He holds doctorate, specialist, and master of education degrees from Florida Gulf Coast University, has more than 20 years of senior-level experience in higher education, and has collected numerous awards and trophies along the way—one of which features a misspelled nameplate that reads, “A+ Alegbra Student” that his 8th-grade teacher didn’t bother to fix. He still keeps that one on his office shelf to remind himself, as an African-American, how hard he has to work.
Above all that, however, Isaac Brundage, Chico State’s new vice president for student affairs, is “Gracie’s boy.”
His mother, Gracie Brundage, worked as a housekeeper at a hotel and later at a factory while instilling strong values in Isaac and his three sisters. A single mother, she also held the family together after an unspeakable tragedy.
“Though she only had an eighth-grade education, she was the smartest woman I knew,” said Brundage. “She taught us to love each other, help others, and give back. She did her best to shield us from the struggles where we grew up.”
His hometown community, Dunbar, in Fort Myers, Florida, is a historically black neighborhood that remained segregated long after the repeal of Jim Crow laws in the 1960s. Dunbar suffered from illegal drugs, criminal activity, and lack of opportunity.
Fort Myers is also where Brundage’s father was gunned down by police officers in 1971 when his son was less than a year old. The tragedy and his subsequent childhood would shape his life and push him into education and mentoring young people. But it took a while for Brundage to learn exactly what happened to his dad.
“We didn’t talk about it at home, my mother carried on and kept the family together. It wasn’t until high school that I was able to go back and research old newspaper clippings that I pieced together how it happened,” he said.
How it happened: Brundage’s father was a trustee of the Lee County Jail, meaning he was an inmate with certain privileges. He walked out of the jail and was eventually killed in a residential area. He was unarmed. His death sparked protests in the Fort Myers area that made regional news and made it possible for Brundage to discover the truth.
“Working in education for so long has given me the chance to meet a lot of police officers. I know most try to do the right thing,” he said. “However, as we hear about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, or countless others, it is always a sad reminder of what we as Black men and women continue to deal with, and I have to re-process what caused me to grow up without a father.”
That is the reason, Brundage said, he has spent so much time mentoring, working with, and helping young boys and helping them develop into young men—he knows what it feels like to grow up without a father.
He also had many good mentors along the way. None were bigger than Anna Donmoyer, who was his teacher at Head Start in Fort Myers, a program that provides early childhood educational opportunities to vulnerable, low-income children.
His “guardian angel,” not only did she recognize Brundage’s academic potential early and kept him on the right path, he later found out she maintained a scrapbook of clippings about his academic awards and was planning to write a children’s book about him before her passing in 2001.
Donmoyer already had written a book about Deion Sanders, another Head Start student from Fort Myers, which is where Brundage first met the future NFL star.
“If you think his ‘primetime’ persona as a professional athlete was brash, you should have seen him as a child,” he said with a laugh.
Brundage dedicated his dissertation to Donmoyer and remains close with her children.
In elementary and later middle school, Brundage began getting bussed out of the Dunbar community to a more integrated school district. It was on those bus rides that he first saw sidewalks and houses with front lawns. An honor student, he was often the only black student in his classes.
“Being in that environment, it can go two ways. It can be detrimental because you feel alone or have to deal with subtle—or sometimes not so subtle—racism. Or it can be motivating because you get to see how other people live. I chose the latter,” Brundage said.
The motivation still burns today as Brundage sets out on a new challenge.
He comes to Chico State from Western New Mexico University (WNMU), where he served as the vice president of student affairs and enrollment management for more than 10 years. He previously served as director of community outreach, university ombudsman, and assistant to the president at his alma mater, Florida Gulf Coast University, where he oversaw campuswide efforts to increase student enrollment and retention, especially for underserved and underrepresented populations. His experience also includes serving as director of housing and residence life at Florida A&M University.
“In my career, I’ve typically worked at universities where there was an opportunity to either build or rebuild a student affairs division. I look at Chico State as an opportunity to build on the fantastic programs they have in place, and work across divisions to get our enrollment back up to where it needs to be,” Brundage said.
Although he had sometimes joked to friends and family that California was the one place he’d never move to, he was attracted to Chico State because it is a Hispanic-Serving Institution, moderately sized, and a beautiful campus in the heart of downtown.
In addition to targeting the critical mission of enrollment, Brundage has spent his first few months on campus meeting the various student affairs departments, planning for long-term, on-campus housing improvements, and addressing campus safety.
Noting he “likes to talk,” Brundage is far from the tallest person on campus, but he brings a vivacious personality, friendly smile, and booming voice to his interactions with students. He can frequently be seen strolling campus, checking in with students, asking about their major and making sure they are finding the Chico State experience that fits their interests.
In fact, if you see Brundage on campus, be sure to give Gracie’s boy a warm welcome.