Our Stories

Former Marine Takes Kemper Scholarship

Marco Fiallo '11, who just landed a prestigious Kemper Scholarship, came to Willamette by way of the United States Marines Corp. "The Marines broadened my world," he says. A member of a Marine aviation squadron, Fiallo traveled to ports in Asia, the Middle East, Australia, South America and Hawaii. Now the international studies student is hoping that Willamette will broaden his intellectual horizons, giving him a context to better understand the global cultures he experienced firsthand.

Fiallo followed a pattern of reverse migration growing up. He was born in Connecticut and attended English-speaking private schools until age 12, when his family moved to Quito, Ecuador, with its Spanish-speaking schools. After school each day he sold everything from pencils to microwaves in his parents' store, on the first floor of their home in Quito's historic Colonial District.

At 20, Fiallo enlisted in the Marines and oversaw the maintenance of F-18 jets on an aircraft carrier. "There were 12 jets in our squadron," the former Marine corporal says. "It was all computer based, just like a car. Every 3,000 miles they get a check up. Every 500 hours the engine has to come off the plane." The engines, he says, were the big worry. But the even bigger worry was flying itself. "One of the most dangerous maneuvers a pilot can make is landing on a small strip on a moving target."

After a five-year career with the Marines, Fiallo met a Willamette student in Ecuador. A later visit to Salem convinced Fiallo to head to Oregon, first to Chemeketa Community College and then to Willamette.

"Oregon is very different from the life I've lived," Fiallo says. "People are calm and very much into saving the planet. I've never seen that. People are cool here."

Fiallo found international studies to be a good fit. "I was naive in my education about the world. I received an education in Ecuador and another education in the military, and now I'm sitting in Spanish classes and learning about the history of Hispanic thought. Politically, I'm a blank slate. I haven't formed opinions yet, but I know I'm most interested in economics and business. When I study them, my mind flies."

Fiallo also helps coach the Willamette Women's Lacrosse Team, and last spring break he led a student group to Newark, N.J., to volunteer with inner-city children at a YMCA shelter. The students' overwhelming impression, he says, was gratitude for what they have. He's introduced Willamette students to Latino culture. He taught salsa dancing on campus and rounded up friends for Saturday night visits to Aztec Willie's in Portland, for more for salsa dancing. And he hasn't forgotten his military past: Last year he worked at the Salem Veteran's Center, helping vets obtain benefits, many for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Although there's no such thing as a typical college student any more, Fiallo defies many stereotypes. The former Marine corporal will graduate when he's 30 and wants to be an investment banker. Fluent in Spanish and English, he is learning Portuguese. Having grown up in South America, he's now gaining a more in-depth, nuanced version of Latino history.

Too shy to converse when he first arrived at military boot camp, the gregarious Fiallo now believes that networking is the most essential skill one can possess. "Travel has given me a global perspective, with the ability to relate to a lot of different people," he says. "In class we talk about 'hybridity,' which gives one the ability to transcend boundaries, to relate to people who are white, black, Hispanic, Asian, poor or rich. This will help in business, which is moving in the direction of globalization, with everyone depending on someone else for something."

After his education, Fiallo wants to explore more of the world. And he'll remember the parting advice of Marine Staff Sergeant Darrel Brathwaite: "I've taught you the ropes. Go out there and get 'em."

The Kemper Scholarship is open to first-year students interested in business or management, including arts management or nonprofit management. It provides two paid summer internships and assistance with tuition and books. For information on this scholarship and others, contact Monique Bourque in the Student Academic Grants and Awards office on the second floor of the University Center.