Johnny E. Brown attended Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, Virginia, graduating in 1969. He earned his BA degree in mathematics from Lehigh University (1973) and earned his MA (1974) and PhD (1979) from the University of Michigan.
He has always been interested in mathematics since grade school. Early on he noticed how mathematics could be used to explain and understand the world around him. His mathematics teachers, all of whom were very gifted women, encouraged and helped nourish his talent. Lehigh University was a small engineering school in Pennsylvania where there were only 40 African-American students out of 4000 when he was a freshman. Those 40 students were very close. They all worked hard -- no one got any breaks and grading on a curve did not exist. Of course he was the only African-American student in all of his math classes.
Brown chose the University of Michgan to pursue his graduate work. He was fortunate enough to be there during the time when there were more than two dozen other African-American graduate students in the mathematics department. That group was special and became a family for many of them. Even now, members of that group remain close. Originally interested in group theory in undergraduate school, Brown was quickly drawn into complex analysis while at Michigan. He wrote his dissertation in complex analysis under the direction of Peter L. Duren, a friend and mentor.
His first academic job was at Purdue University where he is currently. Rising through the ranks from assistant to full professor took ten years of hard work and sacrifice on his part. He continues his research and enjoys teaching. He won the 1998 Outstanding Teacher of Undergraduates in the School of Science Award. This year he received the Harold T. Amrine Visionary Award from the Purdue chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. He was head of the graduate program in mathematics for five years and has served on numerous departmental and University committees.
Brown credits his success to hard work, perseverence and his optimism. His desire is to help more minority students enter and succeed in the profession.