A Q&A with new liberal studies coordinator Chris Brum

March 20, 2024
Chris Brum

When he started his college experience as an undergraduate at Northeastern University, Chris Brum knew exactly what he wanted to do. The Massachusetts native was going to major in athletic training in preparation for joining the staff of the NFL’s New England Patriots.

Actually, scratch that. He was going to major in biology to become a researcher at the famed Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

OK, another change of plans. How about physical therapy? Or maybe studying animal behavior as a psychology major was more up his alley?

“My poor advisor,” recalls Brum, shaking his head. “I'd walk in and she'd be like, 'Oh here we go again. What is it today?’"

Brum eventually figured out his calling: becoming a special education classroom teacher and now an associate professor in the San Diego State University Department of Special Education. But his varied undergraduate experience offers insight as he prepares to start a new challenge — coordinator of SDSU’s liberal studies undergraduate major.

The COE news team recently sat down with Brum to discuss his interest in helping undergrads find their passions, and his goals for the liberal studies program.

How did your own trial and error as an undergraduate inform your view of the liberal studies major?

"I had the opportunity to work in all these different fields so I see the value in varied experience — and liberal studies gives you that! It's really hard for someone to really understand the major just by looking at the website. But I think students can create their own path, to some degree. and explore. You only get to do college once. I surely took advantage of that.” (laughs)

With that in mind, what do you hope to achieve as coordinator?

"One of the goals I have is just opening up the opportunities that students have within education. I think students often hear liberal studies and they think, 'teaching' without realizing that there are so many things you can do in education. You can do anything in education with this major! So I really hope to get more students into our liberal studies program, but also diversify the programs that they go into. That said, we need teachers — especially special ed teachers, bilingual teachers and STEM teachers. The need is there, it's just about helping the students realize what they want."

What do you like best about working with undergraduate students?

"I love their energy and that they're here in person. One of the things I want to focus on is building a community within the College of Ed — one with events and opportunities to connect students with different departments. Periodically throughout the year, I'd like to have students take part in hands-on workshops with representation from all the different departments in the College — to come do cool stuff to allow them to engage and connect with faculty. Building community also means building community with our Office for Student Success. Those advisors work so hard over there. They're doing the direct contact with the students way more than any of us, and they're following them all the way through. I feel like there is so much untapped potential just from having 700 undergrads. It actually scares me a little bit that there are that many. (laughs) I try not to think about that number.”

OK, now for the most pressing question — what kind of animal behavior did you study in college?

“I studied the ocelot. I studied the aggressive mating patterns of the warthog. I also examined aggression in the Indian pygmy goose — which is actually not a goose at all! It's the smallest breed of duck.”

Categorized As