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Sunday, September 22, 2019 — Houston, TX 87°

Brand-new professor becomes one of the Brown magisters


By Elizabeth Rasich     8/21/18 10:03pm

B.J. and Shirley Fregly had dreamed of becoming magisters for a long time -- BJ applied to work at Rice three times and Shirley (Brown ‘88) graduated from Rice -- but they never expected it to happen so soon. When they were selected in December as the next Brown College magisters, it was an unexpected, but welcome, surprise.

The odds were stacked against them: B.J. had been a Rice employee for only about two months when they began the application process. He wasn’t even living in Houston full-time, instead commuting back and forth from Florida on the weekends for his job at the University of Florida. His wife Shirley was unable to attend any in-person magister interviews. And their game plan all along was to wait a year, enjoy being associates at Lovett College and then apply to be Lovett magisters the next year. But everything seemed to fall into place.

“We thought, this’ll never happen but we’ll learn about how the process works,” B.J. said. “Then we found as we got through the process that we really loved Brown students, and we really wanted to be part of Brown.”

B.J., who is a mechanical engineering professor, and Shirley, who will be seeking a job in Houston once they settle in, share a love for interacting with college students. B.J. decided early on as a senior at Princeton University that he wanted to work with college students as a career.

“I was trying to decide between becoming a college professor or a college pastor, so it was either grad school or seminary,” B.J. said. “You know which one I chose.”

When B.J. was a professor at the University of Florida, he and Shirley frequently hosted students at their house for dinner, volleyball and other activities. One of their goals when B.J. got the position at Rice last year was to live close to campus so they could continue to enjoy a lot of student-faculty interaction.

“Our son [Christopher, a junior at Wiess College] tells us that unless students can walk to your house, they’re probably not going to come over,” B.J. said.

The issue was that all houses in walking range were expensive, and getting to interact with students as frequently as they had previously was going to be difficult.

“Now we live right on Rice campus,” B.J. said. “We’ll have students in our house constantly, so for us, this is a really wonderful, ideal situation.”

Shirley is especially excited about becoming a Brown magister; she’s an alumna of Brown College and graduated in 1988 with degrees in biology and legal studies. She grew up in Houston and says both Houston and Rice have changed a lot in the past 30 years. Brown has a commons now, for example.

Shirley was still living in Florida up until a few weeks ago so they haven’t yet had the chance to fully explore what Houston has to offer, but they are looking forward to trying new restaurants, walking to museums and attending performances at the Shepherd School.

Shirley and B.J. are a complementary pair. The couple frequently finish each other’s sentences, supplying dates, details and memories while the other tells a story. Personality-wise, they’re polar opposites, according to Shirley.

“We always joke that in high school we would have never talked to each other,” she said.

B.J. is an extrovert who, as an associate at Lovett last year, enjoyed activities like biking for Lovett’s alumni Beer Bike team and playing on the Lovett soccer team, while Shirley enjoys getting to know people through conversation.

“People tend to open up to Shirley very readily,” B.J. said.

When B.J.’s roommate met Shirley while the two were dating, he saw that quality firsthand.

“When we were back in our room that night [after B.J.’s met her], he looked at me and said, ‘Boy, I really like Shirley a lot. I don’t know why, but I just started telling her all these things about myself that I really don’t share with anyone,’” B.J. said. “And that happens a lot with Shirley. She’ll start talking to someone and they’ll just open up to her. She has a gift for that.”

Because the Freglys have been a part of the Rice community for only a little over a year, they will be leaning on the Brown College adult team for their experience.

“We walked into this knowing we don’t really know what we’re doing -- we’re excited to do it but we have no idea what we’re doing -- and the RAs are experienced and terrific,” Shirley said. “And our coordinator -- we’ve got Nancy who’s been here for 27 years.”

B.J. said it’s clear the A-team really cares about Brown students.

“You want an A-team that’s really engaged and really looking out for the students and we have that,” B.J. said.

Mostly, though, they’re just excited to spend time with students.

“I’m looking forward to is just being involved in the life of the college and being involved in some of the things students are involved in,” B.J. said. “Just spending time with them in whatever they’re doing.”

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