Warrior-Scholar Program prepares veterans for transition to higher education

Participant Riva Szostkowski hugs her English teacher Mary Beth Harris at the program's closing dinner.

Participant Riva Szostkowski hugs her English teacher Mary Beth Harris at the program's closing dinner.
Allison Farrand

 

Sunday, May 29, 2016 - 4:00pm

For the third summer since 2014, the University of Michigan hosted the Warrior-Scholar Project, a week-long summer program that provides veterans with assistance during the transition from military life to higher education.

Founded at Yale University in 2012, the program expanded to both the University and Harvard University in 2014. This summer, it will be hosted by 12 different universities across the country. In Ann Arbor, the program was hosted at the Mosher-Jordan Residence Hall. Students sleep, eat and study from 9 a.m. Sunday morning to late Saturday evening. This year’s cohort of 27 veterans at the University represented the largest group ever to participate in the program.

Upon leaving the service, one of the challenges that many veterans face when they leave the service — which the Warrior-Scholar Project seeks to address — is a lack of preparation for the transition directly into a collegiate environment.

The veterans enrolled in the program take part in classes designed to improve critical reading and writing skills. After breakfast, students attend seminars led by volunteer professors from the University, and later in the day, they participate in reading classes in which they analyze the ideas and arguments made in challenging texts from authors such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Thucydides and Plato. The students also take writing classes, led by full-time tutors, in which they learn to effectively develop a thesis and present arguments.

The program is designed to help students who are planning to attend college in the future, but it's also open to students who feel they need additional academic assistance following a couple of semesters of enrollment.

Program Director Ryan Pavel, a Marine Corps veteran and University alum, said the program is very humanities-focused, yet is also designed to aid students with all types of interests and needs.

As the organization grows, there are plans to further incorporate STEM-based skills into the program. According to Pavel, Yale University and the University of Oklahoma offer additional week-long programs to students who want to pursue STEM degrees.

Pavel also said the work students do through the program, and the way the program is designed, prepare students for the challenges and expectations of fields outside of higher education as well.

“We are trying to start conversations about these study skills,” Pavel said. “Being a good student helps you anywhere. Knowing how to approach a complicated text helps you in anything; the skill of knowing how to approach and be responsive to an essay prompt and how to write a coherent essay helps you anywhere.”

Brad Carney, a U.S. Army Ranger who served for six years, said the program helped him expand his educational potential. Carney will be enrolling at Dartmouth College this fall, hoping to study politics and governance.

“I didn’t think that I was competitive in terms of education; I didn’t think that I had the skills to go to a good school,” Carney said. “I got with a couple of organizations like the Warrior-Scholar program … and eventually I got admission into Dartmouth. I really discovered that I have what it takes because of programs like this.”

Dane Harvey has served in the military for 22 years and is leaving the service this December. His original plan was to enter the military contracting industry but has since decided to pursue higher education instead. He intends to study education.

“This is a good opportunity for me to brush up on skills,” Harvey said. “These programs have broadened my horizons and made me aware that I may be able to get into better schools than I was expecting to be able to before. It has been eye-opening.”