The Business School

David Brown ’12 shares how the men’s basketball team and The Business School at WPI prepared him for a career in management.


David Brown standing on a basketball court with his arms crossed

For David Brown, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in management engineering from The Business School, learning how to be a good teammate on and off the basketball court is what made the biggest difference in his career—and life. Once a student-athlete and now an assistant coach for the Crimson and Gray, he attributes his successful management career to the team-oriented collaboration and leadership skills he honed at WPI.

Starting Off Strong

As a basketball-obsessed teenager in Lowell, Massachusetts, David’s first job was at the YMCA, teaching 5- and 6-year-olds how to dribble, pass, and score in exchange for a free gym membership. WPI wasn’t even on his radar then—he only knew that he wanted to go to college and play ball. But everything changed when Chris Bartley, head coach of men’s basketball at WPI, caught David’s impressive performance in a game and started to recruit him. 

The first person in his family to graduate from high school, never mind apply to college, David was overwhelmed by his choices and felt unsure about WPI initially. What if he didn’t want to be an engineer? What if he felt out of place on a majority-white campus? What if it was too expensive? But once Coach Bartley walked him through WPI’s competitive advantages—including its flexible curriculum, sincere commitment to diversity and inclusion, and long-term ROI for graduates—David was sold. He understood the seismic impact a prestigious WPI education would have on his family’s future.

“Start off strong,” David recalls Coach Bartley saying to him when they reviewed his first course schedule together. “He said, ‘The work that you're putting in now is not only going to change your life, it's going to change your family's life. You're going to be a first-generation college graduate, and you're going to set the precedent for the rest of your family, for your kids, for your kids’ kids, that this is just what we do.’”

Through Coach Bartley’s mentorship, David not only laid a strong foundation for his academics, but also discovered he was a natural leader on the team. He was even selected as a freshman to join an NCAA leadership cohort—a training program that would lead to a pivotal aha moment for his future career.

“I realized a lot about myself, that I had a lot of Type A leadership qualities,” he says. He figured out that combining his technical knowledge and people skills would be more fulfilling than focusing on technology or engineering alone. “Being customer-facing and people-facing is more important to me than a pen to paper solving a problem. I like the collaboration effort … I think that's what changed it for me. I realized I wanted to be more of a people person than a straight technical person, but also have the technical wherewithal to be functional across multiple disciplines.”


David Brown speaks in team huddle during timeout

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Once he started exploring the management path, David was surprised to discover that he was joining a second team at WPI: The Business School. Its supportive faculty and advisors were quick to surround him with all the help and guidance he needed. He formed strong bonds with professors like Sharon Johnson, Chickery Kasouf, Steve Taylor, and Sharon Wulf (emerita), as well as now-retired executive director Norm Wilkinson. They helped him with everything from passing macroeconomics to completing his major qualifying project (MQP) to maximizing his education. 

“Everybody was there to help you, almost at all times,” he says. “The support was tremendous.”

For David, one of the unique benefits of The Business School at WPI was its flexible curriculum—the ability to customize what he wanted to learn about and focus on. As a result, he wound up falling in love with cognitive psychology courses within the business program. Studying what makes people tick proved helpful in both coaching and sales. 

But the biggest competitive advantage he gained at WPI was his ability to connect and work with individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Thanks to the university’s project-based learning model and interdisciplinary approach, he got the opportunity to meet people whom he never would’ve known otherwise. 


David Brown talking to one of his players on the basketball court

He remembers one project in a product innovation class where groups of four randomly assigned students had to work together to come up with a new product and create a sales pitch. “It showed you what teamwork could actually do. We're not just reading through a textbook or just writing a paper to regurgitate information that we got off the internet. It was actually minds collaborating together to put a product out there … It translates directly to working in an office, to working in an institution. You're not operating in a silo.”

Because these projects brought together classmates from different disciplines, David was well positioned for success after he graduated. He noticed that many engineers who came from other universities had a hard time adjusting to the real world because they’d only ever spent time with other engineers. They didn’t know how to be part of a team with colleagues from different backgrounds. But for David, that was what he’d been training for. 

“It got to the point where I was an operations manager for about 120 people. I had engineers, I had operators, I had technicians, I had customer service folks. Everyone spoke a different language, but because of what I went through at WPI, I could kind of blend it all together and get the message across to all of them ... I’m not sure if I didn't have project-based learning, if I would have been that advanced in my career already.” 


David Brown high-fiving a basketball player on the court

Learning for Life

David’s advice for every WPI student comes from a Maya Angelou quote, which he first read in a class here: “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” He explains, “Coming together to learn and to teach each other and to give to each other is going to make the WPI experience that much greater for everybody. And then that carries on with you for the rest of your life.”

That spirit of shared learning is plain to see in David’s academic, athletic, and professional careers. And now that he’s coaching the same basketball team he once played for, it’s more tangible than ever.

“I graduated in 2012—still there as an assistant coach all these years later. I just couldn't get away. Hopefully I leave that mark on one of the students there now,” he says. “As much as they think they're learning from me, I'm learning more from them.”

Even today, in his role as strategic account manager at Nordson Medical where he sells medical devices to other engineers, what he loves most is learning—and figuring out how to apply those learnings to help people. He’s also been able to use his knowledge of medical equipment and devices to assist his own family with their medical questions.

Speaking of family, among the cherished photos from his wedding is one that features what he calls his “WPI family.” About 45 former basketball teammates, classmates, spouses, and kids all came to celebrate the big day with him and his wife. These lifelong relationships are no coincidence, though. 

“I was lucky. From my high school basketball team, all eight of us went on to play in college and go to college. I was one of two that didn't transfer schools. And ironically, both of us went to WPI.”