Photo courtesy of Craig Plunges.

Fifteen incoming student veterans participated in the Warrior-Scholar Project on Cornell's campus this summer.

August 4, 2016

Cornell Warrior-Scholar Project Aims to Equip Incoming Student Veterans

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While many Cornellians were enjoying their last few weeks free from classes and prelims, 15 incoming students, all military veterans, participated in a weeklong academic boot camp on campus, hosted by the Warrior-Scholar Project.

This program, which Cornell hosted this summer for a second consecutive year, aims to immerse veterans seeking their degrees in the college environment, using intense academic training to prepare them for the rigors of college classes, according to the project’s website. Last year also Cornell hosted approximately 15 veterans entering the University, according to Director of Education for the WSP Craig Plunges.

“The program at Cornell will tap into the immense potential of post-9/11 veterans and reduce obstacles to success, addressing veterans’ misperceptions about college and building their confidence through an intense academic reorientation,” said Dr. Sidney Ellington, Executive Director of WSP.

Throughout the week, students attended seminars, writing workshops and lectures in the humanities led by Cornell professors and even President Hunter Rawlings III, according to Hill Wolfe, Cornell’s WSP Program Director. Wolfe said these courses were able to aid veterans in realizing their full academic potential at an elite university.

“Through participation in the course, scholars learn that they are capable of managing the demands of academic rigor that institutions like Cornell are known for,” Wolfe said.

Many of the program’s participating professors and lecturers are also veterans. Mark Deets, grad, who specializes in African history, said he applied his military background to the project’s academic environment in order to connect with the students and facilitate their transition to college life.

“As a veteran myself, I talk to them about the things that they’ve done in their military careers and how they weren’t experts in those tasks right away, but it took a while for them to build that proficiency in that,” Deets said. “In many cases, they had to go to school to learn that military specialty and they had to work at it. So I try to tell that them that this is just a different field, but there’s no secret handshake here.”

Plunges said that in watching the progress students made over the course of the week, he was struck by the impact the project can have in such a short span of time.

“The most rewarding experience of WSP for an educator is seeing the transformative impact the program has on students in a single week,” Plunges said. “By introducing veterans to the humanities and teaching them to engage closely with primary texts, the program prepares them to succeed in college while expanding their understanding of what higher education can and should be.”

Beyond introducing students to the new academic structure of college, professors involved in the program also sought to prepare participants for the cultural changes associated with joining a campus environment. Prof. John Hubbel Weiss, history, said he tried to assured veterans that they were prepared to begin their college education.

“[We try to instill] a very honest awareness that these students can perform at the level of college and also a frankness about the way education itself is changing,” Weiss said.

He also stressed that education does not solely take place in the classroom, but also depends upon a lifetime of learning from experience.

“[These veteran participants] are super motivated students. They take nothing for granted. They have been out in the world, they’ve seen other cultures, they’ve experienced a lot of things in the military,” Deets said. “They are so eager to learn. Seeing their motivation and their desire to learn and to be good students is what motivates me.”
In addition to Cornell, 11 other universities across the country have participated in the Warrior-Scholar Project, including the University of Michigan, Georgetown University and Yale University.