Through his work with undergraduate research, undergraduate teaching, and collaboration with graduate and undergraduate students, Dr. Brians enriched the lives of many Virginia Tech students and helped develop an atmosphere of dedicated and collective learning. Dr. Brians always looked to the world in a very inquisitive way, seeking to increase his understanding of the world around him. In the classroom, students described him as funny and entertaining, yet devoted and supportive, seeking to help his students in whatever ways he could.
Among these students is Michaela Pitman; she remembers Dr. Brians as an experienced researcher who was able to provide his undergraduate research team with invaluable knowledge of the ins and outs of the research process. “While conducting research it was obvious that he genuinely enjoyed helping students in every considerable aspect, especially when it came to research. Whether it was applying for funds, grants for travel, or presenting at a research conference, Dr. Brians was by our side every step of the way.” She also describes his dedication to his research team, and the extra work he took on to aid his students’ research. “He played a central role in the political science department, serving as an undergraduate research advisor for many, many students. More times than not he would spend his days having back-to-back meetings with us in order to keep up with our individual projects.”
Dr. Brians’ students describe him as not only a helpful aid and guide, but as an impressive man. Pitman characterized him by saying, “His intelligence should have been intimidating, but Dr. Brains had a way of putting people at ease.” Carley Frye, another member of Dr. Brian’s undergraduate research team, worked with him for over two years. She agrees with Pitman, and illustrated his personality by describing his jocular demeanor and his welcoming office, “Dr. Brians was always laughing and cracking jokes, which made the long hours at the office more enjoyable. I am a country music fan so I never minded that he played 94.9 Star Country in the background while he worked. Everyone on the research team enjoyed meeting in his office because he always had a bag of multicolored lifesavers waiting to be eaten in a jar right next to the visitor’s chairs.”
Dr. Brians genuinely cared about the success of his students. Carley Frye didn’t decide to do research until Dr. Brians convinced her. “When he first approached me to be on his undergraduate research team, I thought that I would not enjoy research because it sounded rigid and lacked creativity. Dr. Brians soon had me convinced that researching was for individuals with a curious mind and a thirst for knowledge.” Not only did Dr. Brians help her once her research started, Dr. Brians was the reason she started it, and she has since worked on three research projects with him. “Dr. Brians was a positive and encouraging advisor, and I know that I would not be where I am today without his support and guidance. His assistance has helped me join University Honors, receive grants and scholarships, and travel to national conferences.”
His research topics were broad, ranging from communication, voting, and education, but detailed and thorough. He often appeared on radio and television news shows to discuss political elections and behavior. However, his main professional focus was his students. Dr. Brians was awarded the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award, which is a testament to this dedication.
There was one word that almost everyone who knew him could agree described him best: passion.
He had a passion for teaching, for his research, for his students, for his wife, for his family, for God. Dr. Moore, Associate Professor of Political Science at Virginia Tech, whose office was adjacent to Dr. Brians’, described him by saying, “Dr. Brians also approached the world inquisitively. In this connection, he was especially interested in how people supported their positions. Thus he applied his interests in methodology to his personal as well as professional life.” This application of his interests incorporated an unyielding desire for truth and knowledge into his life. Many professors also commented on Dr. Brian’s sense of humor, saying how funny he was and how it added to his ability to teach and work with his colleagues.
Dr. Brians’ work at Virginia Tech is a model for a successful balance between research and teaching. He always had a close rapport with the students he worked with. The Virginia Tech Political Science Club named him Professor of the Year, exemplifying his close connection with students. Dr. Brians brought much joy into the lives of the people he worked with. He leaves behind a legacy of excellence, which will serve to inspire all of us to be as passionate as Dr. Brians.