February 15, 2018

While interviewing high school seniors for the prestigious Craig and Galen Brown Foundation (“Brown Foundation”) scholarships at Texas A&M, Craig Brown ’75 always asks, “What is your definition of a college education?"

The answer, said Craig, founder and chairman of Bray International and a graduate of Texas A&M with an undergraduate degree in civil engineering and an MBA in accounting and finance, is important because, “I want students to understand that academics is just 50 percent of a college education. The other 50 percent is developing relationships and people, communication and leadership skills. Your success in life is heavily dependent on these abilities, not just your academic prowess.”

Craig Brown '75 built a relationship with Texas A&M in 1992 to start a scholarship program that would help recruit National Merit Scholars.

When Craig interviews candidates, in addition to academic success, he looks for leadership and selfless service. “It’s been a successful formula, and that’s why I spend significant time talking to candidates about organizations at Texas A&M and the opportunities they will have for leadership, teamwork and community involvement.” I tell them, “At Texas A&M, you get to decide to what degree you participate, and the person that grades your performance is YOU.”      

Craig’s success in recruiting students has paid off: Since 1992, the Brown Foundation has awarded 309 scholarships to Texas A&M’s top incoming freshmen. In 2017, the Brown Foundation celebrated its 25th anniversary with an event celebrating former Brown Scholars and its 119 current Brown Scholars.

BROWN FOundation Beginnings

The Brown Foundation was founded in 1985 after the death of Craig’s father, Galen. “My father was an inspiration to me of selfless giving, and he valued educational causes,” Craig said. “He taught me that giving is the greatest gift you can give yourself.” 

In 1990, Craig demonstrated his commitment to the Brown Foundation by contributing significant assets to ensure its long-term viability. The Foundation’s connection with Texas A&M arose from conversations Craig had with then-President Dean Gage about the need for scholarships to help recruit National Merit Scholars to Aggieland. Many students were offered Texas A&M’s prestigious President’s Endowed Scholarships, but rising tuition costs meant those $12,000 stipends didn’t fully cover tuition costs, resulting in students accepting admission at other universities.

In 1992, the Brown Foundation welcomed its inaugural class of Brown Scholars. There were four students. One of them, Dr. Janet Pate, graduated from Baylor College of Medicine in 2001, served as Chief Resident of Pediatrics at Baylor in 2004 and in 2016, opened her own pediatric practice, Nurture Pediatrics, in Bellaire, Texas.

“When I listened to Mr. Brown explain how much Texas A&M meant to him, I knew it was the place for me,” said Pate. “I feel grateful to have been in the first class of Brown Scholars and humbled by all the exceptional students I have seen continue in the program. Mr. Brown taught me to find what inspires me and to give it my all.”

In 2017, 39 freshmen were awarded scholarships from the Brown Foundation. Competition is stiff: Candidates must be President’s Endowed Scholars and National Merit Semifinalists, apply to the University Honors Program and have a minimum 1400 SAT composite score or 33 ACT score. Candidates must also be well rounded: Participation in extracurricular activities and demonstrated leadership in their high schools and communities are essential selection criteria. 

“We want Brown Scholars to be leaders, and they are,” said Craig. Brown Scholars have been Yell Leaders, Ross Volunteers, Student Body Presidents, University Scholars, Marshall and Rhodes Scholar Finalists, Memorial Student Center Presidents and Outstanding Senior Engineering Award winners. “They know how to take responsibility, prioritize and make a difference in people’s lives."

The Brown Foundation scholarship supplements any other academic awards to provide fully-funded tuition to National Merit Scholars. Texas A&M now ranks No. 7 nationally for National Merit Scholar enrollment. With approximately 70 percent of Brown Scholars pursuing engineering disciplines, it partly explains why Texas A&M’s Engineering Honors Program ranks No. 1 among public U.S. universities. The remaining 30 percent of Brown Scholars major in disciplines including science, veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences, agriculture and life sciences, business and liberal arts.

In 2017, 80 percent of candidates receiving offers of Brown Foundation scholarships chose to attend Texas A&M.  “That’s remarkable when you consider that many of these students didn’t have Texas A&M on their radar when we contacted them,” said Craig.

Growing up in Indiana, for example, Andy Sanchez ’13 was unfamiliar with Texas A&M. However, after interviewing for a Brown Foundation scholarship in 2009, he concluded Texas A&M was the right match for him.

Texas A&M University's Brown Scholars at the 25th anniversary dinner in the Hall of Champions.

“Through his warmth in the interview process and the generosity of the Brown Foundation, Mr. Brown introduced me to a new world of honor, service and opportunity,” said Sanchez, a 2013 graduate with a degree in chemical engineering who also received the Craig Brown Outstanding Senior Engineering Award.  “I can say with confidence that no other school or scholarship would have afforded me so many life-changing experiences and lasting friendships. Mr. Brown’s unending generosity and tireless service—to Texas A&M, to his scholars and to the central principle of building a better world—has inspired me and countless other students. Every day, in thinking of the kind of man I want to be, I think of Mr. Brown.”

Craig attributes the growing acceptance rate to many factors: close cooperation between the Brown Foundation and the various Texas A&M colleges and deans, and with the Honors College staff including Katie Clark, Delisa Falks, Jeff Glenn and Dr. Sumana Datta, assistant provost for the Honors Program. On the Brown Foundation side, Pam Matthews serves as the Aggie Mom to all Brown Foundation Scholars, and many volunteers assist in the recruitment process, including Sue Smith (Craig’s wife), Zachry Brown (his son), Shahrum Iqbal, Dr. Janet Pate, Molly Vitela and other former Brown Scholars.

Candidates receiving Brown Foundation scholarship offers are required to tour the Texas A&M campus before accepting to ensure it’s a good fit. 

“I learned so much at Texas A&M as a member of the Corps of Cadets, where I discovered you’re only as good as the weakest link on your team and you are always a team,” said Craig. “Also, the tradition of ‘Howdy’ was and is valuable because it teaches you to show respect and be friendly to those who cross your path. First impressions are the most durable and difficult to change, and saying ‘Howdy’ makes a favorable and lasting impression. And then there are the core values, a model for living one’s life that Texas A&M stresses to its students.”                                            

Craig and his wife, Sue, have seven children and Craig still finds time to mentor the Brown Scholars. They host an annual fall dinner at Texas A&M and a BBQ for graduating seniors at their ranch in Round Top, Texas. 

“The Craig and Galen Brown Foundation has itself become a tremendous Aggie legacy in fulfilling our very mission at Texas A&M to recruit, mentor and graduate the very best students prepared to assume roles of leadership, responsibility and service to society,” said Michael K. Young, Texas A&M University President. “Craig and Sue, their family and team of advisers take active roles with each and every student selected and that makes for a truly transformational learning experience for the lives of these students well beyond graduation.”

“The Craig and Galen Brown Foundation scholarships are the most impressive personal commitment to higher education in the United States today,” said Texas A&M University System Regent Chairman Charles Schwartz. “The only thing more impressive is the students themselves. I have attended every Brown Foundation Scholar dinner since I became a Regent, and I come away with the same humbling feeling every year.”

25 Years of Pride

Ultimately, in selecting its scholars, the Brown Foundation hopes to identify individuals who, at 35 or 40 years of age, will have very positive impacts on their communities and the people in their communities. Indeed, many have: Former scholars have gone on to become physicians, researchers, inventors, executive managers, business owners, entrepreneurs and community leaders.

One such example is Zac Coventry ’02, who Craig fondly called “Mr. Everything.” While at Texas A&M, Zac was the Corps Chaplain and Student Body President and was also involved in Fish Aides, Traditions Council, Fish Camp, the Ross Volunteers, Rudder’s Rangers and Aggie Hostel. The Brown Scholarship clinched his decision to attend Texas A&M; he accepted over an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy. With the Brown Scholarship and other financial support, he experienced a top-tier state university and top-tier ROTC program simultaneously without incurring debt. After graduation, he visited many countries serving as a Peace Corps volunteer.

“The Brown Foundation Scholars program teaches the power of community, encouragement and scholarship,” he said. “Moreover, the Brown Foundation effectively encourages its scholars to maintain their high standards throughout their tenure at Texas A&M. Most importantly, the foundation actively encourages its graduating scholars to become leaders in their homes, their communities and in their professional careers.”

A New Mentorship Program

Clare Elizondo ’18 took the Brown Foundation’s philosophy of service to heart. The San Antonio native created the Brown Mentorship Program to help incoming Brown Scholars as they transition into Texas A&M. The goal is to build a sense of community among scholars that can continue throughout college and even in their future careers.

“During my freshman year, I had the opportunity to get to know some other Brown Scholars through the MSC Champe Fitzhugh International Leadership Seminar and through a few of my classes,” said Elizondo. “At the same time, I was experiencing the difficulties of adjusting to a university with 60,000-plus students, especially because I come from a small, tight-knit community.

“I decided that a mentorship program would be a great way to provide support to our incoming freshmen, while also building relationships among the incredible students within our Brown Scholar community,” said Elizondo.

Clare Elizondo '18

Now, incoming Brown Scholars are paired with either a junior or sophomore mentor who get to know them before school starts and meet with them once a week for the first six weeks of school. The students benefit from relationships with older students who have similar goals and strong work ethics.

Elizondo is pursuing a degree in biomedical science, but outside the classroom, she is involved in The Big Event and Memorial Student Center Bethancourt, a professional development organization. She also works with undergraduate and graduate students at the University Writing Center to assist students with their writing and English-speaking skills.

After college, she plans to become an attorney and support low-income and minority groups. “I think our community is what develops us into who we are,” said Elizondo, “so it only makes sense to give back with the gifts and talents our communities have cultivated in us. Mr. Brown is a perfect example of this. His time at Texas A&M shaped him into the successful businessman and exceptional person he is today, and he has used those qualities to positively impact the next generation of Aggies in immeasurable ways.”

When Craig reflects on the Brown Foundation’s 25 years of success, one emotion surfaces above the rest: pride.

“I’m proud of the Brown Scholars and celebrate their achievements, not only at Texas A&M, but throughout their lives,” he said. “They are an extension of our family and it’s a privilege to observe the ways in which they positively impact others. In life, it’s not what you take with you; it’s what you leave behind that counts.”