Veteran Owls: Two students talk undergraduate life after the military
Photo courtesy Jose Soliz and Thomas Avalos
Rice prides itself on its unconventional students, including the non-standard paths that many of them take to get here. For some Owls, that path includes military service before returning to the classroom — years of life experience that provide them with a unique perspective on our college campus.
Jones College junior Jose Soliz said the residential college system was one of the reasons he wanted to apply to Rice as it reminded him of his time in the military.
“In the military, you have these small companies and battalions. They have their own unique traditions, their history and their background stories, which is the same thing with each residential college,” Soliz said. “At the end of the day, we are all part of the same team.”
Soliz transferred to Rice this semester. An entirely online Orientation Week followed by two weeks of remote learning meant his visit to campus two weeks ago was his first since he was accepted. Soliz said besides exploring Jones’ off-campus lounge, he went on a short tour and had a meal from North servery.
“I found the off-campus lounge [at Jones], which was great to have. I don’t live on campus, but it’s nice to have a place I can go, throw my bags down and hang out for a little bit in between classes,” Soliz said.
The 40-year-old business major said age doesn’t matter to him when it comes to socializing.
“The most unique benefit [of any university experience] is building a network of diverse people, so I haven’t really given any thought to how old someone is,” Soliz said. “At Rice, we get to meet a bunch of diverse people from different backgrounds. The one commonality is that we’re all intelligent.”
Dec. 1 is decision day for spring transfers. Soliz said that before decisions came out, he took a day off from work to visit campus and imagine himself as a student. When he got home, though, he found out his youngest son had gotten injured and thus took him to the hospital. He put a pause on Rice’s admission decision to take care of his family.
“So here I am … in the ER, and I have this email from Rice saying my decision letter is in,” Soliz said.
Soliz said that later that night, once his son was all right, he finally opened the email and learned about his acceptance.
“Your heart skips a beat. Even for someone who’s older, this stuff is a big deal,” he said.
Soliz said he reached out to Thomas Avalos, another student who was in the military before coming to Rice, after watching a video interview Avalos did for Rice.
“We connected over LinkedIn pretty quickly,” Soliz said. “He was the first person [I reached out to], maybe the only one I can think of … because we had that military connection. He was a big advocate of me accepting [Rice’s offer of admission].”
Soliz said he enjoys the way the professors engage their students in conversation, and also that interacting with other Rice students has been one of the best parts of his experience so far.
“I feel like I am a fly on the wall, getting to sit back and observe the next generation of people,” he said. ”Learning what matters to [the younger generation] will make me a better leader in the future.”
Soliz said he considers himself someone who is bridging a generation gap as a result.
“I’m taking in … what issues matter to the people in this age range,” Soliz said. “When I go back to the corporate world, I can take note of what matters to them.”
Thomas Avalos, a 32-year-old Lovett College junior, was drawn to Rice by its outstanding sports management program and tight-knit community.
“I originally knew that I wanted to get into sports, I had looked at other schools, and I had noticed that Rice had the best sport management program out there,” he said. “Rice was kinda like a pipe dream. I honestly didn’t think that I was gonna have the academics to get in, but when I did, it was an absolute no-brainer.”
Avalos transferred to Rice mid-year, in the spring of 2021. After his virtual O-Week had ended, Avalos wanted to experience an in-person hallmark of Rice O-Week: matriculation. He said Chloe Oani, the Lovett president at the time, supported the new Lovetteers like him.
“[Oani] made it a point to get the magister there,” Avalos said. “She showed up with the Lovett colors, the flag and whatnot, and there were a couple of students, too, to help walk us through the Sallyport. It was really cool to have that as my first experience at Rice. That was when I knew that Rice was going to be totally different than anything else I had done.”
Avalos said he embraced being older than average on campus. His first semester in the spring, he tried his best to participate in many social events and activities hosted by his residential college, such as Lovett’s Fun Fridays and flag football team. However, his full schedule last fall made staying involved more challenging.
“This past semester, I tried to do more [extracurriculars], but I was just so busy,” Avalos said. “I also have a full-time job, and I just got another job on top of that, so it was very, very busy.”
The pandemic has also made it difficult to get involved, according to Avalos: his flag football games were canceled due to COVID-19 precautions, for instance.
“Coronavirus and this whole pandemic has changed everyone’s … interactions, and you have to accept that sometimes plans don’t work out,” Avalos said.
According to Avalos, his favorite experiences at Rice so far have been in the classroom.
“The very first time I stepped foot in a classroom, and realized that this is my school now, it really meant a lot to me,” Avalos said. “I really try to engage my classmates in conversations when we are talking in class. I am super interested in hearing what anyone at Rice has to say.”
He said he enjoys talking with his classmates because it broadens his point of view.
“I come from a background where kids were supposed to be looked at, not heard,” Avalos said. “When I graduated high school, I joined the Marines, where it was just the exact same thing … Here at Rice, students feel so empowered to stand up for what they think is right, and that’s something that … fascinates me.”
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