This year’s cohort of transfer students at Pomona College includes four veterans of the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force. They bring with them formative life experiences and a deep sense of gratitude and purpose in being here.
Like other Pomona students, they were drawn to the school by its small size and liberal arts curriculum—seeking to major in various subjects such as politics, biology and mathematics—but unlike traditional students, they are older and more seasoned. They hope their experiences will contribute meaningfully to the Pomona community.
Isaiah Orlando Escobar ’25
Escobar hails from Camden, New Jersey, from “humble beginnings,” he says.
After graduating from high school, Escobar didn’t feel ready to attend a four-year university. Joining the military helped him “learn how to be independent”: to pay his own bills, to live away from friends and family. It was a challenging time, but he reflects, “Sometimes the only way to grow in life is to go through obstacles.”
Escobar served as a crew chief and a paralegal in the Air Force for four years, the first two in North Carolina and the latter two in Okinawa, Japan.
His experience in the military provided him perspective more than anything else. After having the lives of pilots in his hands as a jet mechanic, “studying for a test or a quiz doesn’t faze me,” Escobar says of being a student now. He also learned to prioritize being a team player: “learning how to work as a group and be a cohesive unit.”
He chose Pomona because he wanted to be in California and study at a school with a strong international student presence. As an intended politics major, Escobar values students’ diverse perspectives.
After graduating, Escobar hopes to attend law school and work as a lawyer before running for political office. “There are people out there who are struggling right now,” he says. “I want to represent the constituents who are not doing so well. I want to be an advocate for bold, progressive change.”
Josh Feng ’25
Feng arrives at Pomona from Las Vegas, Nevada, after applying in 2000 when he graduated from high school (and not being accepted). He was admitted to all the service academies, however, and enrolled at West Point. During training, he injured his knee and needed to undergo surgery, forcing his withdrawal.
After three years of intensive physical therapy, he reenlisted in the Army for a four-year period.
He then worked as a poker dealer and a valet in Las Vegas and a corrections officer for several years. He reenlisted once more for another four-year period, after which he worked for a non-profit organization serving soldiers leaving deployment with PTSD.
At that point, a friend introduced him to a non-profit called Service to School, which provides free college and grad school application counseling to veterans. “I was kind of lost, and they guided me through the application,” Feng says.
Feng attended College of Southern Nevada for a year to “brush up on academics” and this fall begins as a sophomore at Pomona.
“I never imagined that 20 plus year later I’d be at Pomona,” Feng says.
Feng says he has been “integrated immediately” into the community here, thanks especially to the transfer student sponsor group.
Feng is considering majoring in politics and working as a consultant or teacher in the future. “Working with people brings me a lot of joy,” he says.
Kimin Han ’24
Han, from Pasadena, California, is also a veteran of the Army. He was stationed in South Korea for one year and in Barstow, California, for three years, serving as a medic.
Being in the military taught him discipline and grit, Han says. Prior to that, he says, “I was a poor student.” His four years of service also broadened his perspectives. “The Army helped me expand my world in terms of interacting with different people,” he says.
Last year, Han focused on biology and chemistry courses at Pasadena City College (PCC), but it was in a jazz course that the professor, Barb Catlin, introduced him to Pomona. In addition to teaching at PCC, Catlin also directs the Pomona College Jazz Ensemble.
The proximity of Pomona’s campus to home was a big draw for Han. He was also compelled by alumna Jennifer Doudna ’85 receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020.
At Pomona, Han has felt “very included.” “I learn a lot from the students,” he adds.
He recently began working in the lab of Professor of Biology Daniel Martinez, and Han’s hope is to earn a Ph.D. and pursue a career as a researcher in medical biology.
“It’s very interesting to see how these little molecules work and how they can affect your health,” Han says.
Brandon Lau ’24
Lau, from South San Gabriel, California, has served in the Marine Corps, both in the reserves and on active duty.
After a year of training, Lau attended Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) in Walnut, California. He was then deployed for a year and then returned to Mt. SAC, earning his associate degree.
When considering which college to transfer to, being close to family was a top priority, especially having ventured far from them during his service. Lau discovered that Mt. SAC has an arrangement with Pomona College and added it to his list.
Lau is still on reserve while a student at Pomona, which means once every other month he will head to the field for four to five days with his infantry battalion. The plan is to stay ahead on his schoolwork in anticipation of these assignments.
“It really is hard finding balance,” Lau says. Because of the challenges he faces, he is especially grateful for the other new veterans here. “We’re all really close,” he says. “We always joke around.” Returning from an assignment recently, he was able to walk across the hall and talk to Han, without needing to explain what he had been doing.
Lau is planning on majoring in mathematics and working as an actor in the future. He has already worked on a few productions, most recently as a cop investigator and a Japanese gangster in the movie “Bullet Train.”
“I love the storytelling aspect and the educational aspect of film,” Lau says. “It’s really in the film industry where you can have that creativity and flexibility.”
Veterans who are interested in Pomona College can find information on our veterans admissions webpage.