VSAC Mentorship Helps Isaiah Brunache Navigate College Choices

Written by
Stephen Mease

July 13, 2022


Isaiah Brunache of Bennington

This fall, the freshman class at SUNY-Cortland will have a nationally-ranked track star in their midst. Isaiah Brunache of Bennington placed fifth in the nation this summer for high school shot-put, and just before graduating from Mt. Anthony Union High School this spring, he took home the D1 Vermont State Championship medal for both the shot-put and the discus.

There is no doubt that Isaiah can throw far. And, with a little help from the VSAC Talent Search program, he’s also set himself up nicely to go far in his career. He plans to earn his Bachelor’s in exercise science from SUNY-Cortland, then start working with others and sharing his passion for health, perhaps as a physical therapist, coach, or trainer.

“Isaiah is by far one of the most intelligent students I have had the pleasure of working with in a very long time,” says Monda Kelley of VSAC, who worked with Isaiah for six years as his Talent Search counselor. “When Isaiah began high school, right away he started challenging himself by taking AP and honors classes. He is an extraordinary student as well as an extraordinary athlete.”

His acceptance at SUNY-Cortland makes Isaiah the first in his family to go to college. While his parents and his older sister didn’t pursue higher education themselves, they encouraged him, especially his mom. “My mom always told me, ‘You should really go to college.’ She was excited about my being the first in the family,” Isaiah recalls.

But Isaiah himself had a good sense from an early age that he would likely keep going to school after high school. “I like to learn,” says the 19-year-old, who signed up for AP Physics out of pure interest. “I want to continue my academic journey, and I don't see a better way to do that other than attending college.”

At the start of his college search, Isaiah was planning a pre-med track, and Dartmouth had reached out to him for track. “But in December, I realized medical school wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I want to get to what I really want to do now. I don’t want to have to wait 8 to 10 years to get started.”

So, he switched his intended major to exercise science, which ruled out Dartmouth, since it didn’t offer that area of concentration. He continued to evaluate UMass Amherst, UConn, and SUNY-Cortland – which rose to the top when he visited the campus.

“Monda had helped me narrow down what I wanted my school to be like. I wanted a place that felt personal and approachable and wasn’t hugely competitive,” he says. “SUNY-Cortland was a good match. It had my major, and financially, it was a good value. Plus, they have a great D3 track program, with a younger coach that I really connected with.”

Isaiah started track in middle school when he was looking for a new spring sport and his friend Josh encouraged him to try it out. “Once I got my hand on the shot and the disc, I fell in love instantly,” Isaiah recalls. Since Mt. Anthony’s track coaches didn’t specialize in throwing events, Isaiah was left to mostly coach himself, relying on online resources and the advice of other schools’ coaches at meets. He’s looking forward to having more support in college but liked the SUNY coach’s flexibility and openness to the programs that have worked for him in the past. “I really liked how willing he was to learn,” says Isaiah, perhaps recognizing the same quest for knowledge and improvement that he has always cultivated in himself.   

When it came to applying to colleges, Isaiah really appreciated the advice and mentorship he received from VSAC. Several of his classmates struggled a bit trying to navigate the process on their own. “Just having someone to tell me about the things that were out there – like grant programs and loans -- was immensely helpful,” says Isaiah, who felt that financial aid was the most challenging part of the college process. “It was kinda stressful. Money is stressful,” he says with a laugh. “But Monda was always there to answer my questions.”

Isaiah is looking forward to the greater independence that college provides, and to swimming in a bigger pond when he gets to the 10,000-student SUNY campus, which is 10 times bigger than Mt. Anthony. “I’m already self-motivated, so I’m excited about being out on my own. And it’ll be nice to not always know everybody that walks past me on the way to class. And, of course, track,” he says with a bright smile. Track, too, will introduce a new level of challenge since all of the throwing implements get heavier at the college level. “So, I’ll have to train over the summer,” he says, clearly looking forward to the task.

The thing he’ll miss the most about high school, he says, is his group of friends. “We were sort of the Makerspace group,” he says. “We all kind of stuck together, starting in middle school. We welcomed more people into our group over the years, but the core group has always stayed the same. Lots of my friends were in the drama club, and it was cool to watch them grow in confidence and watch them perform. A couple of them starred in Mamma Mia this spring, which was an incredible play. It felt really good to see my friends accomplish great things.”

In fact, the importance of friends is the centerpiece of the advice he says he would offer to those who are still forging their own paths, including those who will begin their senior year this fall at Mt. Anthony Union High School. “I would tell them that school is important, but your connections with friends are probably more important,” Isaiah says. “It’s good to have a strong support system around you and have a group of people to have fun with. Don’t be so stressed about all this,” he advises, referring to the big senior-year decisions of college and career. “It’s going to work out. Try to have some fun.”

For information on college and career planning and help with financial aid, go to www.vsac.org/FAFSAfirst and check out our online workshops and events. You can also give us a call at 800-642-3177, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and online at info@vsac.org.

This story is produced by Vermont Student Assistance Corp., created by the Vermont Legislature in 1965 as a public nonprofit agency, to advocate for Vermont students and their families to ensure that they achieve their education goals. Our vision is to create opportunities for all Vermont students, but particularly for those—of any age—who believe that the doors to higher education are closed to them. We begin by helping families save for education with Vermont’s state-sponsored 529 savings program. To help Vermonters plan and pay for college or career training, our counselors work with students in nearly every Vermont middle school and high school, and again as adults. Our grant and scholarship programs attract national recognition, and our loan programs and loan forgiveness programs are saving Vermont families thousands of dollars in interest.