Doctoral Student Enhances Community Systems

02-06-2018


by Ellie Walburg (B.S. ’17)

For Brad Brown, elevating organizational alignment and practicing continuous improvement is something he lives out each and every day.

Brown serves the Grand Rapids community as captain of the Planning Division at the Grand Rapids Fire Department (GRFD). With a passion for serving the community, Brown has played an influential role in enhancing organizational processes like the "daily huddle," improving employee training and coordinating departmental improvements that extend into the community.

Now, Brown continues to pursue his leadership experience and skills as a doctoral student at Cornerstone University.

Pursuing Higher Learning

Education is something Brown values greatly. He earned associate degrees in fire prevention technology and fire investigation/prevention, gaining hands-on experience as a firefighter in North Carolina.

Upon moving to Michigan, he continued to gain additional leadership skills in his role at the GRFD by pursuing a bachelor's degree in fire science management and a master's degree in executive fire leadership.

Despite these accomplishments, Brown continued to see opportunities for improvement within the community that he knew he could address. As a result, Brown completed the one-year Lean Champion certification program through Grand Rapids Community College. Becoming a "lean champion" equipped Brown to address organizational issues through a new lens.

Brown then continued to implement lean methodologies with a four-year program at the National Fire Academy's Executive Officer program, helping develop action plans to benefit the GRFD. This led him to decide to advance his knowledge and skills by pursuing a doctoral degree.

Choosing a school that was local was something very important to Brown in pursuing a doctoral degree.

"There's a strong sense of community here," he said. "I wanted to study where I work, and I wanted to impact and be right here in Grand Rapids."

Bringing Course Work to the Real World

Adult male pointing to a sticky note on a wall

To date, Brown has already transferred what he's learned in his classes to his work environment. From optimizing the "daily huddle" process to cementing the continuous improvement process of plan-do-check-act, Brown extends his learning beyond the classroom.

The concepts he's gained so far in his program have influenced the way he approaches a problem or situation at work. In a degree program that is rich in research, Brown follows that example in his own decision-making at work.

"We've had different issues come up at work and I've been able to find current literature to justify making a decision at work," Brown said. "Being exposed to all the different avenues of research out there has been immensely valuable to me. We're able to make changes based on empirical research and data and not just a gut feeling."

Dr. Jeff Savage, associate dean of business at PGS, said Brown exemplifies one of the main goals of the Ed.D. program.

"Professional practice doctorates are supposed to be distinguished in their capacity to get students to apply research and theory to practice," Savage said. "Brad does this exceptionally well. He brings a process-oriented, plan-do-check-act discipline to his studies and contributions to class. He is methodological, rational and thorough, but he is also compassionate and has an emotional intelligence that is evident in his responses and interactions with others."

Researching Policy Deployment

Brown's focus on policy deployment is based off his lean champion training, which emphasizes improving systems.

"That's really a big part of my job here at the fire department—making things better," Brown said. "Policy deployment answers how you get your strategic plan put into action, and a lot of that is the daily management. What are you doing today to move your organization forward?"

Within policy deployment, Brown's research in his Ed.D. program centers around answering the question, "what is the most impactful thing we can change with policy deployment?" His answer: the daily huddle.

"The daily huddle is a brief, stand-up meeting to discuss the goals for the day, the work that takes place and ask if anyone needs help," he said. "It keeps you focused, keeps you lined up and is a very effective, efficient way to start your day. The Ed.D. program is an outlet for me to optimize it."

Throughout his work in his Ed.D. program, Brown is committed to find value and apply each course to his work environment.

"I'm not doing it to check a box," Brown said. "I'm doing it to learn, to make my work environment better and move me closer to that final goal of walking across the stage."

The dedication and determination Brown demonstrates in his studies are characteristics evident to others around him, like Savage.

"Like many other students in the program, he makes others better by his contributions," Savage said. "He contributes to the human flourishing of others, which is a big deal to me and something we want all our graduates to do, to be stewards of their academic disciplines and professions."

And Brown isn't alone in finding meaning and application from the course work to real life. Brown is surrounded by 12 other cohort members who are on this journey with him.

"Most of us in this program have long-term goals that this degree going to move us closer toward," he said. "I do have thoughts about being an organizational consultant and a professor one day and reaching a lot more organizations. I think it's certainly going to enable me to have choices."

With a passion for the Grand Rapids community and the fire department, his determination to enhance and improve important systems, his certification in lean champion training and now with practical research experience through an Ed.D. study, Brown is well-equipped to continue making a significant impact in the community.