UNC’s partnership with Warrior-Scholar Project enables veterans to transition into college life

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After serving in the Navy for more than seven years, Timothy Raiford was planning his next steps. One evening in 2019, he typed a question into the Google search box: “How does a veteran do in college?

When the link to the Warrior-Scholar Project website appeared, he immediately applied – even though it was 1 a.m.

He is grateful to have done so. Raiford, now 31, attended the 2019 WSP program at Cornell and plans to attend UNC this fall as an undergraduate.

WSP partners with 21 colleges across the United States to offer three programs in Humanities, STEM, and Business & Entrepreneurship. It also hosts virtual community college workshops and initiatives for female veterans. The WSP is specifically designed for veterans and military personnel entering higher education, and it is offered at no cost.

Since 2015, UNC has partnered with WSP to offer a week-long college humanities boot camp during the summer.

Scholar-Warrior Project Mission

WSP started at Yale University when a graduate student’s brother – a veteran – needed a crash course in how to succeed in college, said Hilary Lithgow, professor of English and comparative literature at the UNC.

Lithgow has participated in the WSP since its inception. She teaches a writing workshop where she helps students develop skills to be critical readers and writers. Students read complex texts such as Frederick Douglass’ Fourth of July Speech and Danielle Allen’s “Our Declaration.”

But academic development is only part of the program.

“Fundamentally, for me, a big part of the goal is to help veteran students understand that they have a place on college campuses,” Lithgow said. “They can take advantage of their experiences and the skills they have learned, and that can give them strength in college. »

To ease the transition, three alumni of the program return each year to act as fellows. These fellows act as advisors and teaching assistants, assisting participants with everything from finding dining halls to leading study sessions.

The road to UNC, at 31

For personal reasons, Raiford did not go to college directly after high school. He enlisted in the Navy, hoping to use it as a way to develop a skill set.

“It’s a tough life,” he said. “I’ve worked 80 to 90 hours a week for the past eight years.”

In the nuclear power program, he learned how to operate and maintain nuclear reactors, and eventually went to work with submarines. Raiford was stationed in Guam for five years as a nuclear reactor engineering supervisor, leading a team of nine and completing 11 missions. During the last three years of his Navy career, he was an instructor at a nuclear training unit, where he lectured on reactor theory and engineering.

After applying to WSP, Raiford was accepted and attended Cornell University’s 2019 summer, where he learned from “department heads with crazy backgrounds — the experts in their fields,” he said. .

The program, centered on “Democracy in America” ​​by Alexis de Tocqueville, was based on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, democracy in America and the perspective of veterans.

In the program, Raiford learned to actively read and interpret texts, as well as develop his writing skills with the help of writing coaches.

After his service, Raiford decided to complete a year at Wake Technical Community College so he could live at home with his family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Being several years older than the average college student and having traveled extensively since the military, Raiford believes his experiences allow him to bring a fresh perspective to the discussion.

“We had discussions about 9/11 and no one in my class was even born then,” he said. “I was in the library in 6th grade watching the second plane hit the tower.”

But his experiments do not spare his nerves.

“It’s kind of intimidating coming to the UNC zone at 31 with all these smart 18, 19, 20-year-olds,” he said.

Raiford said he will attend UNC starting this fall to pursue a degree in economics.

The WSP experience at UNC

After dropping out of high school in the 10th grade, Chris Whitney enlisted at 18 and completed eight years of active duty, where he served as a specialist in mortuary affairs. After leaving the service in 2015, he worked for several individual companies before realizing he wanted to return to school.

Whitney eventually went to community college in Norfolk, where he became president of the Student Veterans of America, where he found “true love to serve again,” he said.

Whitney heard about WSP through other SVA members, and being a Chapel Hill fan, he decided to enroll in UNC’s 2021 program.

Having been out of school for about 13 years, Whitney said he was nervous about returning, but at WSP he learned teachers and classmates were just as nervous as he was. . The warm and welcoming atmosphere calmed his nerves.

“I really have to give a shout out to Dr Lithgow: the most influential person we met that week,” he said. “His warmth and hospitality is what set the tone for the week for the rest of us.”

While on the program, Whitney encountered a diverse cohort of veterans, who had respectful intellectual discussions — an environment he had not previously been exposed to due to COVID-19.

“It sounds super cheesy, but there wasn’t the slightest bit of tension between 14 guys, which I’ve personally never seen,” he said.

Whitney, who is currently in the UNC application process, hopes to join the UNC community in the fall to leverage her associate’s degree in business administration.

“As a kid who had dropped out in 10th grade, I never thought being able to apply to Chapel Hill would be in the realm of possibility,” Whitney said.

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