Veteran freshmen acclimate to civilian, academic life at Vassar

The 11 Posse scholars pose with President of the College Catharine Hill, former Dean of Freshman Ben Lotto and representatives from the Posse Foundation. This year’s scholars have served in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps. Photo By: John Abbot

The Vassar Posse Program that launched this fall was the first of its kind in the nation. Vassar, partnering with the Posse Foundation, Inc, recruits and gives full four-year scholarships to a group of 11 veterans; the first Posse veteran group have now completed their first full week of classes at Vassar.

The 11 Posse scholars pose with President of the College Catharine Hill, former Dean of Freshman Ben Lotto and representatives from the Posse Foundation. This year’s scholars have served in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps. Photo By: John Abbot
The 11 Posse scholars pose with President of the College Catharine Hill, former Dean of Freshman Ben Lotto and representatives
from the Posse Foundation. This year’s scholars have served in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps. Photo By: John Abbot.

For the 11 Posse scholars, their class responsibilities and goals are the same as any other “traditional” students. These men and women have faculty premajor advisers, as well as student fellows; many are even experiencing life in collegiate dorms.

Their arrival signals changes for the lives of the Posse scholars, the character of the student population, and–even beyond Vassar–the educational opportunities available to combat veterans.

In an online USA Today column that came out last month, Posse Scholar David Carrell explained how he became part of Vassar’s Class of 2017. Carrell became medically retired after serving in the Army for four deployments in Iraq across nine years. At that point in his life he felt like he had two choices.  He wrote in his column, “I could either stay in Texas and coast, or start my life over.”

He chose to start anew and, after receiving an Associates Degree, he applied for the Posse Program at Vassar. Carrell explained why he was interested in a small liberal-arts college like Vassar. He wrote, “[It was] because it will be the polar opposite of being a tank commander in Iraq. I will not have to live by the daily self-preservation mentality that is required of a soldier. I can explore the creative side of my personality. More importantly, my family deserves the opportunity to grow with me.”

He had said in a past interview that another one of the reasons why was interested in Vassar was because he didn’t know what he wanted to do. The generally few curricular requirements Vassar demands allows students to mix and explore with different subjects. Now that he is here he is uncommitted with respect to his major. In his first semester, though, he is taking a mix of History and Political Science courses.

The college had approached Carrell the past summer and asked him share to his story. Carrell, who had experience writing for his local paper back when he lived in Texas, accepted, and worked on the column over two months.

As to whether it was difficult to be older than most other students on campus, Carrell, who is 32, said, “Not Yet.”

He did tell a story from his first week of classes. “I walked in one day in my political science class and everyone got quiet and was, like, ‘is this the guy that is supposed to be teaching.’” Overall, though, he described the age gap as manageable. “Everyone has been supportive. If anyone asks how old I am they know about the Posse program.”

Taking his family with him to Poughkeepsie, Carrell is living off campus with wife of twelve years and their eleven-year-old daughter and a ten-year-old son. The family arrived in the summer, months before the majority of the Freshmen class did. Carrell said the adjustment has been smooth. He noted, “We’d moved a bunch of times in the military so it was nothing new to us.”

It takes, Carrell says, about 20 minutes for him to walk to campus. Other Posse scholars, however, are living right in the dorms. Mallory Tyler ’16 of Noyes is a Student Fellow of one of the Posse scholars. Tyler wrote in an emailed statement, “As soon as I got my list of my fellowee’s names, though, I suspected one of them was a Posse freshman because he had been placed in a single.”

She added that, apart from a meeting with the Posse Adviser to the veterans, former Dean of Freshman and current Professor of Mathematics Ben Lotto and Associate Director of Residential Life Terry Hanlon that detailed aspects of the program, she received no special training.

Despite various differences in age, background or personal history, the Posse scholar was no different the other members of her student fellow group. Tyler wrote, “What he needs from me as a student fellow are the same as any other freshman.”

She also describes the experience of being a positive for herself and her other fellowees. “It was really cool to have his perspective and input during different orientation events,” Tyler noted.

As Vassar’s posse program with veterans begins in earnest, others have been taking note.

Early this year, the Whitehouse’s official website picked up the news of the Vassar-Posse partnership. In a blog post, a spokesperson wrote that “Educational success continues to be a key element of ensuring our veterans continue to reach their true potential when they return home.”

Other colleges and universities have begun following in Vassar’s footsetps. Wesleyan University announced this past summer that it would be the second institution of higher-education in the country to launch a Veterans Posse Program. The university is currently receiving nominations for veterans that are considered, “leaders in their places of work, communities and families.”

Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth said in newsletter released last Monday, “We believe this group of undergraduates will add greatly to our diverse, dynamic campus, and that they will thrive in a community that values boldness, rigor and practical idealism.”

Out of this pool of hundreds of nominations, only a final group of ten to join Wesleyan’s class of 2018, Like Vassar’s program, Wesleyan will cover the posse scholars’ full cost of tuition during their four years.

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