Going straight from battlefields and barracks to a college classroom isn't always a smooth transition. For many veterans, it's been years since they set foot in a lecture hall, took a test or joined an extracurricular activity.
Enter the Warrior-Scholar Project, a national nonprofit veteran organization that uses a boot-camp strategy to help vets get adjusted to college life. For the second year, Texas A&M is hosting new student veterans in the WSP's summer program.
The program started in 2012 at Yale University and served just nine student veterans. Today, nearly 250 veterans each year at 17 universities across the country enter the program. Texas A&M serves as an area of the program dedicated to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Those interested in the sciences -- regardless of whether they plan to attend Texas A&M -- gather in College Station to receive temporary instruction from Aggie science and humanities professors.
The Texas A&M program, which hosts 15 WSP-selected veterans, began Saturday and runs for two weeks, through July 1.
The veterans in College Station vary in professional experience, age and military branch. Some have only spent a short amount of time in the military or are currently active duty, while others may be nearing retirement, having been enlisted for more than 20 years.
Those enrolled are required only to provide for their travel to and from College Station. Texas A&M faculty, university alumni and WSP pay for the students' food and lodging and for educators' compensation. Veterans are offered tours of the Texas A&M campus, given refresher courses on science, reading, writing and other academic disciplines, coached in social integration and study skills and connected with programs and additional resources that will help them navigate college.
"They learn how to cope with students and professors, too," said WSP campus program coordinator and Texas A&M military admissions staffer Jim Chirdo. "Formerly, their worldview wasn't really challenged. Most veterans tend to see eye-to-eye."
Though WSP has only been hosted in College Station for a year, Chirdo said it's proven to be successful, as some 2017 graduates of the academic boot camp returned to mentor other veterans coming through the program this year.
"This all started in an Ivy League school," Chirdo said. "[WSP] wants to show these warriors that they can go and attend school at these types of places."
Daryl Forster, a junior at Columbia University and an eight-year veteran of the Marine Corps, is in College Station this month as a WSP fellow, instructing program participants in nonacademic curriculum. Forster went through WSP boot camp last year at the University of Notre Dame. He's enjoyed sharing with his peers all that he's learned about study skills, time management and cultural changes.
"I think the big change with college [from the Marine Corps] is that for so long you've had everything dictated to you, such as your schedule," he said. "And [in the military] you're not doing a lot of things like writing essays and reading long texts. ... I feel like I really have gained confidence, like I can do this anywhere."
Britni Ross, a seven-year Army veteran, just moved to College Station to study at Texas A&M and start her journey to becoming the other type of "vet," aspiring to work with animals. She was pointed toward this program by a staff member of the Texas A&M Veteran Student Resource Center [VSRC] when she started receiving academic advising for the fall semester.
"She could tell I was a bit stressed out, because it's been eight years since I've been in a classroom," Ross said.
Ross attended community college before enlisting; thus she will be immediately starting at Texas A&M with more upper-level coursework, which can be intimidating. But Ross has found that even over the course of just a few days of WSP boot camp, much of the pressure is lifting.
"Even though this beginning portion so far has been writing and history, I already feel much more confident," she said.