University partners with Warrior Scholars to prepare veterans for higher education

WARRIOR-SCHOLAR: Now a STEM Scholar for the Warrior-Scholar Project at Princeton University, U.S. Navy Veteran Luke Hixson taught classes, provided tutoring assistance, and served as a student-veteran mentor at the camp academic training facility at Princeton University this summer, which completed its sixth summer of operation on July 2.

By Donald Gilpin

An academic boot camp was in session at Princeton University from June 18 to July 2, as 13 veteran students, “warrior scholars,” took part in an immersive program of humanities and STEM classes taught by Princeton professors. They started classes each day at 8:30 a.m. and continued their studies – research, writing, collaborative projects – until late at night.

Designed to help veterans prepare for an academic environment while learning strategies to become better students, the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) Boot Camp has been held at Princeton University for the past six summers. , with support from Princeton, as well as foundations, corporations, and private donors, covering the full cost of the program for participants, including an accessibility allowance of up to $500 for travel, childcare and other expenses.

Since the start of the partnership, 71 veterans have participated in the WSP-Princeton Academic Training Camp. WSP’s first boot camp was held at Yale University in 2012, and since then the program has expanded to 24 of the nation’s top schools and helped nearly 2,000 veterans get a head start. progress in higher education.

“I know the Warrior-Scholar Project saves lives,” said U.S. Navy veteran Luke Hixson, currently a sophomore at Princeton who served as a member of the Mobile STEM Training Team this summer after participating in the 2020 University of California Irvine boot camp.” For many transitioning service members, leaving the military can mean losing a sense of community or purpose in life.

He continued, “I know for me, one of the reasons I joined the military was because I was scared to go to college fresh out of high school. The value of WSP is that veterans leave this program realizing that they have what it takes to succeed in any educational institution. Not only do they leave the program feeling more confident, but they also become members of the WSP Alumni Network, a nationwide community of student veterans. WSP alters the trajectory of its participants. The impact this has on veterans is life changing.

At this year’s boot camp, Hixson’s job included teaching STEM classes to WSP participants, assisting with tutoring, and acting as a student-veteran mentor. “I was very impressed with how the students were able to work together and how close they were as a cohort,” Hixson said.

“The STEM curriculum is quite rigorous, as each day requires 12-14 hours of learning and engagement in the classroom environment,” he added. “In one week, students learn trigonometry and vectors, 1D and 2D motion, Newton’s laws, work and energy. In addition to the program curriculum, they also work on a week-long research project where they are paired with professors or Princeton graduate students and develop a presentation with their STEM research. Collaboration is the key.

US Army veteran David Nagley completed humanities boot camp at the University of Pennsylvania before completing STEM boot camp at Princeton last week. A resident of Ewing, Nagley is currently enrolled at Mercer County Community College, majoring in political science, and plans to apply to Princeton University for admission in the fall of 2023.

The academic challenges and positive environment were two of the most striking aspects of academic boot camp for Nagley. “The whole community has integrated extremely well,” he said. “We helped each other and we all grew. Everyone who was there wanted to be there and everyone wanted to work hard. It was a really stimulating environment for people of all levels to grow and learn something new.

He continued: “It was really tough mentally, especially for those like me who hadn’t been to school for three or four years. It was a very different environment than I had been used to, but it was great. I liked it.”

Describing himself as “extremely confident for the school year ahead”, Nagley said he felt WSP was “under-advertised”, “a hidden gem”. “Everyone gained the confidence they needed, learned the materials they needed, and learned the skills they needed to excel in college,” he said. “Your life is not over after the army. This program should get more publicity and be recognized as a common tool for veterans.

Keith Shaw, director of transfer and outreach at the Emma Bloomberg Center for Access and Opportunity at Princeton, has been a WSP participant and leader since his freshman year at Princeton in 2017. This year he taught two seminars and was an instructor in writing.

Shaw was happy to see the in-person academy boot camp again for the first time since 2019. Virtual sessions over the past two summers have been successful, but Shaw noted, “It’s much more productive for everyone to to be in the same class and to go to the same dining hall and to be able to visit the campus. The students were fantastic.

He continued, “The aim of the program is to give them a taste of what it is like to be a student at a four-year university. We do everything we can to make them feel like real Princeton students while they’re here, which includes not only the classroom but also residential life.

In addition to helping Warrior Scholars gain the necessary transferable skills in writing, math, and science “that will enable them to succeed regardless of their next institution,” Shaw emphasized that “it’s important that WSP exists as a as a confidence builder and invites them into a highly effective, extensive professional and academic network.We definitely connect with students for years after they complete the program.That’s part of the point.

Students stay in touch with WSP staff and alumni, Shaw said, and they know that faculty and staff are happy to pick up the phone, write recommendations and offer advice, whether for help brainstorm an application essay or plan. the next steps in their lives.

Princeton University has steadily increased its population of transfer, veteran, and non-traditional—generally older—students as part of its overall undergraduate expansion, and about half of the veteran students currently at Princeton are WSP alumni.

Shaw described the excitement of teaching his WSP class about American history and democracy during the weeks the Jan. 6 commission was holding its hearings, and then on the last day of his class when the court’s abortion ruling supreme has been rendered.

“It was a strange and poignant moment,” he said, tied to everything we had talked about. And they were a really interesting group, because they had obviously sacrificed a lot for the Constitution. They strongly believe in the American project. Politically, they are quite diverse, so they have different reactions to what they read, and that’s what you want. The best thing about it is that it’s the kind of place where they can go through the texts, brainstorm and discuss together what they mean, and disagree about it in an environment where they’re all committed to to learn together. In some ways, it’s an ideal liberal arts experience.

Graduate astrophysics student Goni Halevi, who taught a group of WSP students about exoplanets and guided them through an independent research project, agreed with Shaw in her comments about the students in the program.

“The students were extremely engaged and enthusiastic,” she said. “They asked great questions, participated wholeheartedly in our discussions, and learned things that were new to them very quickly. I was so impressed with what they were able to do in just one week.

She highlighted some of the most valuable attributes of the project. “Bringing students to campus who often couldn’t imagine themselves in a place like Princeton, to live in dorms and interact with Princeton faculty and staff, can boost their confidence and ability to imagine themselves in a similar academic environment,” she said.

Watching the students’ presentation of their projects on the final day, Halevi said, “It was a wonderful demonstration of how knowledge is synthesized and the power of non-traditional classroom environments, where learning takes place. collectively rather than simply being passed on from the instructor to the student.

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