Malik Booker ’25 isn’t the average first-year student.
At age 26, the potential computer science and College of East Asian Studies major has already served four years with the U.S. Navy as a petty officer third class officer in San Diego, Calif. and the island of Guam. As a former hull technician, he’s a trained welder, pipefitter, and carpenter, and has experience firefighting, repairing boats, maintaining marine plumbing, operating ballast control systems, and inspecting nuclear-level materials.
But honing these skills wasn’t enough for an ideal post-military career.
“I didn’t want to be trapped into [working in the] trades forever,” Booker said. “I wanted to attend college … I wanted to study languages and have time to travel the world.”
Booker, who hails from Racine, Wis., is now among nine first-year students enrolled at Wesleyan through the Posse Veterans Scholars Program. The program identifies, trains, and supports veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces interested in pursuing bachelor’s degrees at top colleges and universities. In addition, Wesleyan provides its Posse vets with supplemental funding to cover the cost of tuition.
The eighth cohort of veteran scholars—including Booker, Carlos Ordonez; Desaree Edwards; Lamonte Lyons; Trace Forsyth; Aleck Gao; Nick Jarrett; Terrion Thirsty; and Spencer Turner—bring extensive and unique experiences to the university.
Aleck Gao of Lincoln, Neb. most recently served as a surgical technician for the U.S. Air Force. The former staff sergeant, now 28-years-old, was stationed in Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, U.K., Eglin Air Force Base in Florida; and at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. He has always wanted to attend college but wanted to gain “real-life experience” beforehand. After nine years of service, the time had come—and he chose to study economics at Wesleyan.
“I was interested in attending a small liberal arts college with an open curriculum, as well as having the opportunity to really get to know my professors and fellow students,” Gao said. “The Posse cohort model also sounded like a really unique experience. Having fellow nontraditional students around made my transition to education much easier.”
Twenty-seven-year-old Posse scholar Desaree Edwards of Carthage, Miss. joined the Wesleyan community this fall after an eight-year stint in the U.S. Navy. As a Nuclear Machinist’s Mate First Class, she was stationed on the USS FLORIDA—a guided missile submarine that was forward deployed to the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans. Her responsibilities included operating and maintaining the submarine’s nuclear propulsion plant and auxiliary support systems—and doing everything from overseeing electric power generation turbines and air conditioning equipment to maintaining systems pumps, valves, and heat exchangers.
But her biggest challenge, as one of the first enlisted women on submarines, was fighting for equal opportunities for women and bringing awareness to sexual assault prevention.
“It’s difficult to make changes as an enlisted person. The people in positions to make change were not taking the stand that needed to be taken. I’m hoping that by obtaining a college education, I can advocate for the people who can’t advocate for themselves,” Edwards said.
The Posse fellows are already diving right into Wesleyan’s robust course offerings. Booker is enjoying his Japanese class and Gao is taking the first-year seminar The Moral Basis of Politics. “It’s my first time reading books on political philosophy, and I am astounded by how deep some of the concepts are,” he said.
Edwards, who plans to pursue a major in psychology, neuroscience and behavior, or government, says her favorite class this semester is American Sign Language, where she’s learning more about the Deaf community and about the mechanics of the language.
And even with all their life experience, they’re also making the most of Wesleyan’s robust extracurricular activities. Trace Forsyth, who served the U.S. Military as an intelligence analyst, joined Wesleyan’s Old Methodist Rugby Football Club and Road to Finance Club; and Booker is now a member of the club crew team.
“[At Wesleyan] I have done all the things I didn’t expect I would do,” Booker said. “The crew team was recruiting outside of Usdan and asked me if I was interested, I thought to myself, ‘why would I want to go rowing?’ and said no. About 10 minutes later I came back outside and decided I would join and do something most veterans wouldn’t do while going back to college.”
Andrea Roberts, professor of the practice in chemistry, serves as the “Posse 8” advisor. “[The Posse Scholars] are an amazing group of people with diverse interests who are dedicated to their education and who are already getting involved on the campus,” she said. “They also enrich the Class of 2025 with their stories and backgrounds.”
Although Edwards is still getting used to the college experience, she’s looking forward to what’s to come.
“I chose Wesleyan because I saw it as a place to discover who I am outside of the military,” she said. “The open curriculum allows for academic freedom, and the diversity and inclusion on campus allows for a safe place for personal exploration.”