Back Story WITH Karyn Brown

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, I never imagined I would have spent the past 28 years in a small southern town where people frequently say “y’all” and wave to me as I drive down the street.

I had my entire life planned out, or so I thought. I planned to finish college, live and work in a high-rise in downtown Chicago, and be one of the millions of people who walked the city streets.

Then, in 1992, at Western Illinois University I met the man I would marry, Michael Brown. He was studying meteorology and I was a graduate student in broadcasting and public communication. As we were preparing to marry in May 1993, Michael heard about a nationally known program at Mississippi State University that offered a master’s degree in broadcast meteorology and asked what I thought about moving south. I said, “Starkville? MISSISSIPPI?”

One afternoon in March, I made a cold call to the MSU Department of Communication and spoke to department head Sid Hill. I told him I would be moving to Starkville that summer and wondered if he needed someone to teach public speaking. He said, “As a matter of fact we do,” but I needed to provide references quickly because they were about to close the search. My advisers were at a communication conference, and as luck would have it, it was one of the few times the Midwest and Southeast divisions had a joint conference. Several MSU professors also were attending. This was before cell phones and email, so it took serious logistics for Dr. Hill and me to arrange a meeting of these professors to see if I was a good fit.

The meeting went well because one month after we married, Michael and I packed all of our belongings into a U-Haul and moved into our first apartment together on North Montgomery Street. I was 26 years old beginning my first job as a full-time instructor. I taught my first class in McComas Hall on a very hot August day at 9 a.m. After class, I tried to go back to my office and couldn’t find it! I had to sheepishly go to the main office and ask the staff for help—talk about embarrassing. But, if you have ever stepped foot in McComas Hall, you know how easily that could happen. After a long first day, I then had to maneuver through “Malfunction Junction.” You’d think a girl who learned to drive in Chicago would have been unfazed, but the multiple lanes going in so many directions at that intersection were a challenge.

Talk about change—I was married, started a new job and moved to a completely new culture. I remember riding with Dr. Jean DeHart on what is now Highway 182 and noticing white stuff on the side of the road. I couldn’t figure out what it was. Jean said, “Welcome to the South; that’s cotton.” I also remember driving past the Little Dooey thinking it looked like people were eating at someone’s house. Well, that ended up being the first place Dr. Hill took me and I raced home to tell Michael, we HAD to eat there!

As I reflect now on 28 years at MSU, I’ve spent more of my life as a Southerner than a Midwesterner. MSU and Starkville are home. I find I am often asked by prospective hires why I am still in Starkville. Every time my response is the same. Out of all of the places I’ve ever lived, the sense of community here is second to none. We are now a family of three and are proudly raising a future Bulldog who also will continue to call MSU home.

In addition to serving on the communication faculty and coordinator of the public relations concentration, Karyn Brown is director of communication for MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences. She holds a bachelor’s from Augustana College and a master’s from Western Illinois University. Prior to joining academia, she worked in broadcast news. Her husband, Mike Brown, is a professor of meteorology and serves as state climatologist. He holds a bachelor's from Western Illinois, a master’s from MSU and a doctoral degree from the University of North Carolina.