Bulloch takes circuitous route
Grad’s college path wound through three schools, burning forests and Cuba
Photo by Dan Addison
By Charlotte Crystal
For transfer student Matt Bulloch, the third time was the charm.
After graduating from high school in Timonium, Md., in 1998, Bulloch first enrolled in Boston College and had an OK-but-unexceptional year. Then, at the urging of his family, he entered Brigham Young University, the Mormon institution in Provo, Utah. He earned A’s in everything but religion, where his attitude — “God doesn’t care about the details” — won him no points from professors. BYU, it seemed, would not be a good fit.
So, Bulloch took a break from the classroom. He signed up with the U.S. Forest Service as a wild-land firefighter. Assigned to Clearwater National Forest in north-central Idaho and western Montana, he finished two weeks of basic training in fire behavior and survival and the next morning flew by helicopter to Colorado, where he fought 250-foot-high flames in the 70,000-acre Piñon Canyon Fire.
Bulloch loved the work.
“I liked the sense of urgency,” he said. “Sometimes it’s scary, when smoke blows in your face and your eyes are tearing and the visibility is really low. You can hear trees being cut down with chain saws, but you can’t always tell where they are. You hear the helicopters overhead. And you worry about the fire getting ahead of you. But you’re cutting fire breaks and when you see green on one side and black on the other, you know you’re making a difference.”
During slow periods, Bulloch spent his free time fly-fishing, reading, hiking, working out and tracking bears with friends. During big fires, he worked 24- to 30-hour shifts, earning extra pay for hazardous duty and working overtime, at night and on Sundays.
But the snows come early in the North, ending the fire season in mid-October.
Bulloch spent the winter as a “snowboard bum” at Snowbird Ski Resort, near Salt Lake City, Utah, and after the moguls melted, traveled through central and western Europe on a Eurail Pass.
When his train ticket expired, he returned to the United States and signed on again to fight fires, but decided to give college another try. In the fall of 2001, he entered U.Va., where he has pursued a double major — sociology in the College of Arts & Sciences, and finance and management at the McIntire School of Commerce.
Shortly after classes started, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks rocked the country. Bulloch responded by joining the Virginia National Guard.
“I had a longtime interest in the military,” he said. “I felt that I had grown up with every advantage this country had to offer. And Thomas Jefferson talks about the need for citizen-soldiers. I felt that in sociology, we talked about problems, but we didn’t do anything about them. After 9/11, I wanted to do something for my country.”
During the summer of 2002, he completed 15 weeks of basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., and returned to U.Va. for the fall semester. His stay was short-lived; he was called in October. He reported for duty at Ft. Bragg, N.C., as tension grew in the Middle East. He shipped out to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for a 10-month tour of guard duty at Camp Delta, where the U.S. Army is holding Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners from Afghanistan.
“It was miserable, but it could have been a lot worse,” he said.
Bulloch said his McIntire School family offered incredible support before, during and after his time in the military. Becca Leonard, assistant dean for undergraduate student services, worked with the University registrar so that his transcript, instead of just reading “withdrawal,” would reflect “withdrawal for military service.” She also encouraged her daughter’s Girl Scout troop to write him letters and send cookies. Dean Carl Zeithaml sent him personal letters, and Robert Kemp, the Ramon S. Breeden Sr. Research Professor, helped him secure his release a month early so he could start school on time in the fall of 2003.
“The support I received from U.Va., and especially the Commerce School, was absolutely mind-boggling,” he said.
Back on Grounds, he continued to serve. During his fourth year, Bulloch was selected to live on the Lawn and served as a co-chairman of the Student Peer Advisor Program for Transfer Students. He mentored individuals and helped coordinate seminars and activities for the approximately 500 transfer students who arrive at U.Va. each fall and another 30 who enter in the spring.
“It’s been nice to have a room on the Lawn for transfer students,” he said. “At first, in the fall, [entering transfer students] stopped by a lot. It’s a nice place to hang out. But as they get to know more people, they spend more time with friends.”
The well-traveled Bulloch’s next stop is New York. He will transfer to a New York National Guard unit where his active status will last for another two and a half years. He’s expecting a promotion to sergeant any day. And on July 8, Bulloch, now 24, will report for duty with Credit Suisse First Boston for a posting in private equity fundraising.