The Sanborn Sun April - May 2000
The Browne Center
Article By:  Amy L.
Web Site By: Tom W.

     What do companies do to ensure teamwork in their offices?  If you are a large company, such as Zefer, or a small business group just starting out, or even a class group, you might consider taking a trip to the Browne Center, in Durham, NH.  At the Browne Center there are a variety of activities that you could pursue.  Your group could have one of the leaders of the Center oversee a meeting of the minds. They make sure that everyone is heard and that large decisions are constructive to the group.  Or, your group could attempt the team-building ropes courses, which stresses team building instead of  physical ability.  Your group could also travel away from the center to Nottingham, NH and try a rock-climbing trip at Pawtuckaway State Park, or endeavor to try "Overnight Adventure" camping trip.  The Browne Center allows people to try out concepts while working together before they come together in class or on the job.

     The Center is owned and operated by the University of New Hampshire.  Located on a 103-acre piece of land, on Great Bay it is protected by law and cannot be built on any further.

     They do a variety of activities with these companies.  New companies come to them to sit down together and set up rules for their business.  "Strategic Planning" sessions are very common.  The helpers at the Browne Center act as the mediators of the sessions.  A neutral party can help companies see down the road further and point out problems that otherwise could be hard to see.  One of the major goals is to keep everyone as happy as possible, because an unhappy employee can cost the company a lot more money than a happy one would.

     Pam McPhee is the director of the Browne Center.  At our interview with her we found out a lot about what she does at the Browne Center. We asked her about the history of the Browne Center as she saw it.  She said, "In 1987 we had a few activities, ropes course activities, out here in the woods, when there was nothing else here. Then, from that point, more & more groups wanted to use it, even though it only two or three activities.  I was a faculty member at the  University of New Hampshire at that time. We wanted to make it a teaching tool for our environmental majors as well as offer it as a service for those who wanted to use it. It grew & grew & grew, until, through various fund raising efforts, we were able to build this building, and in 1993 we officially opened the doors to start having groups come."

     We asked her about how the Browne Center interacts with the environment. She said, "This is probably our weakest area of everything we focus on.   In a very passive way, what we would hope to do is take a look at [people’s] behavior and look at the consequences of their behaviors, personally, on other people, and groups." They do this in little ways.  McPhee explained, "When a group is about to walk into the woods, [we] explain that you need to stay on the paths, because if you don’t it actually leads to soil compaction that actually kills the trees. So people begin to understand a little bit that even a footstep has an impact, on the bigger picture."

     The Center is home to Kermit’s Creek which is the base of some studies done by UNH students on soil acidity.  The Center is beginning to work on their environmental impact since they haven’t done much work yet; however, by law, they cannot build anymore on their land so they are working on protecting the land that they have as well as overseeing wildlife studies on their land.

     McPhee stressed that there are difficulties that come with her job.  Funding is a major one.  Many of their ideas couldn't go through because of lack of money.  They have figured out a way to overcome some of their funding costs.  They charge more money to corporate groups because they can afford it and less to schools so that the costs balance themselves out.  Another problem is it is hard sometimes to make teams more effective.  They have the difficult task of making sure that the teams go away with skills to help them work together and become more efficient.

     The Center has had countless successes.  They served over 8,000 people last year alone.  They are very glad that people keep coming back and regard it as a good place to revisit.  There have been lots of individual successes within groups, and at the Center they have a book depicting some of them.

     The Browne Center works on an international level also.  They are part of the "Friends Forever" program which brings teens from warring nations together.  They help underprivileged countries’ citizens learn how to become environmentally conscious.  McPhee says, "To work on those programs are just great."

     When asked specifically what her job as the Director of the Center entails McPhee told us that she does everything from traveling to work with groups over the nation, to cleaning the bathrooms.  She says that everyone in the center works on whatever needs work.  The people who run the center are a good group and they work well together. McPhee loves working at the Browne Center for personal reasons too.  She can pursue her personal growth at the center and have lots of fun at the same time. "We have extraordinary people, not just extraordinary teachers/ facilitators, but just people who’s values that I really admire & want to emulate, so you can be around this terrific group, and that helps rubs off," McPhee says.

     McPhee has to travel a lot as part of her job. "It isn’t as glamorous as it sounds," she claimed.  She makes the point that it doesn’t make a difference to be somewhere else doing the same things that you do when you are at home.  She usually doesn’t have a lot of time to sightsee and check out all the tourist sites, which detracts from some of the excitement of traveling.  She simply flies in, gets the job done, and flies out.  She does like the experience of the "local color."  She jokes about the different places she has traveled and the different character of each place.  For instance she said they serve much bigger portions of food in the Midwest, and they smoke a lot.  Places she has traveled include Hawaii (only to be there for 3 hours), and all the states in the US, Brazil, and Canada.

     A lot of companies have worked with the Browne Center.  Many of the companies are new computer or computer-related companies, since computers are a booming business right now.  McPhee explains that they also work with a lot of manufacturing companies.

     A very important aspect of the Browne Center that Pam McPhee is extremely passionate about is the disabled accessibility.  Pam feels strongly that everyone should be able to use the services provided by the Browne Center; therefore, they have worked very hard to make the courses rely on teamwork and not physical fitness.  Things like a simple platform for a wheelchair to be able to get across a rope swing are some of the unique and creative ideas that the people at the Browne Center have worked hard to incorporate into their facilities.  Pam values "universal programming," which means anyone can do it, at the Browne Center they try to teach people the value of diversity and to appreciate others differences.   This is a hard job, but the workers at the Brown Center are certainly up to the challenge.