When the Class of 2017 arrives on campus to begin orientation on August 27, they will be joined by 11 veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, the first in a brand new partnership with the Posse Foundation. It is the first program of its kind at Vassar and in the country.
The Posse Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in New York, is dedicated to recruiting students from populations under-represented in the country’s top schools. The Foundation selectively recruits and sends groups of 10 to 12 high school graduates to its 44 partnering colleges or universities. This group goes together and functions as a support network in what can be an unfamiliar and alienating environment for working-class or first-generation college students.
Posse Founder and President Deborah Bial explained the effectiveness of the Posse model. “It’s so simple this idea of a team of young people going together to the same college or university could not only back each other up but really be a powerful positive influence on a community on campus,” said Bial.
The issue of veteran outreach has been an important one for the school’s administration. On April 11, President Catherine Hill wrote an opinions piece in the Wall Street Journal encouraging elite private colleges and universities to actively recruit more veterans.
Hill wrote, “These young men and women have already made a difference to their country and have demonstrated their willingness to serve others. For that, they deserve a chance at all of America’s institutions of higher education” (“Top Colleges, Please Recruit More Veterans”).
However, according to Dean of Freshmen Benjamin Lotto, Vassar found little luck with veterans.
Said Lotto, “Other schools like us were having immense trouble communicating with and attracting veterans, explaining why a liberal arts education is an attractive thing for some of the veterans out there. We just weren’t able to connect.”
The partnership with the Posse Foundation seeks to fix this issue. Posse provides outreach, gathering a group of applicants, while Vassar covers the remaining cost of tuition left after federal government education subsidies for veterans. The veterans’ scholarship will carry on throughout their education here. The College has agreed to a minimum trial period, where each year for five years Vassar will welcome a new group of 10 or so veterans.
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid David Borus has met with the veterans and said that they share in the school’s excitement to begin this the fall.
“These are folks who are seeing this as a golden opportunity for them. Something that can literally change their lives in a positive fashion,” said Borus.
Army Staff Sgt. David Carrell, from Copperas, Texas and who has been in the military for 11 1/2 years and served in four tours of duty—a total of 49 months—in Iraq, is a 2017 Vassar Posse Veteran Scholar.
Once Carrell had planned on spending 20 years in the Army, retiring and transitioning into becoming a contractor for private security. When a Humvee wreck injured to his back, requiring surgery and forcing him into medical retirement from the Army, Carrell had to reassess which direction he wanted take with his life.
The Wounded Warriors Project nominated Carrell, who is 32 and has two children, for Vassar’s Veterans Posse Program. Figuring he had nothing to lose, Carrell decided to take the next step and apply. In December 2012 he met with President Hill, Dean Borus and other members of the college’s administration for a group interview. He was accepted that same night.
Carrell said, “[It was important for me to go] someplace that gives you the flexibility to take all different kinds of classes and meet all kinds of different kinds of people.”
Lotto will be working with Carrell and the ten other veterans as their faculty mentor during their freshmen and sophomore years. In these first two pivotal years Lotto plans on being attentive to the feelings and needs of the Scholars as they are adapting into Vassar life given their uncommon circumstances.
Lotto expects one difficulty could be the age difference between the scholars, who range from ages 26 to 35, and the typical Vassar student. Said Lotto, “They’re not 18 to 22 year-olds. Negotiating the age difference can be something that I can anticipate could be one thing that none, one, some, all of them could be concerned with.” Lotto is currently helping to find housing for veterans. Though they will still be part of a student fellow group, some veterans, including Carrell will be living off campus.
Borus, meanwhile, believes that these differences could actually serve to enhance learning at Vassar.
“It will add one more perspective in the classroom,” Borus said.
In fact, Carrell also expressed how he too hopes to gain a new perspective from Vassar and his fellow students after having spent so much of his life in the Army.
Carrell noted, “You do the same thing for so long and you live in the same place for so long you get a distorted perception on everything. In the military that’s the same way.”