Date June 23, 2023
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At Brown, veterans enlist in a different type of boot camp

In partnership with the Warrior-Scholar Project, the University is hosting a cohort of veterans and active-duty service members for a weeklong event designed to ease the transition from military service to college life.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — It’s not often that a military service member goes through boot camp twice.

But at Brown University, 16 military veterans and active-duty members are getting a rigorous preview of higher education experiences as the University hosts its first-ever Warrior-Scholar Project Humanities Academic Boot Camp, from June 17 to 24.

The week-long boot camp offers an intensive curriculum designed to help military veterans prepare for a collegiate academic environment while learning strategies to become even more successful students. From lessons delivered by University faculty and mentorship from fellow student veterans, to one-on-one tutoring sessions and group seminars led by Brown graduate students, Warrior-Scholar Project boot camp participants are learning to adjust to concepts and practices that may seem unfamiliar after years spent away from the classroom.

“When you’re a student veteran, you’re working through what it means to be yourself outside of the military,” said Becky Scheusner, program coordinator in Brown’s Office of Military-Affiliated Students, who helped organize the event. “It’s exciting, but it can also be pretty intimidating — scary, even.”

A U.S. Navy veteran and Brown alumna herself, Scheusner has firsthand experience in making the transition from service to school. She empathizes with the obstacles student veterans face in a university setting — which is why she finds the WSP boot camp such a valuable resource.

“The challenge is that military life has left an indelible mark on you, but the size of that mark is entirely up to you,” she said. “A big part of going to college is having your assumptions questioned, and this is a supportive, intellectual environment where you get to decide: ‘Do I want to keep that assumption? Or do I want to change it?’”

Not-so-basic training

Hosting the academic boot camp marks the latest step Brown has taken to increase support for veterans and active members of the military who are pursuing college degrees. In recent years, the University has nearly doubled the number of veterans enrolled as undergraduates on its own campus, and Brown provides full financial support to its entire contingent of student-veterans.

The Warrior-Scholar Project hosts several boot camps each year on college campuses across the country, some with academic themes. The decision to host humanities-specific programming at Brown was intentional, said Mac Manning, director of Brown’s Office of Military-Affiliated Students.

“We wanted to play to some of our distinct strengths,” Manning said. “We have world-class faculty in the areas of international and public affairs, English and teaching, as well as the military fellows at the Watson Institute. We want to equip participants with invaluable resources they can relate to — and instructors who can relate to them.”

The boot camp seminars cover topics like “The Declaration in Context,” “American Democracy in Crisis” and “Public Service in Contemporary American Democracy.” They’re led by a mix of Brown University faculty, military fellows and one recent Brown alumnus. Among the instructors are Professor of International and Public Affairs and International Economics Mark Blyth; Assistant Professor of China Studies and Political Science Tyler Jost; Visiting Scholar in International and Public Affairs Jonathan Bott; Naval War College Military Professor Daniel Post; and Army veteran Brehan Brady, who graduated from Brown in May with concentrations in German studies and history.

Familiarizing boot camp participants with this type of curriculum, which is intensive in analytic reading, academic writing and research, will help them succeed in college, said Warrior-Scholar Project staff member Whittney Gould. And while some of the subject matter may be familiar for some, the academic rigor is something many are experiencing for the first time.

“They’re bringing their lived experiences into the classroom,” Gould said. “They’re studying the foundations of American democracy. That’s something in the military they can really relate to, because they are serving and defending the Constitution — it’s a great access point.”

Each morning after breakfast, participants gather for an hour-long study group before attending the key seminar of the day, which is followed by 3 hours of writing workshops and individualized support from dedicated tutors, who are also Brown graduate students.

The work doesn’t end once the sun goes down. After dinner, WSP staff lead the participants in practical-skill workshops on topics like time management and community building. Then, they work on their daily writing assignments with a second group of tutors, before ending the day with a reading period that wraps up at 10:45 p.m.

This program here is just yet another example of words being put into action and that the commitment that the University has — both in supporting its current veteran population and expanding those opportunities to other veterans and to other currently-serving service members.

Brehan Brady Brown University Class of 2023 graduate and WSP instructor
BRehan BRaday

The time dedicated to one-on-one instruction and support is one of the most important elements of the boot camp, Brady said.

“If they didn’t have this opportunity, and they go to school and they’re taking an Intro to Computing class with 300 other students and four really overworked teaching assistants, they’re just not going to be set up for success,” Brady said.

Also peppered throughout the jam-packed schedule are opportunities to socialize, connect with other student veterans and military members, learn more about Brown as a prospective choice, and break bread with Brown leaders. Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Eric Estes hosted a dinner at his residence for the boot camp participants.

“That’s like having dinner at an admiral or general’s house,” Scheusner said. “To a veteran or someone still in the military, that can definitely bring up tense or nervous feelings. But it’s part of the transition — college is meant to push your boundaries.”

With nearly 16 hours of scheduled programming each day, the boot camp is not for the faint of heart.

Detail shot of textbook and writing materials
Each day of the academic boot camp includes a seminar, group study sessions, one-on-one tutoring support, reading and writing workshops and opportunities to build community with other student veterans. 

Twenty-three-year-old Keith Buckholz, who served for five years in the Marine Corps and just finished his first year studying astrophysics at Yale University, said the program is showing him a new type of rigor. At the humanities boot camp, he’s honing his critical reading and writing skills, an opportunity he said he needs to help round out his STEM-specific coursework at Yale.

And though the days are long and intense, he ends each one feeling motivated and driven. Army veterans James Patterson, 23, and Ashley Silvia, 40, who are both enrolled in community colleges — in Michigan and Massachusetts, respectively — echoed that sentiment, adding that each day, they’re learning something new.

That’s even the case for Nigel Evans, a 28-year-old active-duty member of the Army Reserves and a rising junior at Brown, who is finding the program immensely helpful in supporting his studies in psychology.

He said attending the boot camp at Brown — while enrolled as a student at Brown — has only solidified his confidence in choosing the right school.

“I’ve really enjoyed the freedom of the Open Curriculum and being able to take classes that have been of interest to me,” Evans said. “And for my courses specifically, I’ve been able to form deep relationships with my professors.”

His only regret? Not participating in the boot camp earlier.

“These are some very useful skills that I wish I would have had prior to starting [at Brown],” Evans said. “But even with what I'm learning now, I feel like it’s all very helpful as I continue to move forward and take classes.”

For Brady, his participation in the boot camp as an instructor represents a full-circle moment at Brown.

“This program here is just yet another example of words being put into action and that the commitment that the University has — both in supporting its current veteran population and expanding those opportunities to other veterans and to other currently-serving service members,” he said.