Eli Whitney Student Profiles

What are Eli Whitney students like? This is a difficult question to answer because there is no “typical” student in the Eli Whitney Students Program. They come from all walks of life. They are entrepreneurs, community or social activists, veterans, parents, business professionals, and they range in age from mid-twenties to fifties. In addition to the profiles below, a YTV video and a Yale Herald article may provide you with a better sense of the backgrounds of some Whitney students. The descriptions below of a few current students illustrate the diversity of life experiences that Whitney students bring to the Yale community.


Upon graduation from high school, Ryan enlisted in the military. He served twelve years in the Navy, predominantly within the field of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), and has deployed to the Middle East and Afghanistan with various units including SEAL and Army Special Forces teams. In 2014, he left active duty in order to pursue a traditional liberal arts education, and applied to the Eli Whitney Students Program while attending community college in California. Ryan is currently a Political Science major at Yale, and is interested in the study of strategic and theoretical frameworks as they apply to complex phenomenon like war and political violence. He says that he feels at home surrounded by people with the same deep curiosity and thirst for knowledge as himself. Outside of the classroom, he is co-captain of Yale’s competitive powerlifting team, a volunteer ambassador to Service 2 School, and Ryan continues to serve in the Naval Reserves.


Originally from the tiny island of New Providence in The Bahamas, Wellington moved to New York in 2002. Prior to attending Yale, he co-founded a non-profit organization that delivered food to the needy and the homeless. The program has blossomed into a bustling community food pantry that serves approximately 400 individuals on a weekly basis and it has forged partnerships with larger organizations in New York City to lead the fight against hunger. Wellington transferred to the Eli Whitney Students Program from a community college and is currently studying Political Science with a research focus on Public Policy and International Human Rights. He plans to conduct research on the Coase Theorem and its application to international humanitarian intervention. Wellington is married and raising two children while being an Eli Whitney student. Of his Yale experience, Wellington says, “What I have found most special about this institution, aside from its challenging intellectual environment, is the ease with which one can form new and productive relationships. Every student and faculty member that I have come into contact is trying to be better at solving important problems, but they are also willing to help me to be better as well. This is a distinguishing characteristic of Yale that I do not take for granted.”


A native Oregonian, Frances pursued a career as an internationally certified snowboard instructor in the U.S. and in Europe after graduating from high school. When she returned to Oregon, Frances was diagnosed with brain cancer and underwent several surgeries. During the intensive rehabilitation process she began volunteering at local non-profit media and contemporary art organizations which led her to work on large-scale art installations and film projects. She later enrolled at a community college where she discovered her interest in refugee issues, particularly in the design of more humane and sustainable refugee camps and international integration policies. Frances is currently majoring in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration at Yale. She has benefited from a Yale summer course in Morocco where she was able to meet directly with organizations working with refugees and migrant communities. By complimenting her rigorous coursework with frequent excursions to New Haven’s many galleries, film screenings, and public lectures, Frances feels she is receiving an incredibly stimulating liberal arts education from which she is building a meaningful career.


A hairstylist by trade, Matthew moved to New York from Los Angeles in 2010 to build a fast-paced career on Madison Avenue. While maintaining a professional life abutting the fashion and entertainment industries, he enrolled full time at a local community college, where he earned his Associate’s degree, graduating with honors in 2014. At Yale, Matthew is pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in political science, with a focus on urban studies. Interested in marginalized communities and cities in developing countries, he has conducted field research in New Haven at the graduate-course level, spent the summer of 2015 in a research program at the University of Oxford, and undertaken a semester abroad in Buenos Aires to develop a research project for his senior thesis at Yale. He has sat on the board of the Eli Whitney Student Society and a discussion group called the Intellectual Knockers. Matthew says he is drawn to Yale’s tightknit community of engaged students because it’s an inexhaustible sounding board for ideas. 


Michael graduated from high school in 1969 but left college after two years at two different institutions. He currently juggles being a History major at Yale and being the chief executive officer of a $100-million independent book publishing firm in New York City. Michael is also on the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Academy of American Poets and chairs the Board of the National Coalition Against Censorship.  He also serves on the Board of Governors of Yale University Press.  Michael is married to a novelist and they have two children who are now older than many of his undergraduate colleagues at Yale. After an almost 40 year hiatus from higher education, in his first semester back at school he took two seminars, “Shakespeare and the Canon: Histories, Comedies, and Poems” and “Rivers: Nature and Politics” with two Sterling Professors at Yale. Michael calls Yale a “Disneyland for Brainiacs” and the Eli Whitney Students program “an experience that has changed and enriched my life.”