Jim Brown’s spirit filled the lobby at the Gateway Center at San Diego State University in late February. Family and friends shared remembrances of the late donor’s fondness of all things at SDSU. They told stories of his relentless ambition, his illimitable humility and his motivation — his heartiest attribute of all.

“Hard to discourage,” said Jim’s widow Marilyn Brown, citing a junior-year personality profile.

Jim’s family was joined by staff, faculty and students to help open the doors to the James Silberrad Brown Center for Artificial Intelligence on Feb. 27 during a private renaming ceremony. The center at the SDSU Management Information Systems Department in the Fowler College of Business will expand on its theoretical and experimental AI research supported by the Brown family’s $5 million grant from the James Silberrad Brown Foundation through San Diego Foundation.

SDSU Launches New Era of Artificial Intelligence Research With Boost From Brown Foundation

“Jim was really proud of his affiliation with San Diego State and he was really grateful for the excellent education he received here,” Marilyn said during the ceremony. “There is no better place to honor his memory and legacy than at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State.”

The grant helps establish and operate the center, will support a center director, and will form endowments for future fellowships and scholarships. The grant was awarded based on recommendations from Marilyn and Jim’s daughter, Kelly Brown, who consulted SDSU leadership to determine funding areas that best align with Jim’s interests.

Educating Students

“One of our challenges is to think about how we educate students for jobs that do not yet exist,” said Dan Moshavi, Thomas and Evelyn Page Dean of the Fowler College of Business. “Artificial intelligence we know is going to be on the cutting edge.”

SDSU AI Lab Director and Associate Professor Aaron Elkins described the grant to his department as “a vote of confidence” by the Browns that SDSU researchers are value creators in AI.

“This center is going to provide access to some of the most advanced instruments that we can possibly have at this moment in time for our students,” said Elkins, who founded the lab in 2018. “The best way that we can say thank you [to the Brown family] is to demonstrate what we’re capable of doing at SDSU.”

Studies and research at the center are underway. Following the ribbon cutting, Elkins ushered groups into the AI lab where teams of students presented various projects and state-of-the-art equipment. Undergraduate and graduate students showcased some of their work in cybersecurity, mixed reality technologies and human-robot interactions using the lab’s unofficial mascot, Pepper.

David Arteaga and Corey Ethington, virtual reality (VR) students, demonstrated the VR lab’s latest equipment including a headset with eye-tracking technology and a haptic vest that creates a sense of touch in a virtual environment. They also talked about innovations in VR applications designed to enable users to engineer product prototypes, in healthcare, and in the development of immersive virtual gyms offering some forms of physical therapy.

Honoring Jim’s ‘Determined Spirit’

Jim’s determined spirit will linger long at the center and in our region. His story is featured on a prominent plaque at the center’s doors reminding students never to be discouraged.

SDSU Launches New Era of Artificial Intelligence Research With Boost From Brown Foundation

“Jim’s goal for this center would be for it not to be best in class, but to be the best center for artificial intelligence in America, and we are confident that will happen…we stand ready to help you achieve that lofty goal,” Marilyn said.

“Because this is affiliated with the Fowler College of Business, it’s appropriate to think in terms of return on investment, so here is one for the ages: In 1966, Jim received the Robert Shields scholarship and award in the sum of $200 and here we are. Well done for SDSU.”

The James Silberrad Brown Foundation through SDF was founded in 2021 in memory of Jim Brown, a local real estate professional and entrepreneur.

Jim Brown
James Silberrad Brown.

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This blog post was originally published on SDSU NewsCenter.