Ten present and former enlisted service members attended online classes with Cornell faculty July 19-24 as part of The Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP), a free college preparation experience for recent veterans and current military.
The university first partnered with the academic boot camp in 2015, and 81 veterans have now passed through the experience at Cornell. The intensive weeklong program was condensed slightly for the virtual format this year, but the curriculum remained the same, with seminar-style classes in the liberal arts focused on government, history and law.
The one-day classes are accompanied by writing seminars led by Cornell graduate students, as well as tutoring and study skills sessions with WSP fellows, all student veterans who support the students throughout the week.
“Peer mentorship and sharing our stories with them is a huge part of our role, because we are all alumni of the program,” said Kaedy Puckett, a WSP fellow now attending the University of Chicago. “Therefore we can show them that it works, that we all attended or are attending these partner schools, or just great schools. And we can show firsthand that this program is effective and it works for veterans; it gets us into great schools where we can succeed.”
The participants learn how to frame ideas in an academic context, and gain other skills and useful knowledge for navigating successful college careers.
“Being in a different time zone, I’d say you can definitely push your limits past what you think you can do,” said Alexander DesPois, a Pittsburgh native currently serving in the Army and stationed in Germany.
The seminars – on the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and public service and democracy – were led by Kim Todt, M.A. ’09, Ph.D. ’12, lecturer in history; Eduardo Peñalver ’94, the Allen R. Tessler Dean of Cornell Law and professor of law; and Jeffrey Rachlinski, professor of law.
Programming included a targeted session on Cornell admissions, a WSP alumni panel and a live virtual campus tour, created by Visitor Relations staff and a first for both the university and WSP. The national organization also offers a STEM curriculum at selected institutions.
“I’m pursuing a career in education, and at first I was really edging toward CSU [California State University], mostly because I felt doubtful about applying at an Ivy League [school],” said Saul Razo, a former Marine from Los Angeles. “But through this course giving me a huge push, maybe I’ll apply to Columbia or Cornell.”
During a social hour that concluded the weeklong program, Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff underscored Cornell’s commitment to enlisted service members and veterans.
“Several years ago, not counting our ROTC students, six out of 14,000 undergrads had enlisted to serve their country in the military, and the problem was similar in our Ivy peers,” he said, “We’ve worked hard to build that cohort and to make sure that people understand that veterans belong at Cornell, which I think of as the original ‘democratic Ivy.’”
Cornell set an initial stretch goal of 100 veterans enrolled, “but I’m hoping we blow past that and get to a significant proportion of Cornell’s undergrads having served in the military,” Kotlikoff said. “This really diversifies and adds a breadth of experience to our campus; it adds diversity in many, many ways and really adds something that we see is of extraordinary value.
“The commitment is not just to recruit those students but to support them,” he said. That support includes the Summer Bridge Program, tailored to incoming veterans who are transitioning and acclimating to an academic environment.
“I’m really pleased with those of you who are interested in Cornell,” Kotlikoff told the students, “and I look forward to welcoming you to campus.”