Haris Gargovic ‘18

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From the few, the proud … to a laboratory at Yale University, Haris Gargovic continues striving to be the best.

During his senior year at Niles West (2014), Haris was asked by a school newspaper reporter why he was joining the Marines.  He answered, “Why wouldn’t you want to be the best?”

This question continues to drive his life.

Haris 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.  So 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 was also a way to avoid becoming a financial burden on his parents.

In the Marine Corps, Haris 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 possibility for a new career direction.

“I became fascinated by sea life and wanted to study marine biology,” he says. After taking a biology course while still enlisted, he discovered, “The living world you can’t see was even more fascinating!”

After completing his four-year enlistment, Haris 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, and Haris 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, Haris 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 Haris meet others and get involved with the Oakton’s Veterans Club where he became vice president.

“Brooke wouldn’t let me sell myself short,” Haris explained.

“For returning vets who may feel out of place in classrooms with recent high school graduates, the Veteran’s 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,” said Haris.

After four semesters at Oakton, Haris 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. He assumed he would go there, but a few weeks later Yale accepted him with a full scholarship.

“I don’t even need to tap into my G.I. benefits,” Haris said gladly. 

Today Haris is an undergraduate research fellow at Yale Medical School and is majoring in molecular biology.