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Finding the Fire

High school was always a breeze for me. Looking back, I can easily say I wish that I had put more effort into learning and had gotten more involved in my classes and in science and math clubs. The effort would have helped reduce the shock of the amount of work required for college life. Although I achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.8 by the end of my senior year at Aliso Niguel High School, I know that I did only enough work to get by.

My passion for learning and succeeding had not been developed yet. And I was not focused on attending a university and furthering my education. Most of my time was spent training and teaching classes at the Tae-Kwon-Do school that I was attending. I had planned on skipping college altogether and opening up my own school once I completed my black belt course requirements. Luckily, I have a mother who insisted on me attaining a quality college education. My mother did not have the opportunity to further her education. She knew that if I did not pursue a college degree, I would regret it for the rest of my life. Following her advice was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Although I still wonder what it would be like to have my own martial arts school, I now have several opportunities that were made available to me through higher education. Moreover, I am able to teach fitness courses to people who need exercise most of all--college students. As a result of my extracurricular activities, I have learned to manage my time to practice and compete in martial arts in addition to researching and learning mathematics.

There are many factors that one should consider when preparing for college. As I began my preparation, I participated in a Princeton Review course to improve my SAT score. However, at the time, I found the course to be only somewhat useful to me--I improved a mere 30 points after two tests. Nevertheless, I would recommend taking an SAT prep class, because a difference as small as 10 to 40 points can sometimes be a decisive factor for entrance into a university. In addition to preparing for the SAT, I would also recommend taking some advanced coursework, including honors classes and advanced placement (AP) classes. I completed a few advanced classes, including AP Government, AP Biology, and AP Psychology.

Unfortunately, I was not aware of financial aid and funding opportunities for college students while I was in high school. I had no idea about the thousands of scholarships made available through the FinAid Web site. Since I am the first person in my family to pursue a college education, I did not have anyone to tell me about the benefits and financial incentives for minorities attending college. Earning a college degree can be very costly, and I was very discouraged about this. However, my mother helped me stay focused and continue my education. I am thankful that I persevered! I realize now that it is possible to obtain your education without having to rely on your own resources. Both the government and various institutions offer scholarships and grants due to academic excellence and student need.

I chose to apply to a few universities including the University of California, Irvine, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Santa Barbara. A pivotal point in my life took place when I received a phone call from Kika Friend, program director of CAMP at UC Irvine. She offered me a summer study program at Irvine entitled the Summer Science Academy. Through this program, I could take a few classes, explore the campus, and learn about college life. I seized the opportunity! This made a big difference in my outlook on college, and I would recommend a summer residential or academic program at a university to anybody. I loved the college environment, the freedom, and the intellectual people, and I learned that I loved mathematics--thanks to an inspirational calculus professor.

As a result of my academic achievements in high school, I received a $1000 scholarship from Unisys to pursue a degree in computer engineering. And upon entering UC Irvine, I received a significant amount of financial aid, including the Chancellor Achievement Award, the Center for Educational Partnerships Award, the Hawk Memorial Award, and an aid grant. Thus, I had all of my education and living expenses paid for and then some! In addition, I am happy to report that I am currently performing mathematical research as a McNair Scholar; receiving funds as a CAMP-Toshiba Scholar; serving as a mathematics tutor; and working as a supervising equipment technician for all departments at UC Irvine.

Due to my wonderful research experience as a McNair Scholar, I have presented my research results at many national conferences, including the EMERGE Consortium, the SACNAS conference, and the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute conference. In addition, I am scheduled to present my work at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, in February 2002, at which the Minority Scientists Network will be launched. As you can see, pursuing a college degree has provided me with a variety of wonderful opportunities. I have accomplished all of this because of the chance I took in going to college. What a great decision!

*Mr. Brandon Brown is currently pursuing his undergraduate degree in applied mathematics at UC Irvine. For further information, please e-mail Brandon at or

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