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Sanford faculty member Tony Brown is being honored with a Duke Presidential Award, the highest honor given by Duke to staff and faculty, in a ceremony on Feb. 25.

Brown has been a professor of the practice with the Hart Leadership Program at the Sanford School of Public Policy since 1993. Over the past 27 years, he has mentored thousands of students and alumni, helping them to become leaders and inspiring them to be better people through helping others.

“You can’t have a conversation about Tony Brown and not talk about values. Furthermore, I don’t think you can have a conversation about values at Duke, and not talk about Tony Brown,” wrote Liz (Linzer) Cohen T’09 in her letter nominating Brown for the award.

Through Brown’s “learn by doing” approach to teaching social entrepreneurship, students pursue solutions to university, community and global problems. His classes have sparked ventures that lived on for many years or are still thriving, including Student U, Camp Kesem and Crayons to Calculators (C2C) in Durham and Small Town Records, Common Ground and the Girls Club at Duke.

Students in his enterprising leadership class have completed more than 350 small projects for Durham clients in the past 20 years.

“Today’s college students want to build a better world. He teaches us all that it is our responsibility to be worthy of their idealism and energy,” wrote Sam Miglarese, deputy chief administrator for the Duke Office of Durham and Community Affairs.

President Price presenting Professor Tony Brown with the Duke Presidential Award
Tony Brown (right) was honored with a Duke Presidential award for teaching and mentorship in a ceremony on Feb. 25.

In addition to mentoring students, Brown personally stays in contact with more than 2,000 alumni.

“In my work I often meet with Duke Alumni from around the country. More so than Duke basketball or the Great Hall, being a former student of Tony Brown is what leads to us forming the strongest connection,” wrote Dan KimbergT’07, founder of Student U.

A few years ago, Brown developed a new approach to alumni engagement that focused on their personal development. One example is “36 Hours at Duke," which brings together alumni and students for faculty-led group workshops and small group discussions. The program allows alumni to once again participate in the intellectual rigor of the classroom and to feel a part of an extended Duke community. Students can create new connections and see the breadth of life beyond campus walls. The 36 Hours at Duke program was honored with a Bronze Circle of Excellence Award by CASE in 2018.

Brown also held several leadership roles at Duke. He served as president of the Robertson Scholars Program (Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill) from 2007-2010 and co-director of the Hart Leadership Program from 2010-2018.

Brown’s honors include the Howard Johnson Distinguished Teaching Award for undergraduate teaching excellence in 1997 and the Ashoka U - Cordes Foundation Innovation Award for his course Social Entrepreneurship in Action in 2012.

Before coming to Duke, Brown earned his MBA at Harvard, then worked at Covenant Insurance Co., eventually becoming CEO and chairman. He then became vice president of external affairs at the University of Connecticut, and after that COO of Credit Suisse First Boston’s equity business. The coaching and teaching aspects of his corporate career helped him to create leadership courses that draw on real-world examples. 

Brown and fellow awardees will be honored at a ceremony at 4 p.m., Feb. 25, in Page Auditorium that is open to the public.. Although the event won't be ticketed, guests are encouraged to register in advance.

“Tony really shines on inclusion. The reason his attitude and work here are so powerful to me is that he exemplifies and invests in inclusion in the broadest sense possible.” 

Hasnain Zaidi T’08