By Carlos Correa

LODI (CBS13) — A Lodi man who struggled as a teenager and even came close to losing it all is devoting his time to changing the lives of many young people in the community.

The executive who now runs his own company and serves as the first international education liaison for the state’s Department of Education says he owes his success to his teacher, Linda Brandt.

The now-retired teacher always received that nice shiny apple from her kids, but a former student has decided he would deliver more than just a “thank you.”

Growing up in the valley, Steven Ma really didn’t take anything seriously including school. He often cut class and never received a grade higher than a “B.” He considered himself a hoodlum.

“I was called in 9th grade, I was called by another teacher the stupidest student that he has ever seen, and that is how I identified myself with. I didn’t care. There was no self-esteem; there was no self-dignity,” he said.

Ma’s life quickly changed overnight when he met 10th-grade geometry teacher, Ms. Brandt. She not only challenged him in the classroom but offered him hope, something he thought was impossible.

“She made me see who I was. She made me discover what I could do. She made me see that my potential as a lot more than I was aware of,” said Ma.

Ma is the CEO of Thinktank Learning, the largest college prep and tutoring company based in San Jose. Starting this year, he is offering Lodi High School students two scholarships named after his favorite teacher.

“I just wanted to tell her that I am forever thankful for her, my family is thankful for her, my students are forever thankful for her,” he said.

There will be two Linda Brandt Scholarships. Each will be worth $15,000.

“I am feeling overwhelmed, and I have a great deal of humility. I had no idea that I actually had that sort of an effect on Steven and I’m just so proud of him for all that he has accomplished,” she said.

Brandt taught for nearly 30 years, including several students who come from low-income households, and she says the scholarship will help open new opportunities.

“Those kids are very smart, they can totally go to college and do something with their lives but sometimes it’s the financial side that prevents them from doing it,” said Brandt.

Thinktank Learning also does international work with students. As part of the gift, they have invited Ms. Brandt to China to visit some of the schools there.

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