Fulbright Scholar’s Mission Field Reaches Australia

Fulbright scholar and computer science alum Brandon RichardWebster ’15 is getting the most out of his scholarship as he develops drones for Australian farmers. He sees his role as witness for the Lord’s kingdom.

By Katie Johnson ’19, content specialist

February 19, 2020 | 10:30 a.m.

Brandon RichardWebster

Computer science alum Brandon RichardWebster '15 is currently using his Fulbright Scholarship to research computer vision to help Australian farmers.

We last left computer scientist Brandon RichardWebster ’15 in a Ph.D. program at the University of Notre Dame, processing his childhood trauma and trusting God to use him in whatever field He called him to. Two years later, RichardWebster finds himself working in literal fields on a Fulbright Scholarship in Brisbane, Australia. His mission field has grown from Minnesota to Indiana and now across the globe as he shares his faith on Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) through the public radio program “Conversations.”

The first 20 minutes of his conversation, “Drones and forgiveness,” concern his research in Australia at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). He develops drone cameras to recognize the invasive species African lovegrass (ALG) in an automated manner, similar to how the human eye works.

“Humans can take a very, very small amount of data and extrapolate it into zillions and zillions of examples,” RichardWebster explains during the interview. “We don’t do it flawlessly, but we do it so well we don’t even think about it. It just happens. And with computers, it’s the other way around. We actually have to show a computer lots and lots of lots of examples just to get a tiny little bit of positive results.” He’s combining computer vision with biology to help farmers identify this species across their many acres with drones. Because ALG is inedible and chokes out other grasses, farmers will be able to judge what fields provide the most sustenance for their cattle—thus saving time, resources, and the animals’ overall health. 

For the rest of the interview, RichardWebster shares how his childhood was initially defined by his mother, who was a meth addict. His life was not like most of his classmates’, and as he grew up, he did not feel loved. However, he found a reprieve from his chaotic lifestyle when his grandparents took him and his sister to church on Wednesday nights.

“At the end of the day, computer science, drones, etc., they don't matter to the Kingdom; the people do.”

— Brandon RichardWebster '15

It was during these nights that six-year-old RichardWebster asked his grandmother about Jesus and heaven, and he embraced the faith that would help him endure both the best and worst of what was to come. “I even consider the faith I have to be given to me on a golden platter,” RichardWebster says. “Because of who I was born to, I was given some of the worst circumstances, from our human perspective, which in turn gave me the opportunity to rest my life in His hands.”

After his interview aired in Australia last November, RichardWebster received numerous responses of gratitude, disbelief, and inspiration from listeners. One person described a tumultuous relationship with his own mother, and though he had sent her a letter of forgiveness, he had yet to feel any semblance of peace. RichardWebster recaps the listener’s story: “One night, about 3 a.m. he said he accidentally came across my interview and said it was like God knew his pain and knew that he needed to hear what I had shared. He finished by saying that hearing my interview was what brought him the closure and peace he needed about the situation.”  

RichardWebster is familiar with striving toward peace, especially as he has to consistently remind himself that his plans for his life might not be the same as what God has in store for him. In September 2018, RichardWebster suffered a pulmonary embolism while he was in Germany, and that was the beginning of a six-month period of health scares—both physically and mentally—as a response to sudden, difficult life changes.

During this season, RichardWebster realized that the focus for his life was not what he had intended it to be, and maybe not what God had intended for him either. RichardWebster says that, as he was lying in his hospital bed in Germany, “I remember not being afraid. I remember knowing, without a single doubt, who I was in Him and where I belonged. The only thought I had was: ‘If this was the end, my only wish was that I had spent more time with Him.’” 

RichardWebster is learning how to embrace his life right now, as it is, rather than hypothesizing about what could be. He trusts that God is using him where he is: as he researches ALG to help farmers, as he shares his testimony in a foreign country, and as he serves his neighbors.

“At the end of the day, computer science, drones, etc., they don't matter to the Kingdom; the people do,” RichardWebster says. “One person at a time, one interview at a time, one book at a time—whatever it takes. I am a witness now in this moment, and a witness going forward. It just so happens that the Lord has led me down paths that have allowed me to weave together interests to serve this passion for His Kingdom and Glory.”

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