Johnson High School Senior Racks Up Record Awards, Will Attend School of His Dreams
By Amy Morgan
Many students aspire for a college education, and for most, with a little hard work, that dream can come to fruition. Some even parlay their top GPA and accomplishments into scholarships. But earning more than $1.2 million of financial aid ranks as a feat worth noting. Fortunate Johnson High School senior Brandon Vazquez Munoz’s awards will grant him the privilege of a no-cost college education. He’ll use his funds to attend Cornell University to study Mechanical Engineering this fall. Not only did Cornell and Columbia each offer him what amounted to a full ride, the Bill Gates Foundation also granted him close to $360,000 toward the college of his choice. Smaller awards from the San Antonio Legacy Foundation and Lockheed Martin bumped the total past $1 million – and continue to accumulate. Amazingly, the Bill Gates Foundation only selects 1.1% of the thousands who apply, Brandon said.
Brandon worked to be able to attend college for free to reduce the financial burden on his family, he said. He’s a first generation American, as his parents immigrated from the Jalisco region of Mexico close to Guadalajara. His father works as a flooring sub-contractor, and his mother stays home to raise Brandon and his two brothers. The family moved to San Antonio from California seven years ago.
Brandon credits Johnson’s AVID program with helping him accumulate such a monumental sum. AVID is a college prep class that provides students with support finding and qualifying for college scholarships. Brandon was introduced to AVID by his older brother, Anthony, a 2020 JHS graduate who received a scholarship to UTSA. Anthony graduated this spring – a full year early. Brandon served as student president of AVID’s 140 members, planning events like college visits and birthday celebrations. AVID teacher Ms. Garcia helped Brandon research schools and college programs, he said, and even recruited him to teach his classmates how to apply for the FAFSA. During the school year Brandon went out of his way to tutor AVID peers in math, a subject at which he excels, during his own lunchtime.
As one might imagine, Brandon’s no slouch when it comes to academics. His favorite class at JHS was physics with Mr. Price, who he tapped as his Summa selection. When Brandon completed an engineering class project early, he and a friend designed and created remote control cars on the school’s 3-D printer. They hooked up the new parts to components of an existing model and were able to race their vehicles. RC cars aren’t the only thing Brandon has refurbished. In his free time, he enjoys putting together PCs from parts gleaned from yard sales, a hobby he began when he revamped his family’s defunct computer at the age of 11. He watched YouTube videos to diagnose the computer’s problem, eventually replacing its motherboard and restoring it to usefulness. Brandon wrote about these hobbies in the essays he submitted for scholarship consideration, as well as his desire to eventually create a non-profit to spread technology to under-represented areas such as those in Mexico where many of his family members remain. He noted his parents taught him the value of caring for others.
Brandon looks forward to becoming involved at math research at Cornell and hopes to participate in one of the school’s project teams that compete in engineering competitions nationwide – he’s particularly interested in the group that builds race cars and airplanes. The one thing he’s not quite sure about – Cornell’s winters in upstate New York close to the Canadian border. Who knows, the weather might inspire him to design some revolutionary gear to withstand the cold!