Winds of Change


Fueled by his passion for volunteering, Brandon wants to use his knowledge to keep others safe from the elements. We sat down with Brandon to learn about Atmospheric Science, volunteering at UIUC, and how his father’s story inspired him to help others.

Brandon, pictured as a child, in front of a TV screen showing the weather.
As a child, Brandon watched The Weather Channel religiously. His interest in storms eventually led him to major in Atmospheric Science at UIUC.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

“I’m a sophomore majoring in Atmospheric Science. I grew up west of Chicago. I guess I’ve always been interested in science, math, and the weather. I came to the University of Illinois because they have one of the best Atmospheric Science programs, great academics close to home.”

Why did you decide to major in Atmospheric Science?

“As a kid, I always watched The Weather Channel and got excited about storms. Going into high school, I was interested in the chemistry and math courses, and that’s kind of a large part of Atmospheric Science. And really, ongoing stuff like climate change and just storms in general have always interested me.

“This is the perfect time to go into the field. It’s a rising industry right now. I guess I saw a need for atmospheric scientists and thought I could fill that position.”

Do you have an area of focus in Atmospheric Science, or is there a part you’re really passionate about?

“You major in atmospheric science in general, and you can take electives. … Once you get down to graduate school, that’s when you pick a professor to do research on a specific topic, and then usually that’s what you do in the future with your career.

“Right now, I’m working on orographic enhancement, which is how precipitation is enhanced by terrain and such, and that’s pretty interesting. … I also have a broad interest in winter weather and maybe tropical weather as well. Everybody says ‘severe weather,’ but I feel like it’s a pretty saturated industry, so I might want to pick something more niche that I can really specialize in.”

Brandon, equipped with a camera, smiles as he tornado watches.
Brandon captures an image of his first tornado during a UIUC storm-chasing class last summer. As an atmospheric scientist, Brandon’s goal is to keep people alert, informed, and safe during severe weather.

And what are you eventually hoping to do as a career?

“I want to go into the National Weather Service to help with people getting information about the weather so they can stay safe.”

What else are you involved in at Illinois?

“I’m involved in two organizations. One is LAS Council, and that has a focus on volunteering and such. I’m the treasurer. And then there’s another organization called S.C.A.M.S., which is the Student Chapter of the American Meteorological Society. They also do a lot of charity work specifically for hurricane victims and such.

“Going forward, I also want to be involved in some other organizations. I think there’s one called VIP that does a lot of charity work. I definitely want to help out a lot more with stuff like that.”

It sounds like you’re very focused on helping others. Why is this important to you?

“I feel that even just living in America, being from a middle-class family, that’s a huge advantage compared to the scale of what other countries deal with. I feel like I should really take advantage of that to help others, because that’s kind of the end goal of humanity—just everybody being equal. …

“My dad kind of grew up poor in Mexico, and then he came here, and since there’s so many more opportunities in America, he was able to make something big of his life. I want to make sure that other people can do that as well, because I know how lucky I am to be here because of that.”

Brandon posing with his family.
Brandon’s family’s story has inspired him to help others.

Can you tell us more about your father and his story?

“He grew up in a town of less than 100 people with no electricity, no plumbing, nothing like that. He has quite a few siblings—I’m not even sure how many—but he and his mother went across the border to California, where she worked very hard, and she was sending money back to the family in Mexico. 

“My dad grew up for the most part knowing that he had family but never, ever meeting them, and that was really sad for him. And then they moved to Chicago, where they continued to do that. [His mother] was working very hard, and eventually, they got the whole family to come over to Chicago. She worked so hard, she was able to put the majority of them through college and such. Even just being a single mother, she was able to raise all of them. And now they’re all pretty successful, hard-working people. 

“I think it’s six kids she had raised on her own, and then came to a country where she barely spoke English—she had to teach herself that—and I think she was working as a maid … . That’s amazing to me, and I want to work as hard as her.”

What else has your family’s story taught you?

“When you’re used to something, you don’t really think about it as a big opportunity. Some billionaires wouldn’t really say getting a new car is that big of a deal, but for somebody who’s poor, that could change their life. So you have to step back and put yourself in the perspective of others who might not be as fortunate.

“I feel like learning my dad and my grandmother’s story taught me that, where I can see from other people’s views. And that’s why I feel like philanthropy and helping out with charities and stuff is so important—just seeing things from their perspective and seeing how privileged I am, and hoping that others can also have this privilege later on.”