The students seemed attentive while taking occasional bites of dining hall food as Joel Curran, vice chancellor for communications and public affairs, gave them advice.
Transitioning into college can be a difficult task, he told the 20 students facing the challenge after four or more years of military service.
This was UNC’s second year hosting the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP), a nonprofit that provides immersive week- or two-week long workshops free of charge to enlisted veterans.
“These are men and women coming from all walks of life, and I feel like they’re leaving with an unparalleled confidence in their ability to pursue higher education,” said Zach Johnson, WSP program director at UNC.
Frankie Burgos, Marine Corps veteran, decided to pusue a “civilian career” during his last year in the military.
“I believe that I have the opportunity to educate myself and equalize my situation and be an influence to others,” he said.
Burgos grew up in North Carolina and will be attending UNC in the fall. He learned he was accepted on June 6.
Burgos said by the end of the week the veterans had gone from listening and absorbing information from the speakers to engaging and exchanging ideas with them.
“That self confidence has grown exponentially in a matter of a few days, which I thought was phenomenal,” Burgos said.
WSP was founded at Yale in 2012 with nine students. It has served 265 veterans so far and will serve an additional 235 across 12 campuses this summer.
At UNC, Joe Wescott, executive director of general administration at UNC, initiated WSP last year with 14 participants.
Marine Corps veteran Kalesha Farley was one of the 20 participants this year. She plans on studying nursing at Luzern County Community College in Pennsylvania.
Even though she always planned on going back to school, she said she was nervous about doing so before attending the workshops.
“Coming here made me more at ease, more excited, more eager to go out and learn,” Farley said.
Johnson has helped WSP establish its roots in Chapel Hill by landing a local sponsorship with Starbucks Coffee on Franklin Street. Starbucks manager Adam Mason agreed to provide free coffee all week for the veterans.
“I don’t want UNC to be just another school, and neither do the faculty and staff here that want WSP to keep coming back,” Johnson said. “So by establishing these local sponsor relationships we expect WSP to not only grow by spreading awareness but grow by business participation.”
Johnson also added an Ackland Art Museum tour and had guest Howard Lee, a former state senator and mayor of Chapel Hill, come speak to the veterans.
Lee was drafted into the Army in 1959, the only college graduate and draftee in his barracks. In 1960, he organized a sit-in in Killeen, Texas, after a restaurant refused to serve him. He was later sent to Korea, where he served as an ambulance driver and an assistant company clerk before his discharge in 1961.
Farley said Lee’s experience as a veteran inspired her.
“He was able to go from one different environment and come to another environment and still be successful,” she said.
After speaking to the student veterans at lunch on Thursday, Curran said it was a privilege to meet them. He encouraged them to interact with the other students on campus who would benefit and grow by talking to them.
“The teamwork and leadership skills that they have are things our students are craving,” Curran said.
NC STRIVE Conference
The Durham VA Medical Center will participate Wednesday, June 12, in the second N.C. Student Transition Resource Initiative for Veterans Education (NC STRIVE) conference.
This state-wide collaborative event is free of charge and supported by the Governor’s Workgroup for Veterans Affairs.
This program will feature experts in the field, panel presentations and small breakout groups. A panel of student veterans will discuss helpful services and supports during their time in higher education.
Attendees will learn about best practices related to transition, from military to student, from DoD to VA healthcare, and from student to career. They will also have the opportunity to network with colleagues from other two- and four-year colleges and universities.