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Dean’s Award 2023 – Powering through problems leads to honors for Brennan Beell

Brennan Beell, a Mechanical Engineering major, is the Dean's Award recipient for the College of Engineering and Computer Science. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

When it comes to higher education, using brute force as an approach to learning might not be the first idea that comes to mind.

That method, however, worked best for Brennan Beell, 38.

“I didn't want to play that role as a student, like, ‘Oh, yeah, I think I could do this problem, I'll just move forward with it and maybe circle back to it later,’ ” Beell said. “I wanted to absolutely understand it from head to toe before I moved on.”

Upon transferring to Sac State from Lake Tahoe Community College during the COVID-19 pandemic, Beell continued to employ his all-out approach to studying. He describes it as working through challenges, reading his books, or spending as much time as needed on assignments until he feels like he totally understands a concept.

It paid off.

Beell is set to graduate magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and is the recipient of the Dean’s Award from the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS). Deans’ Awards are given annually at Commencement to seven outstanding graduating students, one for each of Sac State’s academic colleges.

“I'm more than grateful, to be honest,” Beell said. “To just be where I am is certainly a dream come true. I never thought this would happen.”

Beell overcame plenty to achieve success. When he was in his mid-20s, his 15-year-old sister needed a caretaker following a drug rehabilitation program. She could not be placed with her biological father or their mother because both had histories of drug abuse, so Beell stepped in, he said.

“Brennan is an amazing story of persistence to finish his degree, while working to support others around him.” Kevan Shafizadeh, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science

His sister’s probation terms dictated that she could not be around people she had associated with before her rehab, so Beell grounded her for several months. Eventually, she got a job and started down a better path.

“Things just kind of fell in place,” he said. “I don't know if just the sheer fact of a little stability and money in her pocket made her realize that there was some warmth and security in that, but she turned her life around.”

His sister eventually graduated from high school, attended UC Davis, and graduated with a degree in Animal Biology.

“Through that process … was really when I started to take interest in my own academic drive,” said Beell, who had dropped out of high school after 10th grade.

“I knew it was (going to) be a little difficult because I didn't really have … a lot of those core fundamental concepts of writing and history and mathematics. … So, I already knew I was at a disadvantage.”

During community college, Beell moved to Pollock Pines, about an hour’s commute from Lake Tahoe Community College. He and his wife were raising their young first son and Beell was working full time for the water quality department in South Lake Tahoe, removing debris from the water. He began working in that role at 18 and was promoted to supervisor toward the end of his time at community college.

Beell’s second son was born about this time, and Beell took on yet another responsibility in coaching his elder son’s youth soccer team. In addition, Beell frequently volunteered in his kids’ classrooms, something he did because he enjoyed it and it helped him bond with his children.

Beell had to adjust to attending Sac State classes mostly online at first, often sharing a small desk with his sons as they each attended their virtual classes during the pandemic shutdown.

Through it all, Beell’s full-speed-ahead approach to education carried him to educational success, leading to academic honors and opportunities to help his classmates.

“Brennan is an amazing story of persistence to finish his degree, while working to support others around him,” said ECS Dean Kevan Shafizadeh. “He has had many setbacks in his life, and his determination to help his family, then himself, then others is inspirational.”

After graduation, Beell said he hopes to apply his engineering skills to a field he wanted to study before he ultimately decided to attend Sac State.

“I would love to definitely find myself in the biomedical field,” he said. “Whether it be furthering the quality control of prosthetics for people who lost an arm or leg, or some sort of person who has a speech impediment, or just needs assistance with activities of daily living.”

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About Daniel Wilson

Daniel Wilson joined the Sac State communications team in 2022 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at the Sacramento Bee as an audience engagement producer and reporter. He graduated from Sac State with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 2018. He plays video games, watches pro wrestling, and loves spending time with his wife and cat.

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