John Cameron

John Cameron

John Cameron knew he wanted to go to the University of Michigan long before he finished high school. It was U-M, and only U-M.

But he took the preliminary step of attending Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn first, for reasons that students then, and now, understand. 

Number one was proximity. John lived in Dearborn, so the commute to Henry Ford was a long walk or bike ride.

Second, while there were lots more students than in the small, tight-knit class John had known at St. Alphonsus Catholic School for 13 years, it wasn’t the Big Campus -- yet. This community college (today known as Henry Ford College) eased his adjustment into full-university life, he says.

“St. Alphonsus was a school where you knew everybody, and it would have been a tough transition” into college had it not been for the community college route, John says.

Finally, of course, community college was much less expensive when dorms weren’t part of the equation. Yet, “academically, it was extremely good,” John says. “I got a lot of technical background, took some of the basic courses such as psychology, history. It just gave me a good start. And it was very inexpensive, relatively.” A $500 scholarship helped, as well.

John believes this kind of transfer experience is the way forward for many prospective U-M students. This is why he, along with his wife Karen, have established the “John, Karen, and Casey Cameron Community College Fund.” Casey, the couple’s daughter, is a 2016 U-M graduate.

The generous fund came about after John attended a meeting here last year. He learned about UMSI’s Community College Summer Institute (CCSI). This program pays for Michigan community college students interested in UMSI’s Bachelor of Science in Information degree to learn about career and academic opportunities -- and to explore U-M’s main campus.

“CCSI was interesting to me, because that was where I came from – a student who couldn’t afford four years at a university,” he says. “So to me, community college was a bridge. And I think it’s a bridge today.”

John is Managing Partner of Brigante, Cameron, Watters & Strong (BCWS) LLP in Torrance, California. He also is a member of UMSI’s External Advisory Board.

It was John’s career path that led him to California. After earning his bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in engineering at U-M, he was one of the first software engineers at NASA in the 1960s. Soon after, he worked for TRW (now Northrop Grumman Corp.) where, he says, “we designed the targeting software” for the Minuteman Missile – the U.S.’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. 

In the early 1970s, after earning his MBA from the University of Southern California (USC), a family friend introduced him to the world of certified public accounting. He soon was working in smaller CPA firms – one of which changed his life.

One day in 1989, a client called him and asked, “How would you like to meet my daughter?”

Rolling his eyes unseen, “I thought, ‘Oh no, how can I get out of this, and still keep the client?’ I waited as long as I could before I called her,” John says.

Her name was Karen. She had three college degrees, including an MBA. The two went to dinner, and John’s “Oh, no” became, “Oh, yeah.” They soon married.

Prospering in his field, John joined three other firms to form BCWS in 1995. It is now the largest full-service accounting firm in California’s South Bay area.

Meanwhile, contacts with and visits to U-M and UMSI have further solidified John’s connection with his alma mater and home state. He and Karen earlier established the U-M College of Engineering’s John, Karen and Casey Cameron Family Scholarship Fund.

“I’m very excited about being connected to the university,” says John. “It’s interesting to see the school and the various challenges, and what’s going on with diversity, revenue and some of the politics within the university.

“I really enjoy the opportunity to learn all of this and to get to know the really great people here.”

- Sheryl James, UMSI PR Specialist