Mike Brown will always cherish the day he hooded his first Ph.D. student or shared in any of his students’ successes. After over 26 years at South Dakota State University, Brown recently retired from his career in undergraduate and graduate education, advising and research in wildlife and fisheries and natural resource management.
Brown has been a member of SDSU faculty since January 1994, serving as assistant, associate and professor in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences before becoming a professor and distinguished professor in the Department of Natural Resource Management, in addition to serving as the program leader and major adviser in the department.
“Dr. Brown has been an actively engaged and valued faculty member owing to his many contributions in teaching, advising, research and service/outreach throughout his entire career at SDSU,” said Natural Resource Management Department Head Michele R. Dudash.
Originally from Ft. Smith, Arkansas, Brown received his bachelor’s degree from Arkansas Tech University and master’s and doctoral degrees from Texas A & M in wildlife and fisheries sciences with a fisheries specialization.
“Recognizing that the wildlife and fisheries sciences program at SDSU was one of the elite programs in the U.S. led me to jump at the first opportunity for a tenure-track faculty position,” Brown said.
Brown’s involvement with the university did not stop at his professional and teaching roles; his belief in being involved with advising and mentoring students inside and outside the classroom has driven him to mentor students in their professional goals as well. In 2019, Brown received the J. Walters McCarty award for his excellence in advising students.
“An educator’s role does not end outside of the classroom,” Brown said.
The J. Walters McCarty award is given in recognition of outstanding academic advisors of undergraduate students in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. This award is made possible by alumnus David B. Anderson in tribute to his former academic advisor, J. Walters McCarty, a professor of animal and range sciences at SDSU from 1948 to 1986.
“I believe that one of our most important obligations as educators is to ensure, through thoughtful advising and mentoring, that students develop into socially responsible citizens and effective professionals,” Brown said. “Following course registration consultations, I truly enjoy discussing current objectives and long-term career goals, and how best to achieve them while at SDSU.”
Prior to his academic training, Brown completed a five-year tour with the U.S. Coast Guard and spent much of that time along the coastlines of the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and Oregon. The work he dedicated to protecting natural resources during that time paralleled his lifelong interest in natural resources, particularly in fish and wildlife, therefore stimulating his desire to pursue further education in fisheries.
Since coming to SDSU, Brown’s teaching roles have included seven undergraduate, three dual-listed and three graduate courses, in addition to coordinating numerous undergraduate and graduate seminars and mentoring several independent studies, internships and thesis and dissertation courses. This past year, Brown taught quantitative fisheries science, biometry, ichthyology and natural resource statistics.
Brown also advised the American Fisheries Society Student Subunit on campus, a society in which he has been a member of the parent organization since 1986. Through his 34 years of involvement with the organization, Brown has served as president of the north central division and two chapters, is a member of the board of professional certification and serves as chair of the education committee. Brown’s involvement with organizations does not stop there; he has been involved as a chair or member in several regional and national review panels, committees, elected positions and boards that further show his dedication to the profession and industry.
One of Brown’s biggest career milestones has included his efforts in the background research that ultimately led to the formation of Prairie AquaTech, an aquaculture protein production company with a technology center in Brookings and a manufacturing plant in Volga. His expertise in fisheries enabled him to collaborate with colleague Bill Gibbons, director of the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station and distinguished professor of biology and microbiology, to improve protein content and reduce antinutritional components of plant feedstuffs at the bench level.
“I had previously been working with distillers grains and other cereal and oilseeds, but when I started working with Bill, I was looking for ways of modifying those basic feedstuffs to improve the nutritional quality,” Brown said. “It basically grew legs from there.”
After years of research, their developments in both the aquaculture research and manufacturing sectors allowed for the integration into the commercial production space it exists in today. Both Brown and Gibbons currently serve as chief science officers for the company.
For his efforts in fisheries science, Brown serves as Elected Fellow of the American Institute of Fisheries Research Biologists. He has also received the Canon Intellectual Property Commercialization Award and the F.O. Butler Award for Excellence in Research while at SDSU. In addition, through his professional career, Brown has received two Distinguished Service Awards from the American Fisheries Society. However, his achievements as a professor, mentor and advisor are further proven through his students, who have received 49 awards, including 10 Best Student Paper and 12 Best Student Poster awards.
While he officially retired in May 2020, Brown will continue to oversee his two doctoral candidates and one postdoctoral researcher. As a professor emeritus of fisheries science, he will also proceed with researching and working with companies on further developments of alternative plant-based ingredients for aquatic and terrestrial animal feeds.