“No one had ever explained college to me because my parents didn’t go, but I got the hang of it on my own and with support from my QuestBridge Scholars Network chapter.”
Brett, Northwestern University
Hometown: Welch, OK
Raised on a farm in the 600-person town of Welch, Oklahoma, Brett Mayfield grew up with no internet, limited cell service, and no school on Fridays as a result of district budget cuts. “I did well in school, but didn’t have many opportunities … I had never even heard of AP anything,” Brett shared. “Because my high school was so underfunded, once I learned to drive, I transferred to another school the next town over.”
Despite his academic efforts, Brett did not believe that he would be able to attend a four-year university. “I thought I would go to community college right next to my high school, and honestly even that was too expensive,” Brett explained. “Then one day, I was taking out the trash at home, and something fell out. It was a flyer for QuestBridge, a scholarship program built for low-income high school seniors. That pamphlet would go on to change my life.”
After finding the QuestBridge flyer, Brett brought it to his high school counselor to get her perspective. “At first, I thought it seemed too good to be true, I had never even heard of MIT or other big-name schools, but I wanted to see what my counselor thought,” Brett said. His counselor was aware of the program, but did not know students who had applied. With her encouragement, Brett decided to be the first.
Supported by school and family, Brett began his National College Match application. “I lived out in the country with no internet, but my grandma lived in town. She had internet, but it was as slow as can be,” Brett shared. “Thankfully, as the process got more serious, my counselor would let me use the computer in her office after school. I feel so lucky that she was in my life.”
In considering which schools to rank, Brett was open to all options: “I ranked the maximum number of schools because I figured this was my only shot. All of QuestBridge’s college partners were high-achieving schools, and this was my only way to get there.” Most drawn to Northwestern, Brett ranked it number one on his list.
When Match Day finally arrived, Brett learned that decisions had been released through social media. “I knew the answer was out there, but wanted to wait until after school to check the result with my counselor. Of course, she was in a long afternoon meeting,” Brett laughed. “I literally laid down next to her office for like an hour and a half, trying to stay calm. When she came out, I made her open it because I was too nervous. I saw that I had received a full scholarship to Northwestern and could not stop crying. It was really surreal. I felt like I could finally breathe.”
Nine months and an 11-hour car ride later, Brett arrived at Northwestern’s campus for the first time. “At the start, it was a big culture shock. My dorm had more people in it than my home town, so it took some time to get used to,” Brett shared. “No one had ever explained college to me because my parents didn’t go, but I got the hang of it on my own and with support from my QuestBridge Scholars Network chapter. What a lot of people don’t know is that there is also such a gift QuestBridge gives you in regards to community.”
In addition to his studies in Communications and Anthropology, Brett rose to President of the Northwestern QuestBridge Scholars Network Chapter, worked in nonprofit research marketing, and served as a Resident Assistant in the dorms. Although the pandemic impacted multiple years of Brett’s college experience, he felt grounded by academics: “COVID was really hard, but it helped me to reset my emotional and academic goals and boundaries. I realized that I needed to squeeze out every drop of education there was at Northwestern, because that’s what I came there for.”
In 2022, Brett walked across the stage at graduation. “Frankly, coming from where I came from, it’s amazing that I made it to that point,” Brett explained. “I grew up on a farm, feeding cattle in the morning, and went to school in a building where the ceiling was collapsing in. I know my background is unique, but with time, I have learned to take pride in that. I don’t think your background is your limitation.”
Since graduating from Northwestern, Brett turned an internship at IRI, a data technology company, into a full-time job as a Retail Client Success Analyst: “After ten weeks, they invited me to apply! It was such a whirlwind. I feel like I am using every aspect of my education in this role,” Brett shared. “On top of that, I live in my own apartment in Chicago, I don’t have to worry when I shop for groceries, and I recently got a cat. I never would have believed that this could be my future.”
Reflecting on his journey to this point, Brett shared a lesson that has inspired the way he lives his life: “My brother taught me you don’t G-E-T unless you A-S-K. It is very scary to ask for help, but very human to want to help each other,” Brett said. “Looking back, that translates to QuestBridge, too. Fate was on my side – I found a flyer in a trash can. I could have just left it there, but I took a chance and worked hard. It has been the greatest blessing.”