Veteran undergraduates bring unique perspectives to campus

by Joey Chong | 10/11/19 2:10am

This article is featured in the 2019 Homecoming special issue.

Every fall, Dartmouth welcomes a new class comprised of mostly traditional college students: first-year students who graduated from high school just a few months before running — well, now walking — around the bonfire. However, in the new cohort of over 1,000 students, there are also the non-traditional college students. 

There is one particular group of non-traditional students we often do not remember even though they are a part of our undergraduate community — veterans. Student-veterans add a new dimension to the Dartmouth narrative, and the colors of their stories deserve to shine.

Brandyn Humberstone ’22 is a student-veteran studying engineering who served in the United States Marine Corps from 2011 to 2016. Humberstone worked as a safety equipment technician (MOS 6282) for AV-8B harriers, a USMC aircraft, focusing on ejection seats and life-support systems. His first deployment was a nine-month Marine expeditionary unit on the U.S.S. Bataan, and his second deployment was to Bahrain for seven months — all before he came to Dartmouth.

Humberstone said during his second deployment, he reached a point where he was trying to figure out what he wanted to do. After working hand-in-hand with engineers in the Marines, Humberstone thought he would give it a try. Humberstone began his college career at the University of Central Florida, where he learned about the Posse Veterans Program, which “identifies, trains, and supports veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces interested in pursuing bachelor’s degrees at top colleges and universities,” according to their mission statement.

Accepted veterans receive training prior to arriving on their college campuses and attend college with a close-knit team of veterans, or “posse.” Starting in the fall of 2016, Dartmouth began a partnership with the Posse Veterans Program, meaning the College now provides veterans in the program with funding to cover tuition. Humberstone applied to the third cohort, or Posse 3, of the Posse Veterans program, even though, in his own words, he “didn’t really know what Dartmouth was.”

“I never thought I’d be in a place like Dartmouth,” Humberstone said. “The next day, I got a call that I was admitted to Dartmouth.”

That’s when the work began. As an official member of Posse 3, Humberstone said he started his Dartmouth journey in New York City with the other nine students in the cohort for “pre-collegiate training.” 

“They became some of my best friends,” he said. 

Anthony Lenkiewicz ’22 is a fellow member of Posse 3 with Humberstone. Lenkiewicz served in the Coast Guard for six years as an information technology specialist. However, in a branch smaller than the New York Police Department, “you do a little bit of everything,” Lenkiewicz said. During his first patrol, Lenkiewicz said he helped two German nationals who were sailing but got caught in a storm in the Caribbean Sea.

Lenkiewicz viewed his service as a “stepping stone,” but he said he would have gladly continued to serve until retirement. After six years in the Coast Guard, Lenkiewicz decided to pursue his college education.

“They tried to attempt me to stay in [the Coast Guard] by dangling Hawaii over me,” Lenkiewicz said. “That would have been nice, but I knew that I wanted to go to college because I believe in a quality education.”

Lenkiewicz started with guidance from an organization called Service to School, a program that helps veterans gain admissions to universities. His mentor in the program was a member of Posse 1, which prompted him to apply to Posse 3 at Dartmouth.

While Humberstone and Lenkiewicz are members of Posse 3, Nataly De Freitas ’20 — a senior studying in Economics and English — is a member of the pilot cohort Posse 1. De Freitas was previously in the Army reserves while also working as a retail banker. In the Army Reserves, she served as a psychological operations specialist. De Freitas said. De Freitas was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, where she spent a year before returning home to Colorado. After her return, De Freitas married her husband, who is currently serving active duty.

De Freitas, Humberstone, and Lenkiewicz are all undergraduate students, and they expressed the similarities and differences between their student experiences and the experiences of traditional Dartmouth students. However, all three highlighted constant awareness of their identity as a common aspect of the student experience for veterans.

“Being a veteran [is] something you’re pretty aware of,” Lenkiewicz said. “It can be a bit of an adjustment, just because some people may see me and have questions.”

Lenkiewicz explained that students have different interactions and associations with the military, typically having varying understandings of what it means to be a veteran. Consequently, Lenkiewicz described the responsibility he feels to “paint the picture for them” through his reputation and demeanor.

De Freitas said that while she is a little older than most undergraduate students, age is only an issue if she makes it an issue. Humberstone explained that age plays a much larger role in his student experience.

“I think the biggest thing is the age gap,” Humberstone said, “Maybe the life experience — military experience — plays a role in it too, but I have a different interaction with a lot of professors than most students.”

Humberstone continued to explain that his familiarity with dealing with figures of authority and acclimation to a professional setting could be other explanations for his unique interactions with professors. When discussing interactions with other students, Humberstone said that his synergy with the wider Dartmouth community has been “positive.” Humberstone used his freshman summer as an on-term, which encouraged him to meet students who aren’t student-veterans.

“I stayed here over my freshman summer, and I was really glad that I did that,” Humberstone said. “I enjoyed interacting with the other students here. There are a lot of really smart and really talented people.”

The trio all cited clubs and student organizations as one mechanism to meet other students outside of the veteran community. According to Lenkiewicz, the Posses are pretty tight and meet a good amount, but that also each student-veteran also has their “own niche” — from involvement in the Dartmouth Outing Club to Snowboarding Club to Greek life.

As the Dartmouth community learns more about student-veterans, Lenkiewicz said he hopes that the wider student population would be “constructively engaging,” while Humberstone hopes that “students here get to see what the veteran students have to offer.”

These three stories are only the beginning of the various narratives that veterans bring to Dartmouth. 

“We’re all very, very different people,” Lenkiewicz said. “I’m afraid that sometimes a broad brush can be painted of what a veteran is and who they are. They are unique individuals.”