Many of us take for granted the privilege of starting college straight out of high school. However, finances are one of the most common deterrents that eliminate the possibility of college for high school graduates.

One way to circumvent insurmountable costs is to join the military and rely on its benefits. Unfortunately, many veterans struggle to adjust to the college experience after serving. 

That’s where the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) comes in. 

According to their website, the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was originally founded by Yale University classmates Chris Howell, Jesse Reising and Nick Rugoff. WSP’s mission is to ensure educational opportunities for American heroes. It envisions America as a nation in which those who have made great sacrifices on behalf of their fellow citizens have the greatest possible opportunity to pursue their dreams. 

Recently, 18 veterans took the first step on the path to higher education by completing an immersive academic boot camp with University of California, Irvine in partnership with the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP), and thanks to the generous support of the Orange County Community Foundation through the Orange County Real Estate Luncheon. The foundation covered the cost of the WSP-UCI program for these student veterans; without their investment, UCI wouldn’t be able to offer this amazing program. 

Here are the stories of the warrior scholars of UCI: 

Warrior-Scholar Project 2020 UCI Cohort Spotlight: Tia Carr

Tia Carr, active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps

What was your educational experience prior to WSP? Would you consider yourself a confident student?

Before WSP, I was not a confident student. I considered myself anti-math, pro-English, and anti-homework. I was a career procrastinator and graduated high school with a low GPA. I then went to college for two years where I continued to slack off. I decided to enlist in the Marine Corps to foster growth and narrow my focus. 

Had you participated in any sort of virtual learning before? If so, how does your WSP experience compare to that?

Prior to COVID-19 and the WSP program, I had only attempted one or two online courses, which I quickly withdrew from. The social and visual aspects of Zoom and WSP’s use of it delivered a surprisingly comprehensive learning experience that I wasn’t able to get with my previous online classes. 

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

After being in the military for a few years, it became clear to me that I wanted to go back to school and pursue a different career path. Unfortunately, I could feel the atrophy of my academic skills and tried to strengthen them on my own. I was so excited about WSP’s curriculum because I knew it would give me new tools and refresh old ones that would help me learn and succeed, in, and out of the classroom.

What was your favorite session, and why?

Each professor WSP and UCI introduced us to was so gracious and eager to share and discuss their fields. My favorite session was the seminar with Dr. Anita Casavantes Bradford. She taught us what professors would be looking for and appreciate in a seminar and challenged us to step out of our default dialogue. She asked probing questions and accepted challenges from the participants. Dr. Casavantes Bradford is a brilliant, kind, and generous woman!

Are there any instructors or fellows who have made a difference for you at WSP?

WSP fellows Derek and Lisa had the greatest impact on me throughout the course. Derek always chatted up the participants before and after classes and made everyone feel really comfortable. During our daily check-ins, we’d get carried away with conversations about the material and just life! He’s a great, charismatic guy and I was so glad to have him as a fellow for my WSP-UCI class. Lisa was always a calm and quiet presence and was consistently and appropriately relied upon by the professors, fellows, and participants. We were only able to check-in together once, but it had to be the most encouraging moment of the whole program for me. She validated my work and efforts and gave me feedback that helped me believe more in myself and my capabilities. 

Is WSP having any effect on how confident you feel as a student?

I am so excited to get back into the classroom and use what WSP has taught me. Until then, I’ve got some pretty dense books that I may take another crack at. I am so grateful to have had this experience and hope to revisit WSP at Columbia University in 2022, right before my EAS!

Warrior-Scholar Project Orange County Veteran Spotlight: Luke Hixson

Luke Hixson, active duty in the U.S. Navy

What was your educational experience prior to WSP? Would you consider yourself a confident student?

Prior to attending WSP, my educational experience was limited to high school and the training schools completed in the Navy. I was a very confident – maybe too confident – student in high school. I graduated my junior year with a 4.3 GPA, taking honors-level and Advanced Placement classes. In the military schools, I was also awarded Honor Graduate for both Corpsman “A” School (Fort Sam Houston) and Field Medical Training Battalion-West (Camp Pendleton). I still consider myself a confident student to this day, as I identify as a life-long learner. There’s always something to learn, whether it is from a classroom setting or life’s experiences. 

Had you participated in any sort of virtual learning before? If so, how does your WSP experience compare to that?

I have attended other programs through a virtual setting; however, my experience with WSP is second to none. I was a last-minute add to the WSP UCI cohort and submitted my application just days before the program began. To my surprise, multiple WSP fellows reached out to me to make sure I had the information needed for the first day of the “academic bootcamp.” I was able to easily navigate between the Google Drive/Docs, UCI WSP website, and Zoom. Despite using Zoom as our main virtual platform, the cohort was still able to break into smaller groups using “Breakout Rooms,” which further promoted cohesion and sharing ideas.

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

As mentioned earlier, I was a last-minute join to the UCI WSP program. Don’t let this fool you. Once I received my acceptance notification through the WSP website, I was ecstatic! As I am currently transitioning out of the Navy and planning to start college in the fall of 2021, I realized that WSP is an opportunity to emulate a college-level classroom before I begin my schooling. In retrospect, I also developed connections with other veterans and increased my networking opportunities. 

What have you learned so far that you think will be helpful as you pursue your degree?

One of the most important things I’ve learned during WSP is how to break big assignments into smaller tasks. WSP gives the students a capstone project and during the week, assigns bits and pieces of the project each day. During my experience at UCI’s WSP program, I wrote a five-page analytical essay utilizing both classic and modern texts. If I was told to do this outside of WSP, I wouldn’t have known where to start. As I plan to pursue a bachelor of science degree with the ultimate vision of attending medical school, this is a very important concept to master. Narrowing bigger assignments to smaller tasks will improve my time management, which will enable me to devote more time for networking, volunteering, and self-care. 

What was your favorite session, and why?

My favorite sessions were the “de-greening” lessons, which focused on transitioning from military culture into civilian culture. The military experience changes what “normal” is for any given service member. A perverse joke may be laughed and hollered at in a military environment but would be very inconsiderate and rude in civilian culture. I spent a rigorous week of communicating with a mix of veterans (who were at different stages of their transition), discussing hot topics, and sharing different ideas, regardless of rank, branch, background, or other identifying factors. When I completed the WSP program, I realized that the week-long program served as a testimony that I am capable of “de-greening.”

Are there any instructors or fellows who have made a difference for you at WSP?

I chose to write my capstone project from a very critical, cynical perspective of human nature; doing so, I struggled to write a solid thesis that would demonstrate my ideas using textual support. I began having second guesses on how I was tackling the essay and I was almost ready to start over – that is, until Derek, one of the WSP fellows, offered up a quote from one of the texts. I was able to use it to reinforce my thesis and finish the essay. I was close to the point of giving up, but Derek continued to encourage me in my writing. 

Is WSP having any effect on how confident you feel as a student?

WSP served as both a reality check and a catalyst. The reality check is that the college learning environment is much more demanding than my previous high school environment; however, the completion of the program fuels my excitement to begin college and pursue attending medical school! 

Warrior-Scholar Project Orange County Veteran Feature: Eric Ramos

Eric Ramos, active duty in the U.S. Navy 

What was your educational experience prior to WSP? Would you consider yourself a confident student?

My educational experience before WSP was some college taken before I enlisted in the Navy, back in 2015. I attended Saddleback College for my freshman year, and after a rough year, I enlisted in the Navy, and three years into my enlistment, I enrolled in National University. I wouldn’t considered myself a confident student just yet, but I have matured and improved from my freshman year in college.  

Had you participated in any sort of virtual learning before? If so, how does your WSP experience compare to that?

I have participated in a virtual learning setting, as I attended National University online. My WSP experience was ten times better compared to my online school setting. While attending WSP, we had the chance to see our professors’ faces and hear them teach live, compared to my school, where everything is prerecorded, or assignments are posted on Blackboard. 

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

I was excited to participate in WSP this summer because I wanted to see where I stood in a traditional college environment. Even though I didn’t expect WSP to be virtual when I applied, I was still able to learn a lot about myself and got educated on helpful tools to help me study better. 

What have you learned so far that you think will be helpful as you pursue your degree?

I learned how to think critically as I read, which has helped me take better notes (analytical reading). By actively taking notes as I read, I have been able to shorten my study time as I’m able to find the information a lot easier. This skill has also helped with writing essays, as I now have my notes to guide me to quotes or any other valuable information I may need to complete my essay. 

What was your favorite session, and why?

My favorite session was the Unit 1 Seminar, The Declaration in Context. I enjoyed this lesson because we looked at different readings and dove into the Declaration of Independence in ways I have never done myself. I also enjoyed interacting with the alumni of WSP during the alumni panel because they shared their transition from the military into school. Listening to alumni success stories and how they have accomplished so much in school was amazing and a confidence boost. It was a confidence boost for me because in the military, when we are getting ready to separate, our chain of command tends to want to scare the service members into reenlisting because they claim the civilian world is a scary place. 

Are there any instructors or fellows who have made a difference for you at WSP?

My favorite tutor has to be Dani. He is an awesome tutor and helped me complete my essay. My favorite fellows have to be Derek, Lisa, and Jazzmen; they were accommodating and understanding throughout the week. I got pulled back into work for a couple of hours out of the day, and they understood about my issues, and overall I received excellent advice from them.  

Is WSP having any effect on how confident you feel as a student?

WSP is having a strong effect on me and how I will go forward with this confidence I have gained. I know the program was only a week, but that week was all I needed to get motivated and reassure myself I can conquer school and graduate. I have also gained a new family, and I know I can always contact WSP if I have any issues or questions. 

Warrior-Scholar Project 2020 UCI Cohort Spotlight: Chris Casper

Chris Casper, U.S. Marine Corps veteran

What was your educational experience prior to WSP? Would you consider yourself a confident student?

In high school and in my freshman year of college, I was a terrible student. Like many of my friends and family, I would chalk it up to my ADHD, but that was certainly not the reason for my poor grades. I was immature and lazy, though I didn’t see it that way at the time. I assumed that everything would work out for me in life because I had the sheer mental horsepower necessary to ace my finals and slip through school by barely passing each semester. Naturally, this didn’t work in a college setting, so I joined the Marine Corps after leaving my grades in shambles. I went to the Defense Language Institute to train as a cryptologic linguist. This is where my transformation occurred. You can’t fake language ability for any real length of time, and I had never learned a word of Chinese before in my life. With no safety net to rescue me from my own failings, I had to work hard in a classroom for the first time, and it was brutal. After graduating DLI, I considered myself a rehabilitated student. However, I was still nervous about the eventual transition back into a conventional classroom setting, which I had not been exposed to for several years. This is where WSP assisted me. The weeklong exposure to an academic environment was invigorating, and my self-confidence skyrocketed. 

Had you participated in any sort of virtual learning before? If so, how does your WSP experience compare to that?

WSP was my first experience with an online classroom. It was fantastic to get acquainted with the odds and ends of online programming before stepping into a virtual college classroom for the first time. 

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

After so much time away, I very much needed an objective evaluation of my ability to perform in school. The WSP course is an excellent litmus test for college readiness. Both my significant other and a close friend of mine from DLI completed a WSP course, and they couldn’t say enough about the value of the experience for someone in my position. 

What have you learned so far that you think will be helpful as you pursue your degree?

Though it isn’t the lesson I expected to take away from the course, I came to understand the value of participating in the student veteran community. Before WSP, I wasn’t keen on the idea of leaning on the other student veterans on campus or clinging to my own veteran status. I had preconceived notions about how many of them would feel, believing that they may be overly attached to their veteran identities. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Student veterans come from many different military backgrounds, from special operations to administration and logistics, making them an immensely valuable group of resourceful and experienced individuals. And, of course, they all chose to pursue higher education. I was short-sighted, not considering that many of them may have experiences very similar to my own, and they may also share many of my goals. Now I understand that all of the factors that make me a dynamic and capable student are also what makes the student veteran community as a whole an incredible support system. 

What was your favorite session, and why?

While the seminars each morning were highly engaging, the sessions that will stick with me the longest are the writing sessions led by Dr. Christine Connell. Over the course of the week, she had us piece together our essay in a manner that I had never seen done before. Well outside of my comfort zone, I was able to craft a strong essay structured in a way that made it easy to effectively address the prompt. It was a huge confidence booster for my collegiate writing ability. 

Are there any instructors or fellows who have made a difference for you at WSP?

No one instructor or fellow can be singled out. This course was staffed only with passionate and hardworking fellows and educators. It was inspiring to be a part of this program, so much so that it makes me want to volunteer to become an ambassador or fellow myself. This speaks volumes about the effect of the staff. At the end of the first seminar, Dr. Matthew Beckmann dropped a pearl of wisdom. He told us to “choose great professors over great classes.” My experience with the staff for our UCI cohort served to reinforce his point. 

Is WSP having any effect on how confident you feel as a student?

Most definitely. Attending this course allowed me to work out any pre-game jitters before starting the fall semester. Being solely for veterans, any moment of class that wasn’t strictly focused on academia was focused on the process of adapting to our lives as full-time students. This is enormously therapeutic for someone in my position, someone who sometimes doubts their ability to make the changes necessary to excel where they once failed. Before WSP I was anxious and full of negative self-talk, but now I know that I have the ability and drive to succeed in any school environment.