Expanded program gives veterans the confidence to become scholars

Photos: The Warrior-Scholar Project: Second year at Yale

Among the 24 participants in this year's Warrior-Scholar Project is Kenneth Richardson (foreground), who served in both the Army and Navy and is a survivor of the 2009 Fort Hood shootings.
The veterans learn how to read critically, with many of their assignments centered on the theme of democracy.
Norma Thompson is one of 18 Yale faculty members, along with other University staff, who volunteer to instruct veterans in the program.
In addition to honing their academic skills, the program also prepares the veterans for the social and emotional challenges they may face in the college environment.
Of the students who participated in the Warrior-Scholar Project last summer, all who attended college were successful in staying in school.
Christopher Howell, one of the founders of the program, is a current student in Yale's Eli Whitney Program and a former member of the Australian Army.
Marc Brackett, director of Yale's Center for Emotional Intelligence, talked to the veterans about the importance of emotional intelligence in learning.
David Howell, who developed the curriculum that helped his brother Christopher Howell make the transition to college life, gave the veterans some training in how to read most effectively.
Ample time was left for individual study...
... and for recreation, in this case on the football field.
The veterans acknowledged that the program is rigorous, but they also learned how skills they learned in the military — such as discipline — helped them in the classroom.
During their stay, the veterans also learned about the Yale campus.
Jesse Reising '11, now a law student at Harvard University, is a co-founder of the Warrior-Scholar Project. He had hoped to join the military but was unable to do so because of a football injury at Yale. He thus turned his attention to assisting those who have served.
Christopher Howell and Jesse Reising, among other volunteers, celebrated the veterans' successful completion of the program at a formal dinner.
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After participating in the Warrior-Scholar Project at Yale last summer, Army veteran Dave Carrell completed his associate’s degree at Central Texas College with a 3.89 grade-point-average and will begin courses for a B.A. at Vassar College at the end of summer.

That accomplishment, Carrell says, would not have been possible on his own. He credits the Warrior Scholar Project — which helps war veterans and others leaving the service transition to college — with giving him the academic, social, and emotional tools necessary to be a successful student after spending eleven-and-a-half years in the Army, where he served as a tank commander and completed four deployments to Iraq.

The 32-year-old Carrell stopped by the campus at the end of this summer’s Warrior-Scholar program to greet the project’s leaders and to check in on fellow veteran Kenneth Richardson, whom he met at his Texas community college and urged to participate in the Warrior-Scholar Project this year.

Started by Yale alumnus Jesse Reising ’11 and Christopher Howell, a current student in the University’s Eli Whitney Program who served for nine years in the Australian Army, the Warrior-Scholar Project helps veterans make the adjustment to student life via an intensive curriculum that hones their reading, writing, and other academic skills, and prepares participants for the cultural and emotional transition from the military to student life.

The program has grown from a one-week “academic boot camp” to a two-week experience, this year accommodating 24 students (there were nine last year). Eighteen Yale faculty members and instructors volunteer their time to offer classes and workshops designed to enhance the critical thinking, reading, and writing skills of the veterans as wells as lead conversations with the participants about their transition from combat to college.

“The Warrior-Scholar Project is a not just a reading and writing course, and not just a recovery program for veterans,” says Howell. “It’s a transition program that helps participants be prepared for all of the issues and obstacles they are going to face in the college environment.”

Howell’s brother, David, designed a similar course curriculum for him when he left the military in 2008 to attend the University of Sydney in Australia before entering Yale’s Eli Whitney Program for non-traditional students.

Reising and Howell say that some of the participants in the Warrior-Scholar Project enter the program with a false sense of confidence, while others are much more anxious about making the transition to college.

“We remind them that some of the things they acquire in the military, such as hard work and discipline, will be very valuable to them in college,” says Reising.

The program takes a holistic approach, Reising and Howell add. During the two-week program, the project’s staff and faculty discussed daily each participant’s reading and writing progress, and also identified social and emotional issues faced by the veterans, some of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their combat experiences.

Carrell says in the year after he completed the program, he kept in touch with Howell and Reising, sometimes asking for advice or to get feedback on a college paper he wrote.

“They’ve been amazing,” says Carrell. “They are volunteering to help us out, and it’s not something they have to do. They do it because they care, and through their support, they gave me a roadmap to success. One year ago, I wasn’t sure I could finish work toward my associate’s degree; today I’m heading to Vassar College. I’m sure that would not have been the case without the Warrior-Scholar Project. I think the most important thing I gained from the program is confidence: To have a Yale professor look at one of my papers and say ‘It looks good’ — that was simply amazing. It gives you all the confidence in the world.”

Richardson says that Carrell didn’t tell him precisely what the program entailed when recommending the college transition program. He’s glad that he had no advance knowledge, Richardson says, because he might have felt intimidated by the workload for the classes, and been reluctant to attend himself.

“I’m a kid who grew up on the south side of Chicago, who got a GED from a school for at-risk youth,” says Richardson. “I’m the first person in my family to get a high school diploma. During my two weeks in the Warrior-Scholar Project, I learned how to read critically, questioning everything and paying attention to details. I learned how to have in-depth conversations about what we read.

“I never thought I’d appreciate something like having a conversation about de Tocqueville’s view of democracy, but now I’m Googling everything and wanting to learn more,” he adds. “Seeing the guys like Dave Carrell, who have made it, makes me realize that I can’t just settle anymore. Being in an environment at Yale makes me think that maybe one day I can be a student at Yale or Harvard or Vassar and be able to make a difference in the world.”

Carrell is looking forward to starting his classes at Vassar, where he received a full four-year scholarship from the Posse Foundation and will be among a group of other veterans there working toward bachelor’s degrees.

For 22-year-old Matthew Maclaine, who served four years in the Marine Corps and fought in Afghanistan, the Warrior-Scholar Project provided invaluable preparation for the start of his college education at Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, California.

“I now view college as an opportunity to learn everything,” says Maclaine. “I have an open mind about the experience. I know it will be tough transitioning to my new freedom and that I have to structure my own time, but the Warrior-Scholar Project has developed in me a model I can apply to the rest of my life. Plus, I know these guys here who lead the program will bend over backward to help me. That’s invaluable, just knowing that they are stoked to provide that support.”

Since its successful pilot on the Yale campus last summer, the Warrior-Scholar Project has received substantial grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Darby Foundation, and the Diana Davis Spenser Foundation. Next summer, it will be launched at Harvard University, where Reising is a law student. Other universities have also expressed an interest in bringing the program to their campuses.

“We are thrilled that everyone who enrolled in college after completing the Warrior-Scholar Project last summer successfully made the transition,” says Howell. “We’ll be able to help even more people make the transition as the program grows. We had a great second year at Yale.”

For more on the Warrior-Scholar Project, see this story and the project's website.