Warrior-scholars gain skills, confidence from Cornell experience

Some of the 14 participants in this year’s Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) at Cornell said their week of intensive study, July 21-29, taught them how to read critically, paying attention to the perspectives of the authors, their intended audiences and the historical contexts that informed their writings. Others noted the relevance of ancient works to present times. Still others honed their time-management skills to keep pace with the demands of academic study.

“The program inspires deep thought, provides other points of view and makes us think about what we should be doing,” said Paul Rojas, a former second class petty officer in the U.S. Navy and now staff sergeant in the Air National Guard, at the final seminar of the project. Noted Gerrick Williams, a U.S. Army veteran who now is specialist in the National Guard, “To learn from renowned professors … it’s been amazing.”

The WSP at Cornell is coordinated through the office of Katherine McComas, vice provost for engagement and land-grant affairs. “I am pleased that Cornell continues to participate in the Warrior-Scholar Project, now for the fourth year,” McComas said. “This project not only introduces new military veterans to life at a college or university, but also has encouraged student veterans to apply to and attend Cornell. Our own campus culture has been enriched by their participation and strengthened by the dedication and commitment they bring to their studies.”

WSP is a national program to help veterans and enlisted service men and women transition from active duty military service to academic life by immersing them in an academic environment. The project includes seminars taught by leading academics on topics familiar to veterans; strengthens veterans’ skills in analytic reading, college-level writing and studying in preparation for undergraduate work; and helps orient them to the higher-education culture.

This year’s seminars at Cornell included a discussion of the Declaration of Independence, by Eduardo Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean of Cornell Law School; the origins of democracy in the classics, by Michael Fontaine, professor of classics and associate vice provost; the stakes of the U.S. Civil War, by Jeffrey Rachlinski, Henry Allen Mark Professor of Law; and the role of public service in American democracy, by Jamila Michener, assistant professor of government. The final seminar drew from what the participants had learned in all the sessions in a wide-ranging discussion of the concepts of freedom and equality, military service and public engagement.

The WSP experience transforms the way veterans view themselves as students. Spencer Winters, currently a sergeant in the U.S. Army who is considering attending an Ivy League school once he returns to civilian life, said being able to handle the number of readings in the curriculum and “being taught by top-tier professors at a top-tier university” was a “real confidence-booster.”

Warrior-scholars also network with each other and with staff from the national WSP, sharing their learning experiences and finding that they are not alone in adapting to an academic setting or wanting to pursue a degree.

WSP launched its first program at Yale University in 2012 with nine participants. The program now is offered at 17 colleges and universities, hosting more than 245 veterans across the country in 2018.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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		 Image from Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences