In Memoriam - Dr. Kermit Brown

Friday, December 11, 2009

Kermit BrownOn the evening of December 10th, after a short illness, Dr. Kermit Brown passed away. It is hard to believe that we have to write second such newsletter this year. We lost two of the best friends of the department; Dr. E. T Guerrero earlier this year, and now Dr. Brown. What I am about to write is in no way a comprehensive history of Dr. Brown; there are many facets of him which I hope to gather from you by asking for your contributions; however, I do want to let you know his invaluable contributions to the Petroleum Engineering program at The University of Tulsa.

Dr. Brown was born on November 2, 1923. He received his B.S. in Petroleum Engineering from Texas A & M University and Ph.D. in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Texas. He arrived on the TU campus in 1965 as an evaluator for ABET to evaluate TU’s Petroleum Engineering program. At that time, the PE department did not have a dedicated Chairman as Dr. Guerrero was both the Dean and the Chair. Therefore, Dr. Brown criticized TU in his report for not having the appropriate leadership in TU’s PE program. When Dr. Guerrero read his comments, he asked Dr. Brown: “Why don’t you provide the leadership?” Lucky for us, Dr. Brown arrived at TU in 1966 as a Chairman of the Petroleum Engineering program.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Dr. Brown’s arrival changed the PE department forever. He was a visionary, bold, and a risk taker. TU did not have a Ph.D. program in PE at that time, and he started one. However, more importantly, he initiated a research model which is mimicked by many other universities today. He developed the idea of a consortium where oil companies contribute a small amount of money every year to the University and the University faculty and students conduct research which is of interest to the industry. This allowed the University faculty to be grounded to industry needs and reduced our reliance on government funding for research. At that time, it was a radical concept and not a single petroleum engineering program in the U.S. had a consortium. With his leadership, TU started its first research program, Tulsa University Drilling Research Projects, in 1966. Today, we have nine different consortia in various aspects of Petroleum Engineering; some of the most unique experimental facilities and the world-wide reputation of conducting applied research in the area of Petroleum Engineering. Many other universities have adopted this model as well. We all want to thank Dr. Brown for this gift. Without his vision, his industry connections and his forward thinking, we would have never gotten this concept of consortium off the ground.

Although Dr. Brown was a great researcher (his Hagedorn-Brown vertical flow correlation is still used today; and the concept of nodal analysis – which he introduced in the 1980’s – is required learning for any graduating student in Petroleum Engineering), his first love was always teaching. Just like many of you, I have seen his ability to teach a difficult subject in a way that is easy to understand. However, he did most of his effective teaching outside the class. I have seen him spend an inordinate amount of time with students explaining concepts in his office. He believed in working and re-working problems. If a student did not do well on a test, he would ask the student to re-work the problem for extra credit. He believed that if the student honestly made an effort and tried to understand the concepts by putting in a little more work, the student would become a better engineer. He never worried about grades and teaching lessons to the students; he worried about them learning the concepts. Teaching was his passion and he could not stay away from it. Even after he moved back to Tulsa in 2001, the first thing he did is come to TU and ask me if he could teach a class here. Who would refuse that offer; especially, when he taught the course without being compensated? Even last fall (2008), when I asked him to teach a class on Gas Production Engineering (which he had not taught before) he was in the office, working on his notes, reading new materials for the class and preparing his presentations. He cared deeply about the students and he made sure that they not only learned the subject matter, but also lessons which can last a lifetime. He was a master of teaching life-long learning.

As I have travelled to many countries around the world and have met TU alumni, the most often asked question has always been, "How is Dr. Brown?" Well, the answer is going to be different after today. We will surely miss his friendship, his counsel, his generosity, his optimistic attitude, and his ability to make the people around him feel better.

I would like to request that if you have any fond memories of him that you would like to share, please write to us. 

Our prayers are with Dr. Brown's family.

Mohan Kelkar
Chairman and Williams Endowed Chair Professor 

Petroleum Engineering Dept.
(918) 631-2533