Whether still a freshman or already a senior, all students can remember that feeling of fear arriving at Vassar for the first time. No matter how well we did in high school, were we actually prepared for what this school was going to throw at us?
Veterans entering college have those worries and more. Most of them have not been in an academic setting for several years, and some for over a decade. This is where the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) comes in. The program holds immersive one to two week academic workshops for enlisted veterans free of charge at top colleges and universities, in order to prepare veterans for the transition into college. Among the institutions these academic boot camps are held at are Yale, Harvard, Cornell, and the University of Chicago. Now Vassar is joining their ranks. The campus held a pilot program last January, and this coming June the Warrior-Scholar project will take place on Vassar’s campus again, run in large part by our own faculty and students.
The WSP is a series of seminars and writing classes, reading and writing workshops, and individual work. It covers a range of topics, including academic-based skills like reading at an academic level and pulling out information, social skills like interacting in classes and seminars, as well as just how to overcome some of the obstacles veterans face in transitioning out of the military into college .
Josh Maxwell ’19 is a 26-year-old veteran and the new program director for WSP at Vassar. He attended the Harvard course this past summer, just four months after leaving the military. Maxwell participated in the program because he knew he was enrolling in a school where the level of academic intensity was higher than at the community college he had been taking classes at while still in the army.
Maxwell said, “If I hadn’t been a part of this program it would have taken me two or three reads to get to the level of comprehension I can get to, a bit slower perhaps, but in one read. They weren’t just like, ‘here’s a method good luck when you get to school and apply it.’ They’d give us classes, they’d give us reading and then they’d have us apply it to the real word texts, real world scenarios.”
Maxwell learned about the program from two Vassar students and veterans, Cody Harmon ’19 and David Carrell ’16. Carrell was the one who brought the idea of holding WSP at Vassar to the administration two years ago. The pilot program took place last January as a test to ensure that Vassar could get the numbers, recourses and faculty willing to participate. Professor of History and Faculty Leader of WSP Rebecca Edwards, , and Director of the Writing Center Matt Schultz, were instrumental in making the WSP at Vassar a reality. Schultz described his role in building the intense writing aspect of the program.
Schultz said, “My goal is to underscore the social processes of writing that will help my students form the habits of mind of more experienced writers: active reading, sound research, economy of language and a robust feedback/revision loop.”
There were 13 veterans who attended the program, ranging from one still finishing up their time in the military to a 50-year-old veteran who had been out for 15 years. Carrell saw the value these veterans got out of attending WSP at Vassar.
Carrell said, “You can contrast Vassar to a state school. Whenever you come to a setting like Vassar where its more intimate is a big difference. It’s a smaller school, so you get to see a bit more of it and actually interact with the school rather than be just a number in a crowd.”
Maxwell agreed that holding the WSP at Vassar can teach veterans more than just analytical reading. “I think every campus has its own inherent uniqueness, and I think Vassar’s is a campus that is unique in its liberalness, its openness, its acceptance,” Maxwell said. “I think most veterans are, if not conservative, more conservative than Vassar students so I think its going to be a good integration, good to facilitate constructive debate. It will give them a taste of something else.”
Preparations are in full swing now for the program in June. Maxwell is busy communicating with professors, lining up room and board, and working with Carrell and Edwards to create the schedule and course objectives. They also hope to have a few Vassar students who are not veterans work as tutors and provide their view of the social scene of college. Carrell is training Maxwell to fully take over his role in coordinating the WSP after he graduates this spring. He’s not sure what his future in the project might be, but he’s glad to have played a part in bringing the program to Vassar.
“It just allows them to be able to experience a great college that they might not be able to and then motivate them to be able to come to a place like this,” Carrell explained. “That’s the ultimate goal, to motivate them and show them that they can succeed at a top tier institution.”
Above all, the value of the Warrior-Scholar project is that it makes veterans transitioning into college, including the many veterans entering Vassar each year, feel they can tackle dense readings and long papers just as well as any other student. Maxwell summed up the feeling, saying, “By the time you’re done with Warrior-Scholar, you want the next day to be your first day of college, you just want to like hit the books and rip through them and read as much as you can.”