Chantel B.'s Story

"You have nothing to lose. It doesn't take anything from you, but gives you a world of possibilities."

Chantel Brown grew up in a small town near the Foothill Mountains of North Carolina. “We had one stoplight, one Walmart, and a not so great school system,” she said.

Her father was a truck driver and often gone, so Chantel was mostly raised by her mom. When Chantel was in middle school, her mother had medical problems requiring her to have two hip replacements, which left Chantel with much of the parenting responsibilities. One of four siblings, she had a large hand in helping to raise her nephews and had to spend much of her time at home. 

Throughout her schooling, Chantel kept two things in mind: One, that she was smart — smarter, perhaps, than people immediately realized. And two, that she wanted to get a great education and eventually leave North Carolina. This set her apart from her peers. “No one really leaves, and if they do, they usually come back to the area,” Chantel explained. More than 50% of Chantel's high school graduating class typically went on to state schools or community colleges nearby. 

For a few years, Chantel had enrolled in summer programs, such as Summer Ventures and the Governor’s School. These programs ended up playing a large role in her belief that a top education was not out of the question. Through one of the programs, she befriended a student who had been admitted to Williams through QuestBridge. This encouraged Chantel to explore her options.

In her senior year, Chantel applied to college and was accepted to 21 schools in total. Five of them were Ivy League schools. “I liked Brown for its people; they were all so genuine, I felt could relate to them and I could see myself being friends with them on campus,” Chantel explained. “And I wanted to go to a school that was recognizable to both employers and to people back home.”

Her parents and her family had long before come to the realization that Chantel would leave for college, but that didn’t detract from the pride they felt about Chantel’s accomplishments. “My mom still tells people, ‘my daughter goes to Brown. It’s an Ivy,” she said with a smile. 

After the news broke about Chantel’s college application success, there was small, yet noticeable shift in the community. A teacher pulled her aside and introduced her to someone as the school’s ‘star student’; people she knew from church would see her and say, ‘you’re gonna do better, you’re gonna leave.’” 

“I always knew I was smart but I didn’t necessarily think I was smarter,” Chantel added, noting that it felt great so ‘shock’ everyone. 

So what was it, then, that made Chantel so sure she’d carve a path for herself that set her so much apart from most of her peers? “I don’t really know what it was,” Chantel reflected. “I just knew I had to have confidence.” That confidence seemed to follow closely behind her as she made the transition to college. “It was smooth,” she said, especially since she had become friends with other QuestBridge Scholars before arriving at Brown. 

When school started, Chantel thought she wanted to study medicine, but in time, decided to consider other options: “I realized that most people want to be a doctor or engineer or lawyer, and coming in from a low-income background, you don’t realize all the opportunities that are out there, and how to do them,” Chantel explained.

Outside of the classroom, Chantel played an important role in revitalizing the QuestBridge Scholars Network Chapter at Brown. She said that most of her friends ended up being QuestBridge Scholars or low-income without even trying to make that happen. “I think we have a mutual understanding or drive, not just to get an education but to do something bigger than yourself, for your family, for your community. The passion behind QuestBridge Scholars really drives me,” she noted. 

Looking back, Chantel explained that her family's support was her main motivation. “It’s for my parents, it’s for my nephews, it’s proving to everyone in my community that they can do it, too. I want to let all the little kids in my family know that they can do it, too,” she shared. Advising others, Chantel encouraged students to take a chance: “You have nothing to lose. It doesn't take anything from you, but gives you a world of possibilities."