Student Spotlight 22′: Greg Sanchez, U.S. Navy

We would love to get to know you better, so please tell us about yourself.

I am from Southern California, specifically the Inland Empire, where I have spent much of my life. I currently reside in Hemet, CA. I served in the U.S. Navy as a machinist’s mate, and my calling to serve in the military resulted from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I had just graduated high school and was working odd jobs while attending community college when the attacks occurred. I was already considering serving in the military, but the outcome of that day thrust me forward into serving my country. 

An interesting fact about myself is that I am a graduate of Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) in Riverside, CA. I struggled and stumbled after military service, but the court gave me a second chance. They ensured I got the help I needed rather than have me serve a prison sentence. While going through VTC, I took my mental health seriously, which helped me return to community college. It is here where I unpacked my true calling of helping others.

One way I help others is by serving as the student veteran representative for the diversity council, where I act as a voice for veterans regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. I am also the president of a student-led organization that supports formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students called the Underground Scholars Initiative.  

What was your educational background prior to attending WSP, and which of our courses did you attend? 

Before attending the WSP humanities course this past summer at the University of Pennsylvania, I had already completed my community college honors program. During this program, I completed five faculty-mentored research papers and graduated in 2019 with three associate degrees. In 2020, I transferred to the University of California, Riverside (UCR), where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree. 

While at UCR, I was selected as one of fourteen undergraduates to be a 21’-22’ Chancellor’s Research Fellow. I conducted a year-long faculty-mentored independent research project and completed a two-quarter senior thesis project. UCR is a large academic research institution with a rigorous academic curriculum, and I have been privileged to present my work at various levels. 

Why did you decide to participate in WSP this summer, and was there a shift in your confidence level from the first day of the course to the last day? 

It was a serendipitous occurrence. I was looking to get involved with a different veteran’s organization when a misstep in my typing populated Warrior-Scholar Project in my Google search. Although I was about to finish my bachelor’s degree, I still saw value in attending WSP. I felt the program would offer something unique to my academic experience, mainly because I would be in a classroom of only veterans and active duty service members. Also, the stipend made the choice a no-brainer. If it weren’t for the financial assistance, I wouldn’t have attended WSP. Thank you tremendously to the donors who made that happen!

Even though I went to college for nearly four years, I still had reservations. I knew I would survive the rigorous academic week, but I was worried about being in a classroom rich in military culture. I go to college with over 200 student veterans, but we are rarely in the same classroom. Being out of the military for 15 years and interacting with a younger generation made me nervous. This was absolved rather quickly as the WSP Fellows were professional, kind, humble, and exhibited a sincere desire for growth in academia. I am now thrilled to call each of them a friend. 

When I left Upenn, my confidence was through the roof. Although I successfully pursued my undergrad, I never considered applying to an Ivy League school for my graduate degree because imposter syndrome had hit me hard. My experience at UPenn helped me find confidence in knowing that I can survive and thrive at an Ivy League institution and that I am needed there. I am excited to say that I have reset the bar for graduate schools that I will be applying to this cycle.

What were some key insights you gained during your courses, and what is your biggest takeaway? 

My biggest takeaway is that civic service is a fundamental necessity for American democracy to work, and to be of service is to position the greater good of society before self. Ensuring all members of the American mosaic are represented democratically and equally moves forward our campaign to form a “more perfect union.” This endeavor depends on all members of the American fabric to participate in civic service. Indeed, for a democratic republic to function effectively and equitably, “We the People” are responsible for the well-being of one another. 

My time at UPenn empowered me with a rich sense of confidence in knowing that the enlisted veteran’s voice unequivocally needs to be present in higher education classrooms. Being part of a community and engaging in thought-provoking conversations with my cohort inspired me to pivot away from my earlier plans of pursuing a Ph.D. in History and instead pursue professional degrees in public policy and law. This is just one example of the exemplary power of WSP.

In one word, how would you describe your overall experience?

Fulfilling!

*View Greg’s LinkedIn profile here.