Photo Courtesy of Steve Brown
All it took was one comment to change the course of UTSA alumnus Stephen Brown’s life.
“I joined The Paisano staff after then UTSA engineering professor Dr. Richard Howe criticized my poor writing ability for the general public,” Brown said. “He commented that if I was smart, I would try to get an internship as a writer with a newspaper. Later that day, I saw an ad in the Paisano looking for writers, so I volunteered.”
Prior to graduating with a master’s degree in environmental science from UTSA in 1992, Brown received an associate degree from Vernon Regional Junior College in physical science and a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M in parks and recreation management. After graduating from UTSA, he was hired by Cornell University in New York to teach environmental science. At Cornell, he earned a doctorate in environmental science with a focus in geospatial technology.
Brown worked at UTSA as an assistant professor of environmental science from 1999 to 2005, and then he worked at Kansas State University for two years before becoming a professor of agriculture and natural resources education in Alaska. Brown is currently an agricultural extension agent at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and he said The Paisano was one of the most important parts of his education.
“The experience taught me how to write for the public,” Brown said. “It also taught me how the news media works. As a result, I have had countless weekly newspaper columns, magazine articles, television and radio shows across the U.S. and Canada.”
Brown is also a “life-long mountaineer” and has climbed mountains in places all over the world. He carries a copy of the Paisano with him as a tradition that started out as a joke between him and Paisano adviser Diane Abdo about having a “world-wide distribution.” He said that one of The Paisano articles that he was proudest of was published on September 4, 1990.
“Paisano photographer Ron Shulman and I traveled to central Mexico and climbed the third tallest mountain in North America: El Pico de Orizaba,” Brown said. “The article was titled ‘Another Side of the Mountain.’ I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was setting up my primary research agenda when I was a professor at UTSA.”
Brown’s interest in mountain climbing began while he was growing up in flat and “arguably boring” northwest Texas. During high school, he would sneak off to Colorado and New Mexico to climb, and has been all over the world since. He is currently attempting to climb the seven highest continental summits.
“I was hoping to climb Cotopaxi in Ecuador this December, but it is currently erupting,” he said. “I may go do Kilimanjaro in Kenya.”
Aside from his interest in exploring the world’s mountains, Brown teaches Yupik and Inupiat Eskimos how to grow food in the arctic and sub-arctic as a part of his current occupation.
“Gardening is not part of the Alaskan native culture,” explained Brown. “In the thousands of years that they have inhabited Alaska and the circumpolar north, their diet has revolved around hunting and gathering food. Working in the arctic with these people has been one of the greatest adventures of my life.”
Brown’s current job in Alaska consists of traveling to different countries teaching people how to grow food. Two years ago, He went to the Batak region in Indonesia to teach people how to grow coffee and oranges, and he will be going back this spring to teach soil science.
“The Batak people are on the lowest rung of Indonesian society and, consequently, receive little support from the government,” stated Brown. “It was extremely satisfying to go help make a difference in that society. Most of the knowledge to do this, I gained as a student at UTSA.” Brown said that he loves his job in Alaska. While applying for the position, he was told that he would have to be willing to endure hardships not expected of university faculty in other parts of the country, including lack of electricity, running water and bathrooms.
“There would be times when I would be expected to travel to communities up frozen rivers on a snowmobile and sleep in a tent in the winter. I would have to be prepared to encounter hostile wildlife such as grizzly bears,” explained Brown. “Sounded like fun to me.”
He plans on continuing his job in Alaska and living a “great adventure.” He said that the Paisano was a big part of that adventure and helped determine his future path.
“I plan to keep doing what I am doing, at least for now,” stated Brown. “However, if someone said, ‘Let’s go to Patagonia to teach high latitude farming,’ I might just go. Life for me was an open-ended adventure, and it remains so to this day.”