STEM lab at Somerset Christian School named in honor of advocate Brown

Nov. 17—"His dream was to build a school where education could direct young minds for generations to come, and he's accomplished that. He, through God, accomplished that."

Those were the words of Gary Phelps, speaking about Dr. Harold Brown on Thursday. Brown passed away this past March, leaving behind him on this earth a legacy not only at Oak Hill Baptist Church, where he served as pastor, but also the nearby Somerset Christian School (SCS), where he led the private institution's fundraising arm, the Somerset Christian School Foundation.

It's only fitting, then, that the STEM lab he pushed for so fervently should be named in his honor.

That's exactly what took place Thursday at SCS, with the unveiling of a new sign over the door of the high-tech classroom as a crowd of people gathered to celebrate the occasion and the fulfillment of Brown's dream.

The sign reads: "Dr. Harold Brown Memorial SmartLab." A number of Brown's family members and friends were there on Thursday to celebrate the naming dedication.

Phelps, who followed Brown at Oak Hill Baptist, said that he and Brown had many conversations over the years about the potential of a SmartLab at SCS.

"He was a visionary," said Phelps. "He was one that could look forward and see things that other people couldn't see. He'd talk about it and he'd plan. ... Ever since stepping down from pastoring full-time, this was his ministry. He loved this school, he loved every kid. ... But he wanted every kid in this town to be in school. That was his dream, to make this school a place where everybody could come."

Phelps added, "Every student that comes through this lab that gains the passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will be fulfilling the dream that (Brown) had in his heart, and God put it there."

Brown's wife, Greta, also spoke at the ceremony on Thursday, noting how it was her and Harold's late son David that really helped push the SmartLab dream to become a reality.

"Our youngest son was a tech fanatic," she said, before quipping, "I don't know where he got it; I can't even work my phone. I take no credit for it, but he was. ... He ended up with four degrees, teaching at Liberty University, and with his tech knowledge, he put them online, as an online university. I'm very proud of that.

"(David) said, 'Dad, technology is the way of the future for education, and you have got to do something at that school," she added. "Harold was far more technical than me, but this was still over his head.But David planted that seed, and he said, 'Dad, I'll come home for a month to spend with you if you'll find a room where we can start a (SmartLab) and we can get people interested. I'll come home and I'll help you set it up.'"

Greta Brown noted that the pledge never came to pass after David passed away, but the seed that he had planted "never died," she noted; "It grew, and it became all-encompassing."

Brown researched what he needed to do to bring the SmartLab about, figured it out, and decided to try to raise the money to bring it about, said his wife; "We're going to have to knock down some walls and change the school a little bit, but I think everybody will get behind it," she recalled him saying. "I think we can do this."

Dr. Ron Gleaves, SCS Principal, told the Commonwealth Journal about how enthusiastically Brown pursued raising the funds to get the lab completed. The ribbon cutting for the lab was held last year, but with Brown passing away in March, the school decided they wanted to honor him by naming the lab after him.

"Dr. Brown had a unique gift for fundraising," said Gleaves. "Our tuition here is very low. We're very blessed that we're able to make it between tuition and donor's gifts. The relationships that he cultivated through the years with people who have a passion for what we're doing who were also able to help us financially, those relationships are what benefitted him, and he had a singular drive for the vision and mission of this school. When you go talk to somebody about helping us fundraise, they have to know that you believe in it, and you could not talk to Dr. Brown for five minutes and not know that he had a drive for this school."

The lab has a state-of-the-art video production facility, with which the students can produce in-house commercials and do school announcements. The lab features robotics capabilities, 3-D printing, and other high-tech offerings; students have made drones, noted Gleaves, as an example of the kind of engineering skills they've developed.

"For a school our size to have this type of facility, it's just a real blessing," said Gleaves. "When it was built, we were only one of two schools in the state that had this type of lab.

"This is not a normal class where an instructor comes in here and instructs students," he added. "The intention of this class is to teach problem-solving skills and to learn how to work with a team. A student can't just ask the facilitator, 'Hand me the answer.' They have to really try to learn on their own to problem-solve, and then they're required to work within a team of two or three other students. Both of those are skills they're going to need when they're adults."