Alumni & Donors

Stevens Alumnus Takes Center Stage at Democratic Presidential Debate

A screenshot of Marques Brownlee asking a question of Democratic presidential candidates during a debate.
Marques Brownlee asks a question about digital encryption to the Democratic presidential hopefuls during a debate.

Marques Brownlee ’15 is better known for his technology prowess than his politics, but he blends them better than many of his peers. That’s a key reason Brownlee, who runs an incredibly popular YouTube channel, was invited to submit a question to the Democratic presidential debate that took place Jan. 17.

For Brownlee, who graduated in May 2015 with a Business & Technology major, it wasn’t his first brush with politics — he asked President Barack Obama a question about the minimum wage during a Google-sponsored fireside chat in 2013 — but this was arguably even bigger exposure, with Brownlee one of four YouTube personalities to have his recorded question on encryption played to Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley.

Brownlee’s question seemed to stump the candidates — even national publications chimed in to say the candidates who responded looked confused discussing the question of how to balance privacy and law enforcement — but it speaks to the technology emphasis Stevens makes central in its business classes. At Stevens, business classes put the focus not just on marketing, management and finance, but on how technology and analytics create opportunities in these industries. Students are taught to apply technology to business problems in order to make better decisions, create more efficient business processes, and improve customer service and engagement.

“A lot of my classes tied into the topics I make videos about,” Brownlee said. “Courses in economics and social media marketing were eye-opening, in terms of understanding companies and their behavior.”

An alumnus who 'deeply understands the technologies'

Dr. Jeffrey Nickerson, who taught Brownlee in his Social Networks: A Marketing Perspective course, said what stood out about Brownlee was his willingness to share what he’d learned from running MKBHD in the classroom.

“He’s what we want in our students — he’s somebody who has really good business savvy and also is technically deep,” Nickerson said of Brownlee. “He deeply understands the technologies that he’s dealing with, but he expresses them in ways that are perfect for the audience he’s trying to reach.”

Brownlee has amassed more than 3.1 million subscribers on YouTube, and has launched his own site, MKBHD.com, where he posts additional content. He has posted reviews of every piece of tech imaginable — phones, watches, cameras, laptops — and rather than getting bogged down in specifications, his reviews focus on the user experience, providing more value to viewers.

He also knows how to engage an audience. In some of his videos, he puts technology to the test, scratching “self-healing” phones with a knife, trying to break a flexible screen under his sneaker, even doing an iPhone review that featured an archer firing an arrow through the “unbreakable” screen.

Related: Stevens Student Takes a Stab at Reviewing Leaked IPhone Screen

Brownlee, a New Jersey native, said Stevens’ location in Hoboken, overlooking the New York City skyline, was attractive as a student who was building a technology empire.

“A lot of the companies I’ve worked with have locations in New York that make coordination much easier than if I were located elsewhere,” Brownlee said. 

At his alma mater, there’s still plenty of pride for how Brownlee has applied lessons in business and social media marketing to continue to build and develop MKBHD.

“Marques’ popularity is a testament to the fact that if you have clarity of exposition and depth of knowledge, you can reach millions using social media,” said Dr. Gaurav Sabnis, another of Brownlee’s former Stevens professors. “I’ve seen Marques’ following on Twitter and YouTube grow from just a few thousands to where it is now, and it’s been a triumph of 21st century marketing principles that we’re still fully trying to codify.”