Long-ago gift helps a struggling student thrive

March 03, 2017

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Justice Brandenburg will graduate with a legal studies major
Justice Brandenburg will graduate in 2017 with a major in legal studies. (photo by J.D. Hillard)

Justice Brandenburg expects to graduate this year, and it’s no coincidence that his degree will be in legal studies.

“My name being Justice, I looked at legal studies and it’s been a good fit for me,” Justice says.

The Oakes senior with a relaxed but earnest demeanor is glad to be finishing in four years. Success wasn’t always a certainty for him; after a rocky first year, he had to cut back to part-time status as a sophomore.

Working against the odds

Brandenburg’s story has a lot to do with grit. He notes African American men from low-income families tend to have poorer educational outcomes.

“They just don’t always make it through college,” he says.

After his initial academic struggles, he found a major that inspired him in legal studies. And he found help.

“I had to go advocate for myself and find out the resources that were out there for me.”

The Disability Resource Center helped him find accommodation for a learning disability. And the Financial Aid office was crucial, which is where Adolph C. Miller comes into the story.

Miller was an early governor of the Federal Reserve. In the early 20th century, he donated land in Ben Lomond to the University of California. That donation became the Miller Scholarship, which supported Brandenburg with multiple awards.

A chance to thrive

“Scholarships enabled me to keep a roof over my head,” he says. “As a result I was able to focus on my academics.”

He dove into his studies, completing extra units. The UC Santa Cruz campus helped. He drew on the quiet and natural beauty to concentrate on his studies. And his studies were exciting.

Under the guidance of his academic advisor, Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, he spent summer of 2016 researching for a paper on perspectives of prison inmates. The inmates he contacted have agreed to help future students with prison research.

By this year he was back on track to graduate on time.

“I was able to go into my fall quarter on top and able to be successful in my senior capstone,” Justice says. “All because of a scholarship. One scholarship, that’s what it did for me.”

He’s applying to the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School. If he’s accepted, he says he’ll have a great career and great opportunities to give back.