Posse Profiles: Ryan Poulter and Robert Mendez

Posse scholars on a tour of campus last July. photo from the Wesleyan Newsletter Blog

Posse scholars on a tour of campus last July.
photo from the Wesleyan Newsletter Blog

This is the second installment of a series of interviews getting to know the veterans in the Posse program, which helps bring veterans to schools like Wesleyan and Vassar. You can read the first installment here. The following interviews have been edited for clarity.

Ryan Poulter ’18 was kind enough to come all the way to SciLi on a Sunday to sit down for an interview with Dasha and answer some questions about his experiences as a veteran at Wes.

Can you give me an overview of your military experience?

photo courtesy of Olivia Rodrigues '18 of Method Magazine

photo courtesy of Olivia Rodrigues ’18 of Method Magazine

I joined when I was 20 as an infantryman. I went into basic training to Georgia for about 16 weeks, and then from there I went to Alaska. After Alaska I went to Iraq for 16 months, then came back to Alaska, then moved to Kansas for 16 months, and then left for Iraq again for a year. After coming back from Iraq, I was in Kansas for a couple months and then moved again to Hawaii for about a year. From there I went to Afghanistan. In total I served for eight years. At first I signed a four-year contract, but during my second tour in Iraq I had pretty much run out those years so I re-enlisted for another four.

How quick was the transition between being in the field and coming here?

Well, I got out in January of 2013 and just squared some things out back in California. [Ryan is from Pleasant Hill, CA.] Then over the summer I did the warrior scholar project at Yale, and that next fall I actually started studying at a community college while attempting to get the scholarship to come here. At the end of 2013, I got the scholarship so I finished my spring semester and over the summer I went to pre-collegiate training with Posse.

Why did you choose Wes?

It’s actually kind of a funny story. So, this scholarship is relatively new, my group is only the second to go through it, and the two options they gave us were Wesleyan or Vassar. I knew that I definitely wanted to do something with computer science and Wesleyan’s method for it seemed way better than Vassar’s so I was like, fuck Vassar. I had never even heard of Wesleyan before Posse, although some of my family members had.

What have you been involved in here?

Just the Boxing club. I don’t really have time for anything else. My weeks are just jam packed with learning. I’m taking Japanese, Computer Science, and Statistics and those three classes just take up so much of my time.

How has your Wes experience been so far academically and socially?

Academically it’s been fine. I mean it’s definitely difficult but that’s the point of this school and that’s why I’m here. Also when I was in community college I tried to take classes to prepare me for this.

Socially it can get weird. I mean I’m 30! I talk to people, and I have friends that are actual students and not just other Posse members but sometimes maturity levels are different, since I didn’t just get out of high school like a couple years ago. I have very different views about how the world works, and sometimes I don’t think like a Wesleyan student “should,” I guess. When I first got here it was pretty bad because all of us (veterans) were like unicorns. One person actually came up and asked me if I had ever killed anybody. But now it’s better.

You kind of touched on this before but what are the student/professor reactions to you being a vet?

Most people are fine. I actually don’t even talk about the military much, only when I do things like this, or someone I’ve known for awhile asks about it sometimes. Nobody really bothers me about it much.

What about the political views on campus? Have you felt weird about maybe having different views than a lot of other Wesleyan students?

I have a very soldiery view of the world. It’s not a biased or polluted view it’s more like I don’t care what everyone else might think here. That’s gotten me into trouble sometimes.

Robert Mendez ’18 sat down with kitab for an interview back in November.

photo courtesy of Olivia Rodrigues '18 of Method Magazine

photo courtesy of Olivia Rodrigues ’18 of Method Magazine

Can you give me an overview of your military experience?

I enlisted out of California when I was 18. From there I went to Virginia Beach to learn to be an intelligent analyst in the Marines. Then they sent me to my first duty station in Okinawa, Japan. I stayed in Okinawa for two years. While I was there they sent me to Afghanistan for a year. After that, my next duty station was Jacksonville, North Carolina. While I was there, we deployed on the maiden deployment for a naval ship, the U.S.S. New York. We started off the Coast of Morocco, then up to Spain, then into the Mediterranean, and then down by Yemen and Djibouti. We just sailed around the Mediterranean, then up around Bahrain, [which is] where we spent most of our time. I did that for eight months, then came back to North Carolina. And then I got out of the Marines shortly after. All together it was five years.

As an intelligence analyst, what did you do?

Most of my time was spent behind a computer, [but] while you’re in the Marines, there’s…two sides to it. There’s what you do for a job–for me that was the analyst side–then there’s all the other duties you have to take care of. Make sure all your guys are alright, all your gear is where it’s supposed to be, make sure you have everything you need–there’s just a ton of extra stuff that takes up the majority of your time. It is kind of hard to describe exactly what I did for the job specifically: a lot of it was just behind a computer, getting information on what was at the time determined to be important, and then presenting it to the commanding officer and whoever else needed it.

How quick was the transition between being in the field and coming here?

In October 2012, I was still on the naval ship…we were by Bahrain, [going through the Strait of Hormuz] in like, early October. They sent me home early and I got back to the states in late October. The day after Thanksgiving, I was out of the Marines and driving cross-country from North Carolina back to California. I got home December 3rd or something, and then a month later, January 11th , I was on the road cross-country again, moving to Boston to start community college there. So there wasn’t a lot of time.

What led you to Wes?

While I was going to community college…I was in a class called Military Before, During, and After, and it’s supposed to help veterans transition into school life [and] out of the military. While we were there we were talking about our time in service, what we did, what we went through, and then how to adjust coming out, and while in the class, the professor mentioned this program–the Posse program–which provided this amazing opportunity to vets, and she encouraged me to apply. Initially I didn’t really want to, but she sat me down and said, “Okay, you have to do this, otherwise I’m gonna fail you.” So I was like, okay, I’ll apply. Yeah, so I applied to Posse and the professor [let] me know that they were partnered with Vassar and Wesleyan, that both are really great schools and hopefully I can get into Wesleyan. And so I just super worked for it and did what she told me to do and I got past one interview, past the next, made it to the final one, got through that one and got accepted here and it was great!

What are you studying here? Do you know?

I’m not set yet, but ideally I would like to study government and get the international relations certificate.

What have you been involved in since being here?

Right now I’m in WesInterpreters. I’m mainly doing that to practice my Spanish, because I haven’t had much opportunity to keep up with my Spanish, especially [during] my time in the marines I didn’t really keep it up, and then here I’m taking a Japanese class, so it’s like I have no time to practice Spanish. And it’s also nice–they’re doing some good things for the community so it’s nice to be a part of that. As far as [other] extracurriculars, that’s pretty much all I’m doing right now because I don’t feel like I can handle anything else. The course work here is–and trying to adjust to that right now is–intense. I haven’t taken a math class since like, junior year–and I graduated high school in 2007. I’m taking Japanese, International Politics, Understanding the Arab Spring, and a Computing Privacy and Security class.

How has your Wes experience been so far?

Like I said it’s been a little tough to adjust because, [there are] different kinds of people, but everyone’s really open and really accepting so that’s great. Sometimes it is a little harder to make friends because of the age gap, but I mean, I [also] have the guys here, the veterans. And I like school: the professors are great, they really care about you–if you miss a class they’re like, hey why weren’t you in class earlier? [or they’ll] email you right away.

We’re trying to promote our Posse-Plus Retreat on February 27 to March 1. Wesleyan pays to take about a hundred of us–Posse scholars, Wesleyan students and faculty–for a retreat. It’s an annual Posse program, I think forty-something schools to go to several locations to all discuss a single topic and when everything is done they compile it to see what college kids are interested in. This year we’re going to be talking about race, power, and authority. (Editor’s note: Here’s a form you can fill out to be added to the retreat waitlist.)