Killeen Resident Took the Long Path to A&M-Central Texas, But It’s Paying Off

By Karen Clos
July 5, 2023

Killeen resident Texas A&M University-Central Texas student Richard James Fletcher, 31, is much too humble to describe himself as exceptional, but his actions suggest that there is more to him than his mild-mannered temperament, his half hesitant smile, or his everyday life.

Killeen resident and Texas A&M University-Central Texas student Richard James Fletcher, 31, is much too humble to describe himself as exceptional, but his actions suggest that there is more to him than his mild-mannered temperament, his half hesitant smile, or his everyday life.

Fletcher uses the word “average” a few times when he is asked to describe himself, but even as he repeats the word, it sounds somehow inaccurate. He is soft-spoken, but deliberate, grounded, and purposeful, but still brave enough to avoid apathy. As his words attest, he is many things: a son, a brother, a student, a neighbor, and an advocate. And last but not least, he loves growing things in the dirt.

He was a curious child, he says, fascinated with science, mostly dinosaurs and rocks. Even then, he had the patience for understanding big concepts: the constant subtle movement of tectonic plates and the principles of geology, the role of evolution, and the interrelationships between those complex subjects.

He attended Ellison High School, graduating in 2010 with, as he says, “a fairly unremarkable grade point average.” While he had made A’s and B’s in his first two years, he explained, the closer he came to graduation, he began to feel himself “prematurely disengage” — not really motivated by traditional post-high school plans.

As the years passed, he found himself in much the same place where he had once been in high school: he was working a full-time job as a digital sales associate, navigating a difficult breakup, and still unsure about where he was going or what he wanted to do with his life.

He hoped to find inspiration returning to his original interest in geophysics, applying to a university in San Antonio. However, after months of waiting, he never heard a response — all of which rendered him listless and defeated.

Somehow, he found the strength to reach beyond the disappointment, enrolling in Central Texas College, hammering out the required general education core courses that would allow him to transfer. On and off, he attended, sometimes tempted to stop trying, especially when he had no idea if or where he might transfer.

He is philosophical about the journey, though. Looking back, he aptly notes that he “over-estimated how long he would be young,” confessing that he “leaned on his youth,” maybe, he thinks, a little too long.

Perhaps it is rare for anyone with only three decades to their credit to muster the capacity for trying again in the face of failure. But Fletcher did.

Just moving through life without a purpose that connected him to that life was not an option, he thought. There had to be something more. And he was right.

This time, the spark that reinvigorated him would come from an unexpected place: a simple memory of traffic.

“When I was in high school, I had driven by the A&M-Central Texas campus hundreds of times,” he said, allowing a partial smile to cross his face. “I literally watched as all three of the buildings pop out of the ground one at a time — except I never knew what it was.”

He knows now. But how he came to this knowledge was born from his love for the Earth — and putting it to work for those in need.

By 2021, he didn’t just drive by the A&M-Central Texas campus on his way to somewhere else. He drove straight in off the Clear Creek Road entrance and into the parking lot on his way to the College of Arts and Sciences.

And, unlike the days of malaise that he was determined to put behind him, this time, he knew what he wanted: an undergraduate degree in liberal studies. Specifically, history and environmental sciences.

And somehow, this time, he was finding meaning and purpose in everything, especially his coursework. And that one simple thing brought him to the conclusion that everyone had potential. But not everyone had the opportunity to leverage that potential or be seen and helped when they found themselves in need.

“In that way, I think they’re remarkable and they’re here in plain sight. I want them to know I see them, and I understand them. And want to help better their circumstances.”

Turns out, the young man who once wondered if he would find his purpose is considered pretty remarkable to the folks who have come to know him at A&M-Central Texas.

Yvonne Imergoot, one of the academic advisors in the College of Arts and Sciences, is admittedly one of his biggest advocates. And, as it turns out, the feelings between them are quite mutual.

“Richard is so motivated by community service and environmental topics,” she said. “Where some people see problems, he sees solutions and then devotes himself to making sure those solutions serve the people most in need in our community.”

Fletcher credits Imergoot with being exactly the right person in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Remember, he says, after his first application to a university went neglected, he wasn’t sure what he’d find when he walked into her office.

“The meeting with my advisor was very cathartic,” he explained. “She was so knowledgeable and comforting. I mean, I was still adjusting to coming back to school life, and I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. It was so immensely comforting to be around her. She is wonderful.”

Perhaps that is how a person on a new path knows for certain they are headed in the right direction. Despite the previous setbacks, disappointments, heartbreaks, or confusion, obstacles eventually yield to something new and better, and, in Fletcher’s case, fate aligns itself to inspire a new way forward.

It is that sentiment that Fletcher stands in, he says, every time he works with any one of the hundreds of community members being served by Killeen Creators, a local non-profit charitable organization.

His job, he says, is garden coordinator, sometimes lead gardener, but as much as he appreciates both, the work is about much more than tending to the multiple beds of curly kale, sweet chard, assorted greens, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and everything else he and a crew of volunteers can coax out of the ground.

“I see so many people on a day-to-day basis,” he said, casually propping his chin on his closed hand. “Many do not have transportation or access to fresh food, so we welcome them here for whatever they need. They tell us all the time that we are a lifeline for them. What I hope they know is that they are a lifeline for us, too.”

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