David Brown

David Brown

Leading on the Court and in Life

For David Brown ’12, learning how to be a good teammate on and off the basketball court is what made the biggest difference in his career—and his life. Once a student-athlete and now an assistant coach for the Crimson and Gray, the management engineering major attributes his successful career to the collaboration and leadership skills he honed at WPI.

As a basketball-obsessed teenager in Lowell, Mass., Brown’s first job was at the YMCA, where, in exchange for a free gym membership, he taught 5- and 6-year-olds how to dribble, pass, and score. WPI wasn’t even on his radar then—he only knew that he wanted to go to college and play ball. But everything changed when Chris Bartley, head coach of men’s basketball at WPI, caught Brown’s impressive performance in a game and began to recruit him. 

The first person in his family to graduate from high school, never mind to apply to college, Brown was overwhelmed by his choices and felt unsure about WPI initially. What if he didn’t want to be an engineer? What if he felt out of place on a majority-white campus? What if it was too expensive? But once Bartley walked him through WPI’s competitive advantages—including its flexible curriculum, commitment to diversity and inclusion, and long-term return on investment for graduates—Brown was sold. He understood the seismic impact a prestigious WPI education would have on his family’s future.

“Start off strong,” he recalls Bartley saying to him when they reviewed his first course schedule together. “He said, ‘The work that you’re putting in now is not only going to change your life, it’s going to change your family’s life. You’re going to be a first-generation college graduate, and you’re going to set the precedent for the rest of your family, for your kids, for your kids’ kids, that’s just what we do.’”

David Brown as an assistant coach to the WPI men's basketball team

Through Bartley’s mentorship, Brown not only laid a strong foundation for his academics, but also discovered he was a natural leader on the team. He was even selected as a first-year student to join an NCAA leadership cohort—a training program that would lead to a pivotal “Ah hah!” moment for his future career.

He figured out that combining his technical knowledge and people skills would be more fulfilling than focusing on technology or engineering alone. “Being customer-facing and people-facing is more important to me than a pen to paper solving a problem. I like the collaborative effort.”

A Second Team

Once he started exploring the management path, David was surprised to discover that he was joining a second team at WPI: The Business School. Its supportive faculty and advisors were quick to surround him with all the help and guidance he needed. He formed strong bonds with professors Sharon Johnson, Chickery Kasouf, Steve Taylor, and Sharon Wulf (emerita), as well as now-retired executive director Norm Wilkinson. They helped him with everything from passing macroeconomics to completing his Major Qualifying Project

“Everybody was there to help you, almost at all times,” he says. “The support was tremendous.”

He wound up falling in love with cognitive psychology courses within the business program. Studying what makes people tick proved helpful in both coaching and sales. 

But the biggest competitive advantage Brown gained at WPI was his ability to connect and work with individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Thanks to the university’s project-based learning model and interdisciplinary approach, he met people whom he never would’ve known otherwise. 

He remembers one project in a product innovation class where groups of four randomly assigned students had to work together to come up with a new product and create a sales pitch. “It was actually several minds collaborating to put a product out there. That translates directly to working in an office. You’re not operating in a silo.”

Coming together to learn and to teach each other and to give to each other is going to make the WPI experience that much greater for everybody. And then that carries on with you for the rest of your life.

When he started working, he noticed that many engineers who came from other universities had a hard time adjusting because they’d only ever spent time with other engineers. They didn’t know how to be part of a team with colleagues from different backgrounds. But for David, that was what he’d been training for. 

“It got to the point where I was an operations manager for about 120 people. I had engineers. I had operators. I had technicians. I had customer service folks. Everyone spoke a different language, but because of what I went through at WPI, I could blend it all together and get the message across to all of them.” 

Brown’s advice for every WPI student comes from a Maya Angelou quote: “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” He explains, “Coming together to learn and to teach each other and to give to each other is going to make the WPI experience that much greater for everybody. And then that carries on with you for the rest of your life.”

Now that he’s coaching the same basketball team he once played for, that spirit of shared learning is more tangible than ever. “Hopefully I leave that mark on one of the students there now,” he says. “As much as they think they’re learning from me, I’m learning more from them.”

Reader Comments


  1. K
    Kendell Clark

    I love this story. Keep achieving, David!

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