UVA Hosting Academic ‘Boot Camp’ for Military Members Considering College

June 18, 2024 By Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu

Matt Harmon can admit his high-school career didn’t set the world on fire. But he’s preparing to join the University of Virginia’s Class of 2028 after a meandering detour through military service and an academic boot camp hosted for the first time on Grounds.

Harmon is part of a small class of enlisted veterans and active duty service members participating in a two-week condensed look at college life through a program called Warrior-Scholar Project, a non-profit organization providing avenues for current and former military members to seek degrees.

“I didn’t know I wanted to go back to school, and I didn’t know if I had the capability because, to be honest, high school wasn’t that great,” said Harmon, who served in the Army. “But this program really helps me learn that I can analytically read and analytically think and can actually do the assignments.”

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With an eye on a foreign affairs career, Harmon applied to UVA because of its reputation for public service.

“I love that everyone here is in the same mindset of service and dedication to the philosophy of being great and good, because I am trying to get into a government career and I think this is the perfect school for that,” he said.

The service members are spending two weeks on Grounds, attending classes taught by Warrior-Scholar Project staff and UVA professors. They’re staying in dorms, eating in cafeterias and touring historic academic buildings.

They’re also discovering a lot of the skills they learned in the service will help them in college, said Patrick Trujillo, a Marine and alumnus of Warrior-Scholar Project who earned a business degree at San Diego State University. On Monday, Trujillo taught an afternoon class on entrepreneurship, part of the humanities and business focus of the UVA boot camp.

In that class, many of the students found themselves in familiar territory, charged with identifying a problem and finding a solution, hallmarks of military service. But Trujillo said there are some things former military members would do well to unlearn. Classroom rules urge students not to dominate conversations and not to automatically take charge in group sessions, also sometimes hallmarks of military service.

Portrait of Evan Valentin (left) and Pam Newton (right)

Some Warrior-Scholar Project attendees like Evan Valentin, left, are planning a transition from military to college. But others like Pam Newton served a full military career and are returning to school after retirement. (Photos by Emily Faith Morgan, University Communications)

For Evan Valentin, one thing he heard in the military urged him to attend Warrior-Scholar Project boot camp: “Your date of separation, it comes quick.”

“I wanted to stay ahead of that,” he said, “and I thought, ‘What do I want to do moving forward?’”

Valentin, a linguist for the Air Force, said he’s preparing for a transition to college life with the hopes of earning a law degree and an MBA from New York University or Columbia University. His eventual goal is to practice law and solve social problems through entrepreneurship.

“The tools you need for that all reside in education,” he said. “Like most veterans, it has been a while since high school. And in finding Warrior-Scholar Project, it just gave me the resources and the steps necessary to get into the right mindset to be a good student.”

The program has put thousands of service members in that mindset. Warrior-Scholar Project boasts that roughly nine of every 10 academic boot camp attendees have either graduated from college or are enrolled and on track to graduate.

UVA is hosting the boot camp for the first time, to the delight of the organization’s CEO, a 2017 UVA School of Law graduate.

“As a UVA Law alumnus, I’m thrilled to see this partnership come to fruition,” Ryan Pavel, a Marine who enlisted at 17, said. “It’s especially meaningful that this particular boot camp grew from the ground up, as it started when a group of enlisted veteran UVA undergraduates, including a number of WSP alumni, advocated for WSP to come to UVA. From there, a number of excellent faculty members and administrators worked closely with WSP staff to make this boot camp a reality.”

Portrait of Matt Harmon

Matt Harmon joined the Army after high school, but now plans to use his education benefit to enroll in UVA in the fall. He said Warrior-Scholar Project is helping him with the transition. (Photo by Emily Faith Morgan, University Communications)

UVA, ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a top 10 university for veterans, joins 20 other colleges, including William & Mary, Harvard University, the University of Notre Dame, Stanford University and Princeton University, in hosting Warrior-Scholar Project this summer.

While many of the service members are not too far removed from college age, a few, like Pam Newton, served full careers before considering college.

Newton dropped her academic interest in photography after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and joined the Air Force. She served 20 years, retired and moved to Richmond, where she is enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“My original focus before 9/11 was to go to VCU,” she said. “So, I am basically taking a step back and starting back over where I left off.”

Pavel, the CEO, says he hopes his organization can be the springboard for more veterans to attend college and all the better if it is at UVA.

“UVA is a world-class institution, and this partnership demonstrates its commitment to supporting enlisted veterans,” he said. “I sincerely hope that many more veterans consider applying to UVA to complete their undergraduate studies. WSP is excited to play a role in making that happen.”

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Mike Mather

Managing Editor University Communications