WILLIAMSBURG — The Warrior-Scholar Project and William & Mary partnered during the week of June 5 to bring active-duty military members and veterans to the university for an academic boot camp.
Started in 2012, the Warrior-Scholar Project works to bring awareness to educational benefits available to active-duty military members and veterans. This was the second time William & Mary hosted the program — virtually in 2022 and in person in 2023.
Charlie Foster, Director of the Office of Student Veteran Engagement at William & Mary, heard about the Warrior-Scholar Project during a conference and knew that those in the surrounding area would benefit from the resource.
“I had previously worked in education outreach for rural youth. We knew based on the research that if they did on-campus activities, especially residential type of things, those kids were way more likely to go to college. I knew once I heard the CEO of Warrior-Scholar Project speak that it would also be true for veterans too. This program demystifies the college experience,” Foster said.
Those attending the program are put through a week-long “academic boot camp.” At William & Mary, students are taking classes from professors at the university, meeting with various university departments, living in the dormitories, eating in the dining hall, and have access to the library to study.
Britney Domine, a Warrior-Scholar Project fellow, has been on the ground at William & Mary throughout the week. She herself was a part of the Warrior-Scholar Project as a student and works with those in the program during their week-long boot camps. She frequently sees the benefits of the program from the start of the week to where the students end up at the end of the week.
“One of the things that people struggle with is going to college as a non-traditional student. You are a little bit older and we as veterans get education benefits but a lot of times, you don’t necessarily know how to navigate that with getting your benefits certified so you actually get your schooling paid for. Going back to college can be a scary thing, but Warrior-Scholar Project tries to build a bridge between enlisted service to higher education that shows what the process is like,” Domine said.
Joe Lopez, originally from Maryland but serving with the Army in Tennessee, will be leaving the armed forces after 10 years. As he thought about leaving, he wanted to figure out what was next for him. Not one to shy away from opportunities, Lopez applied for the Warrior-Scholar Project and traveled to Williamsburg for the boot camp.
“I realized through this program that I am still capable of having new ideas, that aren’t just military and rigid and structured. I’m able to be creative in this program with the writing prompts the professors have given us. It’s been really fun to see that I am still capable of that kind of knowledge. But with that, comes the knowledge of the actual college admissions process and how higher education works which to me was what I was most worried about as I leave the military where I have a job that I know,” Lopez said.
The program is geared toward any military member of any age. Michael Saucedo, a U.S. Marine with 32 years of service, is retiring from the military in five months. He put his higher education on hold to serve his country. With retirement looming, Saucedo wanted to see if he had what it took to go back to the classroom.
“I put my education on hold to focus on being an active duty Marine and I thought this classroom experience would be a great opportunity to learn what to expect in a college environment. I’ve realized that we as transitioning veterans are all thinking the same thing. We’re all having the same thoughts on what to expect or the anxieties of the transition into higher education and this program helps quell those fears,” Saucedo said.
Veterans and active duty military are important to the university. Through Foster’s work in the Student Veteran Engagement office, veterans at the university feel represented. Kathleen Jabs, Special Assistant for Military and Veteran Affairs, spoke briefly on the program and William & Mary’s efforts to honor those who served.
“We consider ourselves the alma mater of the nation. As a public university, we see it as our mission to give back and to integrate military and veterans into our campus. We are proud to educate these super citizens who served our country and allow them to find the life that they want to live. Anyone who signs up to serve our country can truly do anything that they want,” Jabs said.
The Warrior-Scholar Project is hopeful to return to William & Mary next summer for another week-long academic boot camp. To keep up to date with the Warrior-Scholar Project and the application process for those interested in attending, visit warrior-scholar.org.