Academic boot camp hosted by SU helps veterans transition to university life

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About 200 veterans will participate in the Warrior-Scholar Project's academic boot camps on college campuses across the nation this year.

Military veterans attending next week’s boot camp at Syracuse University will be training to succeed in the classroom, rather than in battle.

The weeklong academic boot camp, coordinated by the Warrior-Scholar Project, prepares enlisted veterans for undergraduate college coursework through seminars and workshops. The program hosted by SU will begin Sunday.

Throughout the week, veterans will attend writing workshops and seminar discussions as a part of a curriculum that focusses on themes of democracy and politics. Classes on note taking, time management and other study skills train veterans to handle college coursework.

Corri Zoli, chair of the WSP’s Board of Academic Advisors and director of research at SU’s Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, said the boot camp is designed to help veterans understand core critical thinking and writing skills required for success in a university.

“Obviously that’s not a focus of military service,” she said. “You’re there to defend the nation, not develop academic skills.”

Sidney Ellington, executive director of the WSP, said veterans come out of military service as team builders and leaders with the ability to make decisions in stressful situations. One of the purposes of the boot camp is to help veterans couple those traits with a great education so that veterans can earn a degree from a top-tier school, he added.

The program also addresses the transition between military and university life. For the length of the program, veterans are housed in SU dorms, taught in university classrooms and fed in university cafeterias.

Ellington said the boot camp teaches veterans about the importance of “degreening” — assimilating from military to civilian life. During the week, veterans receive tips on how to transition and are encouraged to assimilate into civilian society.

Although veterans are taught to transition onto a university campus, Ellington said they can face self-doubt and medical issues that normal university students may not have to overcome. Veterans are taught on college campuses where they can go to seek help for particular problems, he added.

In addition to teaching veterans academic and civilian transition skills, the WSP’s boot camp also helps veterans become “informed consumers” of higher education, Ellington said. Because about two-thirds of enlisted veterans are first-generation college students, they often do not have a clear understanding of the higher education landscape.

“They make, in my view … poor decisions, or they’re led to believe they’re making good decisions but they don’t turn out so well,” Ellington said. Those decisions can include pursuing an education at an online, for-profit university where the value of the degree may only be worth as much as a high school diploma, he added.

Instructors at the boot camp spend time teaching veterans about the differences between schools and why it is important to attend a four-year institution, Ellington said.

The WSP’s academic boot camp is held on about 15 college campuses across the nation, including SU, Georgetown University and the University of Southern California. This summer marks the third year SU has hosted the program.

About 200 veterans will participate in academic boot camps this year. As a donation-funded program, veterans attend the boot camps free of charge.

Ellington said watching veteran’s lives being transformed by the boot camp has been inspirational. Many graduates of the program have gone on to attend top-tier universities like SU, Dartmouth College and Stanford University.

“It’s just success story after success story,” he said.


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