In the six years since he’s graduated from Central High School, Matthew Baroncelli has traveled the world as a U.S. Marine, completed humanitarian work, done research in South America, earned 30 credits at Laurel Ridge and taken part in the Warrior-Scholar Project at Yale University. Soon, he is transferring to Columbia University, one of the eight private colleges that make up the Ivy League.
In addition to being accepted into Columbia University – where he expects more than 30 credits he earned while attending Laurel Ridge Community College during the 2017-2018 year and as a dual-enrollment student in high school to transfer – Baroncelli has been named a Veterans in Global Leadership (VGL) fellow.
He was one of just 30 college students accepted into the VGL fellowship this year, and the only one from a community college.
The program starts with a four-day summit at Georgetown University that features intensive workshops, roundtables and presentations by former Cabinet secretaries, university presidents, think tank presidents and industry leaders, according to www.vetsgl.org.
Throughout the next academic year, there will be seminars, panel events and networking, Baroncelli says.
“Our goal is to cultivate student veterans with high potential to serve as change agents and leaders in a range of fields,” the VGL site says. “VGL is focused on building the leadership pipeline of these veterans: highly competent, skilled leaders who have already excelled in facing and solving the complex challenges the U.S. and our allies face abroad. We recruit and guide the most qualified young student veterans from across the country who aspire to positions of global leadership.”
Baroncelli always knew he wanted to both go to college and serve his country. Initially, he thought he would go to college first, but changed his mind.
“At the age of 17 or 18, I felt my mind wasn’t ready to be in that college environment,” Baroncelli says. “I knew instead of blowing the next four years, I wanted to do something I had always wanted to do for this country while also receiving great direction and a goal-oriented mindset.”
So he enlisted. While in the Marines – where he rose to the rank of corporal – for four years, he was deployed to Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Thailand. During that time, he was able to participate in a couple of humanitarian missions.
In Thailand, Baroncelli worked with young children at the Child Protection and Development Center.
“They were so ecstatic to have big kids playing with them and giving them the attention and interaction they needed,” he said.
Baroncelli did similar work with aboriginal children in Australia.
When it was time for his discharge, he was “yearning” for higher education.
“At Laurel Ridge, I had an amazing experience,” Baroncelli says. “Sharon Painter (veteran academic advisor/certifying official) was wonderful. She went above and beyond what is expected. Sharon was right there from the beginning. She made everything very clear for me.”
He is impressed by how much the Middletown Campus has expanded and improved in recent years.
“It was a very enjoyable environment with very enjoyable classes to attend,” Baroncelli says. “It differed from the negative stereotype some people have of community colleges. I felt like I was really on the right path towards something.”
It was just the right transition from the military and later into Columbia, he says. He found out in March he had been accepted into the prestigious school. He will major in East Asian studies and will learn Mandarin.
His overseas adventures didn’t end when he got out of the Marines. Baroncelli recently returned from Formosa, Argentina, where he helped in behavioral observation and recordings with howler and owl monkeys as part of a long-term project among several universities.
Clearly a passionate and compassionate young man, Baroncelli has also volunteered with veterans dealing with combat and service-related trauma.
Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.