Student takes road less traveled

By The Beacon | September 5, 2013 1:29am

By Megan Lester|

From dancing onstage in Vancouver, to teaching combat medicine in Kuwait, 27-year -old Rick Sander’s journey to UP has been anything but traditional.

He’s a dancer and a veteran. He’s gay and a Christian. He’s a traveler and part of the three percent of non-traditional students at UP. This sophomore has brought with him a wealth of knowledge and experience—the least of which being how to make a great Shiraz.

Don’t ask don’t tell: from the military to UP

Sander was a corpsman in the U.S.Navy for five years, part of which was spent in the Middle East training allied militaries. During his time deployed, shifts occurred in the U.S. military, one that affected Sander personally in September 2011.

“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed while I was deployed actually,” Sander said. “People were encouraged if not forced to hide their sexuality. When that was repealed there was a lot of pushback from the marines. It’s really hard to incorporate those kinds of changes in that kind of atmosphere…it changed a lot of things in my life.”

While some men serving with Sander came out after the repeal, Sander struggled about disclosing his sexuality, knowing it might alienate marines under his medical care.

“It’s kind of a fine balance,” Sander said. “You want to be yourself…and have the rights you deserve, but at the same time you want to be able to do your job efficiently and effectively.”

Despite some of the tension these issues brought to the forefront of military life, Sander is happy to have served when he did.

“I’m glad I was in when I was. To see all that unfolding first hand was pretty incredible,” Sander said.

During Sander’s freshman year at UP, gay social rights became an issue again, this time in a university setting.

“The Redefine Purple Pride movement. I participated in that—got my picture on the front page of The Beacon holding the banner and everything,” Sander said. “It was an environment that I was kinda used to in the military— I just felt more open to stand up and say something [this time] where as in the military I didn’t have the grounds to stand up like that and so here it felt good to finally say something.”

A life at the ballet

Before his time in the military, Sander was actively involved with dance. He attended the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics in middle school and some of high school before joining a professional dance company.

“My mom got me into [dance],” Sander said. “She was with a small dance ensemble and she injured herself right before a performance. I was always fascinated by [dance], watching her practice and everything— she hurt herself before the show and I was like, ‘I can learn it! Yeah, let me do it!’ She taught me and it was kind of a fun Segway into dance. And then I just got really into it.”

After years of dancing, Sander joined Northern Lights, a professional dance company that did competitions all over the country.

It wasn’t until 2007, when Northern Lights Dance Company folded, that Sander pursued serving in the armed forces.

“Once that company folded I was kind of thrown out in the world,” Sander said. “I knew I wanted to do something in the healthcare profession. My mom was in the medical field and I thought [the military] was a great way to get the necessary education, so I enlisted.”

From real world to the college life

After his deployment ended, Sander returned home, intent on going to college. He was able to enroll at UP by utilizing the post 9/11 G.I. Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program. Sander entered college as a 26 year old freshman and jumped right in to study abroad.

“I just got back from the Salzburg program—that was incredible,” Sander said. “It was a great experience. With all the travels in the military and everything I still had not been to Europe!”

In Salzburg, Rick grew well acquainted with his professor, and biology department chair Jacquie Van Hoomissen.

“This summer my youngest son Noah, who is seven years old, looked up to Rick as his ‘big brother’ while we were all traveling together in Salzburg,” Van Hoomissen said. “Noah followed Rick everywhere…Rick was such a great sport.  He smiled and let Noah follow him around like a little, ‘mini-me.’ He even agreed to race the kids to the park so they could try to beat him.”

Sander now spends his time as an average college student. He’s living on Willamette, studying biology in hopes of becoming an oncologist and running in Portland. Sander still pursues some non-traditional hobbies, though. He does active reserve regularly on Swan Island and makes his own wine. Sander even learned how to brew beverages that don’t cause regret the next morning.

“You can get hangovers because of the sulfites that you add to [red wine], so sometimes I just won’t add the sulfites and you can drink all you want and not have the repercussions of the hangover,” Sander said.

For more information about The Yellow Ribbon Program, and other assistance for veterans, contact Dan Herman in the Office of Financial Aid at