Oakton alum, veteran strives to be the best he can be
Oakton Community College alumnus Haris Gargovic (2018) went from the few and the proud to becoming a future biologist. A former Marine, Gargovic is currently striving to be his best as an undergraduate research fellow at Yale Medical School, majoring in molecular biology.
During his senior year at Niles West High School (2014), a school newspaper reporter asked Gargovic why he was joining the Marines. He answered, "Why wouldn't you want to be the best?"
This question continues to drive his life.
Gargovic was taught from an early age to be grateful for life in the U.S. His parents and older sibling left Montenegro to escape the violence and economic devastation that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia.
When it came time to decide what to do after high school, his decision to enter the Marines was a way to pay his family's gratitude forward. It also was a way to avoid becoming a financial burden on his parents.
In the Marine Corps, Gargovic specialized in demolition and IED detection, distinguished himself as a leader with a promotion to sergeant and was awarded the Good Conduct Medal. However, it was his training in SCUBA that opened his eyes to a potential new career.
"I became captivated by sea life and wanted to study marine biology," he said.
After taking a biology course while still enlisted, he discovered that the living world you cannot see was even more fascinating.
Following his four-year enlistment, Gargovic enrolled in the Warrior-Scholar Project, which was like boot camp for learning the skills he would need in college before enrolling at Oakton. The program was at the Yale campus. Gargovic fell in love with the place, vowing he would somehow make his way back.
At first, college was a challenging transition. Having not taken a math course in four years, Gargovic attempted the entrance exam three times before he scored high enough to start in pre-calculus. His Oakton counselor, Brooke Roche, told him not to get discouraged.
Roche, a dedicated counselor for veterans, also helped Gargovic meet others and get involved with Oakton's Veterans Club, where he became vice president.
"Brooke wouldn't let me sell myself short," Gargovic said. "For returning vets who may feel out of place in classrooms with recent high school graduates, the Veterans Club makes sure you meet other people with similar experiences. And my biology instructor, James Thorson, also an active duty veteran, really understood where I was coming from."
After four semesters at Oakton, Gargovic had a 4.0 GPA. He learned about the Research Experience for Veteran Undergraduates (REVU), a nine-week summer research experience at Yale University that immerses a select group of vets in the scientific life.
He applied and was accepted. In the meantime, he applied to several transfer schools. He was soon accepted to Columbia University-New York, the place he assumed he would attend. A few weeks later, however, Yale accepted him with a full scholarship.
"I didn't even need to tap into my G.I. benefits," Gargovic said.