosophy and Religion Book Club for four years, and I learned so much through that group. There are a lot of avenues in general that students can get involved in at Mississippi State. It felt like a small college setting, but I’m appreciative that it was a large university because I got to know so many different people. It was definitely a good combination.
What are the things Mississippi State offers to every student regardless of their major, the things that attracted you to MSU?
Well, Mississippi State offered a home away from home for me. I’m from Vicksburg, and I went to a high school where there are about 1,000 students. Even though there are more than 20,000 students at Mississippi State, it felt like home because I saw so many hospitable faces. It was an encouraging atmosphere, and that was something that I knew I needed in the university I chose.
Why was being a part of the Shackouls Honors College good for you?
Coming from Vicksburg High School, I was pretty much the best student in my class, and I felt like I was the one always telling other people new and interesting things. When I got to the Shackouls Honors College, I was one of many bright students who also had all these very interesting ideas that I’d never explored. There were students, especially juniors and seniors, who knew way more than I did about many topics. Learning about new topics and talking to other students was really good for me and made me a better student.
What is the thing most people don’t realize about Mississippi State?
The thing that most people don’t realize about Mississippi State is that it’s not only a university that’s obsessed with SEC football and agriculture and engineering, it’s a place that loves English, philosophy and the humanities. It’s a very well-rounded university that has so much to offer.
In looking five, 10 or even 25 years into the future of Field Brown, what will we see?
I hope to be an African-American leadership professor, that’s my big goal. The main part of that would be research and writing books based on my research. I’m also interested in writing fiction in my spare time. And, I’m interested in starting something like a mentoring program or a scholarship program geared towards African Americans in particular.
How do you see your future role in changing some of Mississippi’s vexing problems such as race relations and poverty? What’s your role in being a change agent?
One of my role models is Dolphus Weary, the founder of Mission Mississippi. What his organization does is create relationships and communities between people from different backgrounds. He gets them in the same room talking about issues like the state’s public school system, race, religion and other topics that these groups would probably never talk to each other about without the connection to this organization. He’s a role model for me because I hope to also get different organizations or different clubs together, that traditionally never have anything to do with each other, in the same room talking about issues that control Mississippi’s future.
What is your vision for the experience on which you’re about to embark?
Oxford is a city known by the book, so I see myself talking a lot about poetry and literature. That’s something I love doing. I can see myself eating in a pub with a professor and discussing writers like Willie Morris or philosophers like John Paul Sartre. Hearing the experiences of people from around the world and them listening to mine is a dialogue that should be intriguing and very enlightening.