Class of 2019: James Grubb is driven by a passion for political science and serving fellow veterans

December 5, 2019

James Grubb
Photo by Kevin Morley, University Marketing

James Grubb’s journey in pursuit of a political science degree from Virginia Commonwealth University is a lesson in perseverance.

He first enrolled in 2009 and found himself struggling. By the time he left in 2013, he had a 1.6 grade point average and was on academic probation. “College was always something that I wanted to complete, something that I’ve wanted to do in my life,” he said. “But I just wasn’t very focused.”

Grubb decided to put his higher education ambitions temporarily on hold to fulfill another dream: serving his country in the military.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army, and served as an infantryman from 2013-18, stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado. At the end of his service, he came back to VCU.

“We moved to Virginia on a Friday and started classes that following Monday,” he said. “My intention was just to go to school, go home, and not really mess with the college experience at all. My goal was just to get my degree and that was it. That was the focus. But after a couple of weeks, I started looking for something outside of my classes, to be a part of something and socialize with people.”

He found a community of friends and fellow veterans at VCU. Together they launched the Student Veterans Association, which helps student veterans take advantage of educational and career-enhancing opportunities at VCU through academic, social and service events. Grubb currently serves as the organization’s president.

Grubb also took a part-time job in VCU’s Military Student Services office, helping to process educational benefits for student veterans and dependents earned through military service.

“When I got out of the military, I thought I would just kind of wash my hands of it and continue on and find something else and I’ve kind of fallen into this work, which has allowed me to still contribute and have a sense of purpose and service,” he said.

Stephen Ross, director of Military Student Services, said Grubb has made a lasting impact at VCU. Ross called him a “committed student, fair-minded leader and patriotic American” who will go on to accomplish great things.

“He sets the example, as he did when serving in the U.S. Army, by continuing to serve his community at every opportunity,” Ross said. “James created and led Friday Warrior Workouts, 9/11 events, increased involvement with local VFWs and will attend this year’s [Student Veterans of America national conference] in Los Angeles.”

In addition to his work with fellow student veterans, Grubb’s return to VCU in 2018 brought a renewed focus on academics.

“While I was in the military, it reaffirmed my [goal of pursuing] my path for higher education,” he said. “While I left with a 1.6 GPA, luckily I’m going to graduate with a 3.2.”

Grubb is a receipt of the Meadows L. Phillips and Thomas H. Weatherford Veterans Scholarship and the VCU Veterans Scholarship. He originally planned to attend law school after graduation, but now is considering graduate school at VCU or the University of Virginia to continue studying political science. He also will begin working full time in the Military Student Services office in January.

“It is patently evident that James has arrived at a point where his studies matter a great deal,” said Christopher Burdett, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “His work ethic and character means that he will always take constructive criticism seriously and strive for improvement. He is diligent, hardworking and determined to do his best. I consider myself to be very, very fortunate to witness James’ growth as a student.”

Michael Paarlberg, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, called Grubb a dedicated student who engages seriously with the course material.

“He is a natural scholar, and I also believe his military service has contributed to both his work ethic and curiosity about the world,” Paarlberg said. “I personally believe our country is often shamefully neglectful of our veterans. I am glad that someone like James is continuing his public service as an advocate for our military and veteran student population.”

Along with his work on behalf of veterans, Grubb and his wife, Sarah Ellis, a senior biology major who will graduate in May, also advocate on behalf of animals. They have one dog, a Great Dane named Harley, and seven cats they adopted after having worked with a cat rescue organization.

Grubb said he is grateful for the support of his wife and the political science faculty. And, as a first-generation college student, Grubb added that he is especially looking forward to receiving his diploma at a ceremony attended by his parents.

“There’s a motivation to be the first one and show your parents like, ‘Yeah I’ll be OK.’ and the older I get the more that becomes valuable versus the prestige of a degree or a JD after your name or whatever. It’s more that idea of carrying on that legacy and idea of your family. It’s going to be awesome to have my parents come to my graduation on the 14th.”

Grubb’s story, Burdett said, is inspirational.

“Truthfully, I believe James can teach us all important lessons about perseverance,” he said. “Sometimes it takes adversity to give us the perspective and resolve to become the best version of ourselves.”