Bachelor of Arts, Cognitive Science ‘20—expected
With experience as a military intelligence analyst and a recent internship with the FBI, Ryan Stevenson’s career prospects are bright. But he’s keeping his options open as he completes his Bachelor of Arts at Penn, taking classes in areas such as cognitive science, economics and German while deciding on a major. For Ryan, the benefit of a liberal arts education is the ability to take a broad-minded, well-rounded approach to any issue. “If you focus on one topic, you see the small picture,” he explains. “Whereas if you are exposed to a variety of different perspectives, it changes the way you look at problems and you can communicate better with people who have different opinions.”
Ryan traveled around the world during his military service, and credits the breadth of his global experiences with his decision to get a bachelor’s degree. To prepare for college, Ryan participated in the Warrior-Scholar Project—“essentially academic boot camp to help veterans transition from the military into academia”—during which Ivy League professors and PhD candidates taught critical writing skills and tools like “ninja reading” to help students tackle college-level assignments. For Ryan, the program gave him a taste of both the challenges and the rewards he could expect from a liberal arts education. “In philosophy class, we read Plato’s Allegory of the Cave,’” he recalls, “and at the end of it every single person was flabbergasted.” The impression lasted: after submitting their final papers, the student veterans found themselves arguing over Plato at a college bar well into the night. “I thought, ‘Okay, this is the college experience I want,’” laughs Ryan.
He encourages fellow returning students to understand that it takes time to get used to assignments and homework, but to leave time to go to the gym, join clubs and meet new people—particularly other non-traditional students. “I have a friend who was in the Swedish military, and another friend who served in the Korean military and some friends who took time off or worked in military service before coming back to school,” he says. “So we bond over that, we have our own little support group.”
Ryan will be the first in his family graduate college. “I never in my life thought I’d be at an Ivy League school,” he says. “But here I am. It’s not out of reach if you put your mind to it.”