New IST scholarship honors friendships formed at Penn State

Michelle Ngo and Desmond Lamptey establish scholarship in memory of classmate Jimmy Lee Brown

Jimmy Lee Brown (left), Michelle Ngo and Desmond Lamptey formed a strong friendship at the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology, which extended long after graduation. That tight bond inspired Ngo and Lamptey to establish a scholarship in memory of Brown, who died in 2019. Credit: ProvidedAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When they were students at Penn State a decade ago, Michelle Ngo and Desmond Lamptey found a shared connection at the University that made them feel at home.

They both had the honor of becoming acquainted with Jimmy Lee Brown, a student with a larger-than-life presence on campus who had a knack for living in the moment and building connections among people. After being raised in the Philadelphia area by his aunt after his mother’s death when he was a teenager, Brown came to Penn State on a Brook J. Lenfest Trustee Scholarship—his first time living away from the city and a significant personal accomplishment. According to Ngo and Lamptey, coming to Penn State gave Brown a chance to earn a degree, be a role model to others, demonstrate the results of hard work and dedication, and most of all, make his mom proud. He was especially known for bringing diverse groups of students together, including Ngo and Lamptey, who say that Brown’s jovial spirit and positive energy left a mark on many at Penn State.

“We all need at least one person in our lives who somehow finds a way to make us smile, even on our worst days. A person who brings out the best in us just by showing us what joy looks like, who lives like tomorrow isn’t promised, and who laughs like a child without worries,” said Lamptey.

Added Ngo, “It’s a gift only a few of us have. Jimmy Brown had that gift. He was that person for many of us.”

When Brown died suddenly in 2019, Ngo and Lamptey wanted to honor their friend’s memory. They came together to establish the Jimmy Lee Brown Memorial Dean’s Advisory Board Scholarship at the College of Information Sciences and Technology to extend his legacy. Ngo and Lamptey gave a total of $25,000, which was matched 1:1 by the IST Dean’s Advisory Board. The $50,000 scholarship endowment will benefit students in the college from underrepresented backgrounds, who are first generation, or who have demonstrated financial need.

“We want other people to hear the name ‘Jimmy Lee Brown,’ because for us, that name meant being able to connect with others and feeling closer to home in a place where not everyone looks like you — and then meeting someone who makes you feel comfortable about where you are,” said Lamptey. “We want other people to get that experience regardless of whether they can afford it or not.”

“Jimmy has touched the lives of many members of the IST and Penn State community,” said Andrew Sears, dean of the College of IST. “We are thankful for and inspired by Michelle and Desmond coming together in such a meaningful way to not only honor the memory of their classmate, but to also ensure that other IST students have the opportunity to navigate the college experience, access a quality education and build lifelong friendships – just like they did with Jimmy.”

Ngo, a Lenfest Scholarship recipient who graduated from Penn State with a degree in IST, met Brown through campus networking events for underrepresented students who had earned educational equity scholarships.

“I probably wouldn’t be where I am today without that scholarship to attend Penn State,” Ngo said. “And here we have an opportunity to pay it forward, by making an impact for the next generation in Jimmy’s name. Because if he were here today, this is something that he would want to give back to a place like Penn State, where he made lifelong memories and felt part of a community.”

She added, “This scholarship is a good reflection of his intentions and motivations to always want to help others.”

For Lamptey, the opportunity to give back reminds him of his some of his own experiences as a student.

“I remember times where I had to think about how I was going to pay for the next semester, and that’s the most stressful feeling that you’ll ever have,” he said. “I want to make an impact so maybe one more student doesn’t have to worry about that aspect of it. No student should have to worry about that.”

Despite financial concerns, Lamptey was able to earn his degree in IST in 2012, and now works in the tech industry. Lamptey is a software engineer at Capital One, where he also trains staff on hacking and cybersecurity through company’s Tech College, and Ngo is a product manager and marketing manager at Chase. It was Brown who inspired both Lamptey and Ngo to change their majors and join him in the College of IST, where they gained critical technical and interpersonal skills—such as teamwork, communication and leadership—that would shape their career paths.

But even now that they’re working in a technology-centered field, Ngo and Lamptey said that the friends’ time at Penn State predated today’s reliance on smartphones, selfies and social media.

“We got to live in the moment during our college experience, be disconnected from our cell phones, and have conversations that we were able to talk about later,” recalled Ngo.

Desmond Lamptey (left), Michelle Ngo and Jimmy Lee Brown attended Penn State before the rise in popularity of smartphones and social media, which Ngo says gave them the chance to live in the moment during their college experience, be disconnected from cell phones, and have conversations they were able to talk about later. Credit: ProvidedAll Rights Reserved.

Those organic connections were further reinforced by Brown.

“Sometimes we’re stuck on things that have happened in the past, or on thinking about how we want things to be in the future, and sometimes we forget to just enjoy where we are now,” said Lamptey. “But Jimmy just did that naturally.”

In fact, Brown so naturally interacted and connected with different people that it’s hard for Ngo to pinpoint exactly how or when she initially met Brown and Lamptey.

“We just meshed together and our experience at Penn State was really diverse,” she said. “We hung out with people from different backgrounds, sharing stories from our hometowns and personal lives, and learning something new about each other. Most of the time, Jimmy was there to help bridge it all together.”

At its core, those connections are what have driven Ngo and Lamptey to want to impact future students through the scholarship.

“I think Jimmy’s impact on campus was bigger than just the impact that he had on me,” said Ngo. “He brought people together.”

Prior to his death on Nov. 13, 2019, he worked as a service desk analyst for Computer Aid, Inc. He graduated from Penn State in 2012 with a degree in IST. During his time at Penn State, he was involved with S.M.A.R.T. (Student Minority Advisory and Recruitment Team) and raised donations for THON, in addition to being a Lenfest Scholars mentor. He also worked as an IT service consultant at Penn State.

Gifts to the Jimmy Lee Brown Memorial Dean’s Advisory Board Scholarship will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit

Last Updated November 17, 2021