Vassar has admitted a group of ten women and men to form the college’s third cohort of veteran students as part of the Posse Veterans Program, which the college launched in 2011 with the New York City-based Posse Foundation. Gina Castillo (Roslyn, NY), Gaven Eier (Bethesda, MD), Comus Harman IV (Van Nuys, CA), Alexander Hardy (Orlando, FL), Cody Harmon (District Heights, MD), Rene Herrera (Freeport, NY), Tameka Jones (Gardner, MA), Joshua Maxwell (Fayetteville, NC), Gino Ruiz (Brooklyn, NY), and Janine Smith (Tampa, FL) will join their fellow first-year students when the Class of 2019 begins matriculating this fall.
At a recent ceremony in New York welcoming the new students, Janine Smith remarked, “I was admittedly lost when I left the Army. I never could have imagined I would be here today.” Later, Rene Herrera’s sister stood up and reflected on the two tours of duty her brother served in Afghanistan. Then she tearfully exclaimed, “And now he’s here.”
Collectively these new Vassar students served in the Army, Navy, Navy Reserve, and Marine Corps, and they include recipients of the Purple Heart, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with V (for valor), Army commendation and achievement medals, and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service medal. More than one had repeat deployments in Afghanistan. One was named Soldier of the Year among more than 3,000 peers at the brigade level, for both her duties in fiber optic communications and her service connecting fellow soldiers with the community neighboring their overseas post. Nearly all ten veterans have college or university experience, including several who are currently excelling at community colleges.
The selected students were among over 600 applicants for the Veterans Posse Program, up more than 400 from the previous year. Ten additional veterans from this applicant pool will begin attending Wesleyan University this fall, with Wesleyan having joined the Posse program the previous year. Dartmouth College recently announced it will be the third school in the program, and will enroll its first veterans in the fall 2016 semester.
Family members and friends accompanied the veterans at the recent New York ceremony, which was also attended by Vassar president Catharine Hill, William Plapinger, chair of the Vassar Board of Trustees (and a member of the Posse Foundation board), Posse Foundation president Deborah Bial, Wesleyan and Posse officials, veterans who currently attend Vassar and Wesleyan, and other well-wishers.
“Wholeheartedly take advantage of this opportunity,” urged Vassar sophomore Eduardo de la Torre, a member of the college’s first veterans cohort, to his fellow vets. Moreover, “Don’t forget to be who you are, don’t just blend in,” advised de la Torre, who is majoring in Science, Technology, and Society with a correlate sequence in quantitative economics.
The first-of-its-kind Posse Veterans Program aims to increase the number of veterans who attend and graduate from selective U.S. colleges and universities. In 2012 President Hill called Posse president Deborah Bial to suggest the idea of partnering on a veterans admission program. An initial agreement was reached only two weeks later. “Nothing in higher education has that kind of timeline,” remarked Hill at the ceremony. Added Bial, “That phone call felt like the first moments when Posse was just getting started.”
Since 1989 the Posse Foundation has gained wide regard for finding and preparing promising students from diverse urban backgrounds to attend selective colleges in cohort groups, inspired by the experience of a student who said, “I never would have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me.”
Based on this successful cohort model, veterans are brought together as first-year students in a small, mutually supportive group, a “posse,” with each student also receiving academic preparation before starting college and continued faculty mentoring once enrolled. To guarantee a full scholarship for every veteran selected to attend the college, Vassar is providing its own financial aid to supplement the funds available to vets through the federal GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon program.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.