University Park, IL,
11:18 AM

GSU Grad Meets an Icon Who Opens Gates

There is networking, and there is networking. For Kyle Brodnick, 31, his top connection may always be the conversation he had with Bill Gates.

As he graduates from Governors State University in May, Brodnick says the most amazing opportunity he had working toward a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science was meeting with Gates, the founder of Microsoft and one of the richest men in the world.

At GSU, Brodnick connected with dozens of fellow students including a friend who told him about Young Invincibles, a political advocacy group for millennials.

“They were looking for stories of people who’d struggled with federal financial aid,” he said.

Brodnick’s path had been tricky. A first-generation college student, he enrolled at Prairie State College (PSC) right after high school. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I just stopped going to class,” he said. By the time Brodnick was ready to return to school, following a six-year military assignment, he discovered that his decision to stop going to class had cost him.

He paid with time spent both on academic probation and on financial aid probation. That meant he could receive no federal loans for two semesters.

At Prairie State, he was seeking an elective class when a political science professor recommended his own class. Brodnick took it and was hooked, declaring political science his major. He grabbed the chance to get involved, from running for student trustee on PSC’s Board of Education to seeking the chairman’s seat on the Illinois Community College Board Student Advisory Committee, which drew him to Springfield to lobby legislators.

“That was the first time I really enjoyed political activism,” Brodnick said. “Before that, I really didn’t like politics.”

He also dove into Model Illinois Government, which gives college students from around the state a chance to spend a weekend in the capitol acting as legislators. Students from Prairie State joined those from GSU and headed south to work together, introducing Brodnick to GSU students who convinced him to transfer and study for his bachelor’s degree.

“It was such a diverse group, especially since it included international students who bring in these different perspectives and experiences,” he said.

At GSU, he enjoyed working with faculty like Associate Professor Khalil Marrar.

“I’d turn on the TV and there he was on "PBS NewsHour." The next day I’d say, ‘You made it downtown pretty fast yesterday,’ ” he joked.

Brodnick also got real-world experience on the campaign trail while he took classes. He worked to help re-elect his local legislator, state Rep. Anthony DeLuca, and also organized volunteers in 13 towns for now-Governor J.B. Pritzker.

While he values all his connections, none can top Brodnick's talk with Gates. In 2018, Young Invincibles asked him to go to Washington. D.C., where he was one of four college students chosen to share his financial struggle with representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. When Brodnick arrived, he was ecstatic to learn they would meet with Gates himself.

“It was just the five of us in a small room. I told him what a hard time I had with the deadlines and all the forms. As a nontraditional student, it was hard to know what was going on. He nodded and said, ‘We’re going to get that figured out.’ “

The conversation still resonates deeply, Brodnick said. “Bill Gates doesn’t do anything without thinking about it. I feel like I’m part of something big.”

As Brodnick looks ahead, he is glad for his time at GSU. “I feel like everybody here cares about you,” he said. “I feel at home here. And the professors are incredible. They meet you where you’re at and open up your mind to move you forward.”