This academic year marks the beginning of the University’s partnership with the Posse Foundation. Ten veterans of the United States Armed Forces are now members of the freshman class, attending Wesleyan on a four-year scholarship.
The Posse Foundation supports students who may have been overlooked by the traditional college selection process and provides them with a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to a partner institution.
Vice President for Equity and Inclusion/Title IX Officer Antonio Farias is responsible for overseeing the work done with the Posse partnership. He expressed his excitement for these students to be at the University.
“These individuals are hyper-prepared,” Farias said. “They went through the same stringent admission process [as other students did]. They are fully qualified to succeed.”
Individuals must have not already achieved their B.A. in order to qualify as a Posse Scholar. However, some veterans do have some college background from before, during, or after service.
Last year, Vassar was the first institution to take part in this partnership. Farias explained that though some issues arose, for the most part, the partnership was a success.
“Vassar was very successful,” Farias said. “It was a learning opportunity for everybody because these are nontraditional students coming into traditional bounds.”
In order to select the veterans, the individuals went through a rigorous screening process. In the end, the University selected nine men and one woman, all of whom are post-9/11 veterans. Some are athletes, some are musicians, and others are avid outdoorsmen.
Farias expressed optimism that they will find their niche at the University.
“Most liberal arts schools are struggling to bring in veterans,” Farias said. “For us, it’s critical. Our goal is to train future leaders of democracy. These are some leaders that just had a different trajectory.”
The Posse students have a faculty mentor, Professor of Classical Studies Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, who is responsible for remaining with the students for two years. He will meet with them as a group at least once every two weeks.
“[I chose to be faculty mentor] after I was invited to the reception last year and I met them,” Szegedy-Maszak said. “That’s what really did the job for me. It was meeting the group…. I’m really pleased and proud we are doing this. I’m glad to be doing this.”
In addition, the Posse was required to go to a five-week, eight-hours-per-day pre-collegiate training session in New York. There, they completed various workshops on everything from time management to more delicate issues of psychological and emotional stability. Following that, Szegedy-Maszak and the Posse attended a three-day retreat at a YMCA.
Szegedy-Maszak emphasized that although these students are older and have had experiences that other students have not, they remain similar to the rest of the freshman class.
“They will be living all over campus in singles,” Szegedy-Maszak said. “One of the hopes is to integrate them into the student community…. They are very interested in economics, government, sciences—all the liberal arts things.”
Farias agreed, adding that this is a different experience for not only the veterans, but also for students at the University. He raised the question of how the University, diverse in and of itself, will engage with the emergence of this prominent group of new students.
Furthermore, according to Farias, one of the main goals for these students will be to get their feet under themselves this year, and then branch out.
“I use the metaphor of an accordion,” Farias said. “They are a posse and [they’re] tight, but the expectation is they’ll expand. And as they expand, all other students and faculty will blend into the accordion middle of spring semester.”
During the spring semester, there will be a Posse retreat. This retreat will allow the Posse, as well as 90 of their closest friends, to go off campus to a retreat area. Part of their leadership challenge this year will be to assemble those 90 students.
“What’s the point in coming to a place like Wesleyan if you’re not going to take advantage of the things?” Farias asked. “…The military taught them to rise up to challenges. They are wired as vets that have a mission, and that mission is to thrive at Wesleyan.”
Farias and Szegedy-Maszak have hopes that the Posse partnership will increase the number of institutions it works with. The intention is that the institutions that are participating will continue to take 10 more Posse scholars each year.
“The first semester will be the most challenging because of acclimating and the sense of anxiety of ‘can I succeed here?’” Farias said. “It’s a brand new adventure for them. They aren’t going to fail—that’s a given—but when they stumble, like any other student, we have support services they have the ability to take advantage of. The goal is to allow them to be students…Let’s see how much Wesleyan lives up to its inclusive philosophy.”
Szegedy-Maszak seemed confident that the University will continue to bring back these students in the following years.
“These folks…are just terrific,” Szegedy-Maszak said. “I can’t describe it. They’re tough, they’re smart, and they’re funny as hell. They are very eager to make the most of being here. Having been in the military, the overarching slogan is ‘get-it-done’…and here their principal of getting it done is academics.”