Student Spotlight with Chip Brownlee
Published on Apr 26, 2019
The end of college typically signifies the start of one’s career. At Auburn, and especially in the College of Liberal Arts, our students have not only taken the required courses to teach them about their career of choice, but most have also had internship experience. In addition, many seek out some form of student involvement offered at Auburn to round out their experience. Those who truly want to succeed usually find a combination of all of the above. Chip Brownlee, a senior in political science and journalism (with a minor in German), is a prime example of a student who has utilized all of the resources Auburn has to offer. He started working at The Auburn Plainsman before he even decided he wanted to become a journalist. Originally a wireless software engineer major, Brownlee changed paths and worked tirelessly at The Plainsman to make the award-winning student newspaper into a sought-after news source by everyone in the community. Having managed to excel in the classroom, at the paper, as a political reporter for the Alabama Political Reporter, and at his internships, which include “CBS This Morning” and NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Brownlee is soon to be an alumnus of Auburn, and he shares his story with us below.
Brownlee grew up in the small town of Reform, Alabama, and planned on attending the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
“I was pretty dead-set on going to Alabama because they had offered me more scholarship money than Auburn. I went and toured Alabama and was kind of enticed by it, even though I grew up going to Auburn games and my parents are Auburn fans. What really changed my mind was visiting Auburn again in my senior year as part of the High School Leadership Conference, and I just fell in love with Auburn again.”
Like many students, Brownlee started his college experience with a different major in mind.
“I was a wireless software engineer major. I had a really big interest in computers and enjoyed the classes, but I had this bug for journalism. I started working at The Plainsman and after a couple months, I changed my major to political science and journalism.”
“I really didn’t have any idea what to expect because I didn’t know any journalists where I’m from. I’d not been exposed to reporters, and I didn’t know what their job was like. That’s really why I started working at The Plainsman. I wanted to see what it was like. When I started working there, I felt so nervous but also excited. What I really value about journalism and being a reporter is that there are so many things that you don’t know about in the world and journalism gives you an opportunity to learn about all those things.”
In addition to learning through the on-the-job experience of being a reporter, Brownlee said he learned a lot through his journalism courses.
“Journalism is definitely a subject that is difficult to teach, but I feel like the faculty in Auburn’s journalism program are some of the best.”
Brownlee particularly enjoyed class with Philip Rawls, a lecturer in the School of Communication and Journalism with 35 years of reporting experience. “For me, he was my favorite professor. He’s one of Alabama’s most famous Statehouse reporters and is literally one of the best. I would take things I learned from The Plainsman, and then go to his class and it was like, ‘oh, that’s why what I’m doing is important.’ I’ve learned so much from him in particular, but from the other faculty as well.”
Of Brownlee, Rawls remarked, “Chip’s reporting is energetic, insightful and accurate. His coverage of Alabama politics is as strong as his reporting on Auburn. Chip is known by everyone at the Capitol from the governor to the legislative committee clerks. My friends in the Capitol press corps in Montgomery don’t consider Chip a student. They treat him like the professional he is. He keeps making Auburn University proud.”
Brownlee has worked at The Plainsman all four years of his college experience working his way up from community reporter to editor-in-chief.
“At The Plainsman, I’ve had an opportunity to cover a wide-variety of things. I’ve covered local government, campus news, the Legislature in Montgomery, crime, scandals, and a little bit of sports, as well. These were all things that I did not have a lot of knowledge about before, but now I feel like I’m pretty well versed in a lot of different things.”
In addition to the traditional assignments and city meetings, Brownlee and the other reporters for The Plainsman have also covered events like the deadly tornadoes that struck Lee County in early March of 2019. They followed a manhunt for a suspect who shot an Auburn police officer in mid-February of 2019; and in late February, they uncovered a racist editorial published in the Democrat-Reporter in Linden, Alabama. Their reporting on both the tornadoes and the editorial garnered national, and international, attention from the media.
“We’ve gotten praise for our work from the sheriff and the League of Women Voters and others telling us that they come to The Plainsman for news just as much as they go to other local TV news sources or the Opelika-Auburn News. So it’s been really rewarding for me to get that positive feedback and to know that people in the community read us and they consider us a resource. I think it’s important we’re seen as journalists, not just student journalists.”
Brownlee will walk graduation in a few weeks and be an official Auburn alumnus in August after completing a summer class.
“I think Auburn has truly prepared me to go into the world.”