Editor’s Note: The following is from the University of South Carolina:
By Megan Sexton, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-1421
Five years ago, while he was serving his second deployment in Iraq, Alexander Nye Gutierrez would have had a difficult time imagining his life right now: A junior at the University of South Carolina who has been named a finalist for the Truman Scholarship.
Gutierrez, who is pursuing the highest degree possible from the South Carolina Honors College, will interview April 1 in Atlanta for the scholarship, one of the country’s most prestigious academic awards. The road from Washington D.C.’s Gonzaga College High School to the deserts of Iraq to the brick walkways of the USC campus has been a winding path of discovery for the 29-year-old Gutierrez.
His late father was a graduate of The Citadel, where Gutierrez also attended for one semester after he graduated from high school in 2002.
“It clearly wasn’t time for me to be in college,” Gutierrez said. “I decided I’d be better off serving some time in the armed forces first.”
So he joined the U.S. Army Reserves, and quickly found himself selected by his unit commander to go to language school. Soon he was in Iraq, working in psychological operations. Nearly three of his six years in the Reserves were spent in active duty.
Four weeks after he returned from the war in Iraq, he enrolled at USC for the spring 2009 semester, ready to put his military service behind him.
“It wasn’t the best idea. It was a very, very difficult transition,” he said. “I withdrew that semester and the next semester. I needed time to deal with what it was like to make a transition to being a civilian.”
By fall 2010, Gutierrez was back on the USC campus, ready to earn his degree. He had learned to appreciate and understand what his time in the service meant to him.
“It gives me sense of perspective on things,” he said.
He jumped into the classwork, and after his first year received an invitation to transfer into the prestigious South Carolina Honors College. He calls the experience “extraordinary,” pointing to his close relationships with advisers, small classes and challenging coursework as the reasons for his success.
Gutierrez is pursuing a Baccalaureus Artium et Scientiae (BARSC) degree – the highest possible at the university — with concentrations in Middle East studies, mathematics and international relations with a focus on security. He spent a summer working as an associate with the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) in 2012, and he continues his work as a research aide for IDA. He plans to pursue graduate degrees in mathematics/statistics and security studies, with plans to do security-related work for the government after he completes graduate school.
Next on his agenda is the interview for the Truman, a scholarship he hopes will be a perfect fit for him.
“The Truman Scholarship puts an emphasis on public service and becoming a change agent,” he said. “It’s incredibly humbling and thrilling and a little surreal to be a finalist. To be named a finalist for the state and the university, I’m very proud of that.”