The original principal of the University of Virginia’s International Residential College, Brad Brown, is stepping down after 12 years at the helm.
Brown, an associate professor of management at the McIntire School of Commerce, and his wife, Carol, the fiscal administrator for the International Studies Office, helped pioneer the college, which opened its doors in fall 2001.
The Browns lived on the Lawn in Pavilion VIII for a couple of years in the late 1990s and loved the experience. But they wanted a programmatic role in a student community, Brad Brown said.
“When the University announced that a new residential college would be started in 2001, and that for the first time it would have a recognized theme – ‘international’ – it seemed like a good fit,” said Brown, who leads study-abroad courses to Bangladesh, Nicaragua and elsewhere. One of three residential colleges at U.Va., the International Residential College was founded with the aim of promoting cultural exchange and awareness.
Brown said he and Carol have truly enjoyed the student community the college provides. “The best part of being at the IRC has been the close friendships we have made with our residents, many of whom we have known for three or four years and who keep in contact after they graduate.”
In most classroom settings, it requires “great creativity and effort” to take advantage of U.Va.’s diversity, he said, and the same can be said for most student housing. However, at the IRC, “the culture is salient.” Only about half the residents are Americans and the rest come from up to 40 other countries.
“Students choose to live in the IRC because they want to learn more about other cultures, meet interesting people and form lasting friendships with students from all over the world,” Brown said.
His enthusiasm for the college is evident in a playful video he made with residents in February, at the height of an Internet meme in which groups of people performed comedy sketches to a short excerpt from the song “Harlem Shake.”
The Browns combined food and scholarship to create many traditions. Carol Brown conceived the weekly dinner series, “Conversazione,” which features a guest faculty member. During exams, a “Breakfast of Champions” continental breakfast was served each morning. For exam study breaks, there were late night “cookie bakes” and grilled-cheese sandwich cook-ins. The college’s website also advises students to “be sure to look for Carol’s famous brownies at many of the IRC food events.”
Brad Brown’s welcome note on the website further illustrates the “wonderful living and learning community” that he, Carol and IRC students fostered through the afore-mentioned activities, as well as cooking classes and day trips to Washington, D.C. and Monticello. “But mostly,” Brad advises, “take advantage of the fact that you are living in a truly multicultural environment. ... Your best learning experiences will likely be from each other.”
The Browns’ leadership brought fond memories for former resident Peirce Coughter, now a senior admission counselor at U.Va. “When I toured the IRC as a prospective student, meeting Brad and Carol and seeing the type of community living in the place, I knew it’s where I wanted to start my experience at the University,” he said.
Eric Loth, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, will become the college’s second principal this summer. Brown said Loth has some “great ideas” to continue building the program.
“I look forward to seeing how his initiatives provide more opportunities for the IRC residents to work closely with faculty fellows,” he said.