Brandon Watts Will Be the First in His Family to Graduate from College. Here’s How He Did It.

Computer Science student Brandon Watts in cap and gown
Photo by Kevin Morley, University Public Affairs

By James Irwin
University Public Affairs


Computer Science major Brandon Watts grew up in a home without internet. He nearly didn’t go to college — “I was looking at going into the military for a few years to pay for school,” he said. And he nearly didn’t go to VCU, only applying the day before the deadline at his mother’s insistence.

“When I got the [acceptance] letter, my mom was happy because she wanted me to stay close to home,” Watts said. “Luckily [coming here] was one of the best decisions I made.”

He enrolled as a mathematics major, and then took Theory of Computation during his sophomore year. It was his introduction to computer science at the VCU College of Engineering, and Watts was hooked.

“I really started to enjoy it,” he said. “I had never programmed before I came to college. I never saw computer science as even something I was able to do. A lot of people in my major are like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been doing this since I was 12 years old,’ and went to technical schools, stuff like that. I never had that experience.”

He poured himself into his studies, making the dean’s list and carrying a 4.0 GPA into his junior year.

“It was extremely difficult — a lot of late nights studying,” Watts said, laughing. “It’s been a total shift from what I was doing in high school — how I was studying, how I was viewing education. When I was in high school, it was something you had to do. In college, it’s a choice. You’re choosing to wake up every morning to go to class. You’re choosing to make a better life for yourself.”

That mindset, Watts said, began with his parents. His father earned his GED certificate. His mother took night classes to finish high school.

“They’ve always pushed education,” Watts said. “To see their reaction at graduation is going to be priceless.”

Watts, who is also a Wright Scholar, completed a software developer internship last summer at CarMax and has an offer to return to the company after commencement. He hopes to eventually pursue an advanced degree and start a company in data science or machine learning.

“I would have never thought I would go to college,” he said. “Now, not only can I be the first in my family to get a bachelor’s degree, I could be the first to get a master’s or Ph.D. I don’t know a single person, not in just my immediate family but in my lineage, that has a Ph.D.”