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Veterans turn their attention to academics

The weeklong Warrior-Scholar Project gives individuals the tools to obtain a four-year undergraduate degree

John Mork and scholars
USC Board of Trustees chair John Mork speaks to military scholars enrolled in the Warrior-Scholars Project. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Fourteen young men and women who have served their country in the armed forces are spending a week at USC to prepare for success in the next stage of their lives: the college experience.

The group is participating in the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP), being held on the USC campus for the first time. Nationwide, the project helps veterans and those who will soon leave the military to develop the academic and social skills necessary to obtain four-year undergraduate degrees. WSP donors cover all costs except transportation.

“We want to give you the tools to succeed,” John Mork ’70, MS ’12, chair of the USC Board of Trustees, told the students on the second day of their WSP boot camp at USC. “Your skill set is better than that of any high school student. You’ve learned about leadership, but also followership.”

He gave the group several tips on how to be successful students and achieve their professional goals.

Mork said that community college is a good route to top four-year schools, noting that USC admits more transfer students than any other research university. He also recommended being very well organized while juggling jobs and other responsibilities during college, and shutting off the Internet and phones to produce high-quality schoolwork in a shorter period of time.

Being the best she can be

Karen Miranda, who served in the Marines from 2009-13, is a student at Saddleback College in Orange County.

“I’ve been stuck getting ‘Bs’ no matter what I do and I want to become the best student I can be,” said Miranda, who considers USC her “dream” school and ultimately wants to become a dentist. “So far, I’ve learned how to analyze and better understand books, and tips on how to more easily transition to civilian life.”

Taught by USC faculty, the program includes reading the work of modern and classical authors focusing on liberty and democracy, analytic reading techniques, academic writing strategies, individual practice work sessions and one-to-one tutoring, if needed. The goal is to teach the students ─ many of whom have not been in a classroom for several years and are the first in their families to attend college ─ the essential skills, habits and behavior necessary for college-level work.

Northern California resident Britt Sullivan was a Marine for eight years and is now a student at Foothill Community College in Los Altos Hills. He, too, would like to attend USC and hopes to become a mechanical engineer.

“I did badly in high school and wish I had come here before starting community college,” said Sullivan, who heard about WSP from two friends who attended the program at Yale University. “I’m getting positive reinforcement that guys like me can go for what we want, reorienting our drive and skills to focus on excelling academically.”

Mork, founder and chief executive of the Energy Corp. of America, said he became aware of WSP through an executive in his company who is a Navy veteran, and he discussed the program with USC President C. L. Max Nikias, who decided to proceed with it.

The first WSP summer program launched at Yale in 2012; now 11 top colleges participate. Sid Ellington, executive director of WSP, said USC is a good choice to host the program because of its high academic standing and the proximity of several military bases in Southern California.

USC has a history of commitment to those who have served in the armed forces, including a decades-long relationship with ROTC and the development of a number of innovative programs for military veterans.

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