As Yale’s veteran population grows, three women stand front and center
In 2010, there were no veterans attending Yale College. Now, 16 veterans and one active duty Marine Corps member attend Yale as undergraduates, and there are dozens more in the graduate and professional schools. There’s also a thriving Yale Veterans Network and a host of military-related programs flourishing on campus, including the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and the alumni-founded Warrior-Scholar Project, which brings 20-30 veterans to Yale each summer for a college readiness boot camp.
The university’s growing veterans’ community owes much to the work of three women who were honored Nov. 11 as part of Yale’s Veterans Day ceremony: Patricia Wei, associate director of undergraduate admissions and director of admissions for Yale’s Eli Whitney Students Program; Norma Thompson, senior lecturer in the humanities and academic board member and lecturer for the Warrior-Scholar Project; and veteran Lori Rasile, director of finance for Yale School of Nursing, who founded and has co-chaired the Yale Veteran’s Network.
“These three women make the lives of our veterans better, and Yale a better place,” said Linda Lorimer, retired secretary and vice president of Yale, who introduced the women during the Nov. 11 Yale Veteran’s Day Ceremony at Battell Chapel. Lorimer also co-chairs the 50WomenAtYale150 year-long celebration and said the Veteran’s Day committee wanted to take the opportunity to “honor women at Yale who have done so much to advance the work of our veterans.”
All Yale’s undergraduate veterans are part of the Eli Whitney Students Program, which provides nontraditional students a pathway to attend Yale College. One current student vet, 52-year-old Navy SEAL James “Jimmy” Hatch, attracted national media attention over the summer for his transition from combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan to Yale classrooms.
Many veterans are not considering college when they first enlist, said Wei, whose mission involves identifying promising veteran applicants and interesting them in Yale.
“Some of our undergraduate Yale student veterans may not have had the strongest high school records, but they did extraordinarily well at community colleges after their discharge, in part due to their transformative military experience. Part of my work is letting veterans and service members know that Yale is a real possibility.”
Veterans bring real benefit to classroom discussions, Wei said. “Their life experience, and military experience, adds a very different perspective.”
Thompson was introduced to the Warrior-Scholar Project by one of the founders, Christopher Howell ’14 B.A., who was her student. Howell had spent nine years in the Australian Army and served in Afghanistan before coming to Yale. His brother, David, put together a makeshift college preparation curriculum for him that helped him win admission to Yale and inspired him to help other vets make the transition to college.
“With the G.I. Bill, it was possible for veterans to go anywhere,” said Thompson, “but they didn’t get any guidance.”
Thompson offered to teach in the Warrior-Scholar Project that first year — 2012 — and was immediately impressed by the veterans who came to campus. “Many of these warrior scholars had poor educational backgrounds,” Thompson said, “but they dealt with the classic texts, including Plato and de Tocqueville, extremely well. They were like sponges — so interested in learning how to approach difficult texts in ways that were both attentive and critical.”
Originally designed as a one-week program in humanities, the Warrior-Scholar Project added a second week in 2017 dedicated to science, led by Yale astronomy professor Marla Geha. The Warrior-Scholar Project now exists at 20 universities, including Princeton, Harvard, and MIT.
“It has proven to be a paradigm that can be replicated,” Thompson said.
Meantime, she continues her active involvement with the Eli Whitney Students Program and is advising Hatch, the Navy SEAL, as he takes on directed studies, the intensive first-year program that addresses fundamental works and ideas of the Western tradition.
Rasile, a third-generation veteran who founded the Yale Veterans Network in 2013, first began working for Yale more than 20 years ago.
“My father’s mother and both grandfathers served in the Army during WWII,” she said. “My father served as a pilot in the Air Force during Vietnam. Growing up, I was so proud and inspired by their dedication to our country that I continued the legacy of service by joining the Army and CT National Guard as an intelligence analysist.”
A highlight of her work, she said, was founding the veterans network and supporting its mission to make Yale an employer of choice for veterans. “As founder and former co-chair, I have been able to bridge the gap between veterans and the Yale community by supporting access to jobs, continuing education, and community service projects with other academic and military partners,” she said.