Written By: Liam Watts / Photography by: Elbert Lawrence
Life is hard, and being a Christian is harder. How can anyone know what they’re supposed to do, or who they’re supposed to be, let alone all the things that God has planned for them to accomplish? There is no easy answer to these questions, but rather than waiting to hear an answer, perhaps what people need is a fresh way to approach the problem. Dr. Brian Turner has spent his whole life wondering about and questioning these dilemmas the same as anyone else has, but he figured out long ago that he could not expect to ever consistently have an answer. So, always a problem solver, he developed a system at a young age that would allow him to shape his decisions with confidence even while uncertain. Per the Socratic tradition, Dr. Turner (“Dr. T.”) chooses to answer a question with another question. When presented with a difficult choice, he asks himself, “Where will I make the most difference to other people?” This question is reflected in the incredible life that has led Dr. Turner to be our 20-year strong physics and advanced mathematics professor.
Dr. Turner lived most of his early years with a passion for cartooning. However, in high school his academic counselor placed him in as many math and sciences courses as possible. This experience led Dr. Turner to his passion for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Realizing he was talented in these fields, he decided to pursue an engineering degree at Southern Nazarene University. He did this with the intention of eventually becoming a professor. He realized, “Wow, I can really make a difference for others doing this.” After finishing his undergraduate, he went on to the University of Texas at Dallas to finish his masters and doctorate with a focus on Einstein’s theory of relativity. His dissertation was a study on the effect of simulated black holes.
A large transition point in Dr. Turner’s life came as he was finishing the dissertation of his doctorate. Unexpectedly, he received a call from Southern Nazarene informing him that their physics professor was taking a two-year sabbatical and that they wanted him to come fill the position temporarily. Dr. Turner initially felt that there was no way he could possibly balance a full-time teaching position with the work he still needed to do for his doctorate. It was through a friend that he was reminded of his conviction, however. “Where will you make the most difference?” his friend asked. So, he did both. To this day, Dr. Turner believes that the only way he could have done both was a miracle from God. “There’s no way you could add up the time, it just doesn’t add up,” he said. Between the hours required to teach and the hours required to research and write his dissertation, there was literally not enough time in the day for both. After finishing his term teaching as well as his doctorate, Dr. Turner went on to teach at Lyon University in Arkansas for 2 years. He remembers this time fondly, but he knew that he was always destined to teach at a Christian university. For this reason, as soon as he saw an opportunity open at OKWU, he applied for the position.
Since taking on the professorship, Dr. Turner’s life has been anything but ordinary. In addition to teaching all forms of physics, physical science, astronomy, chemistry, and upper level math, in his 20 years here, he has attended a nuclear weapons conference in Japan, performed daredevil biology on the mountain peaks in New Mexico, played trumpet for the Bartlesville symphony, and found love when he met his wife Carla. Still, Dr. Turner believes his most important accomplishments are the students he has educated and inspired. This is where he has made the biggest difference.
In closing, Dr. Turner wanted to remind students of three things. First, he said, “Go where you will make the most difference.” He has followed this philosophy his whole life. Dr. Turner points out that even if you make the wrong choice, if your actions promote the most good for others, how bad could it really be. Secondly, he said, “Make lifetime connections in college. These are the friends that will keep popping up throughout your life.” From his own experience, Dr. Turner has found that some of his most important relationships are bonds that were formed while he was in college. Finally, and perhaps his most important piece of advice, Dr. Turner reminds us that “[You] students are awesome.” Even when you don’t feel like it, when the grades are down, and the papers pile up, “[You] students are awesome.”