From the battlefield to the classroom: Program helping reintroduce soldiers to college

Some soldiers are trading the battlefield for a college campus by enrolling in the Warrior-Scholar Project.

It’s an academic boot camp for soldiers who have either retired or will soon.

The program brings soldiers onto elite campuses around the country for a two-week immersion into academic life. The goal is to teach them how to be students and facilitate their transition back to civilian life.

A couple dozen participants spent two weeks in July attending classes at Harvard University and M.I.T.

U.S Marine Corp Sergeant Buddy Ray Summit said this was the first time he had been in a classroom in a long time.

“It’s almost been so long that I really and truly have forgotten what school is like."

Summit now dreams of becoming a surgeon one day.

“I never really dreamed I would be on this campus in some sort of educational capacity,” explained the 29-year old.

Big dreams are what the Warrior-Scholar Project is all about, explained Sidney Ellington, the program’s executive director.

“We want to take our enlisted veterans, many of them first-generation college students, and expose to what life would be like for them at a top-tier school.”

Elllington, a former U.S Navy SEAL, said moving from a war zone to a classroom is a big transition.

“We have a program called de-greening, and that’s where we talk about taking the uniform off, washing the camo paint off, and transitioning from a very unique culture which is the military culture and what life is like on a base, to what life is like in a college classroom.”

The Warrior-Scholar Project started in 2012 with nine participants. This year, 245 veterans will attend 17 elite campuses across the country.

“We set the base as high as we can and expose them to that environment,” said Ellington.

It’s an approach that appealed to Sarah Butler.  The Air Force Cadet is retiring early, after being diagnosed with diabetes.

“I think that’s what we’re all doing here, looking for ways to develop ourselves and find a place in which we can fit into the world of academia.”

For many of the service men and women, the process starts with learning how to learn and showing a willingness to go outside a personal comfort zone.

Ellington believes soldiers who take the first step on that journey can reap big rewards.

“While there is a such as thing as post-traumatic stress disorder, there is such a thing as post-traumatic growth,” explained Ellington. “We believe our program allows individuals to re-focus, re-set, and re-center, set their sights high, and start to achieve.  That can do wonders for overcoming post-traumatic stress, or overcoming a negative experience they may have had in a previous tour of duty.”

The program is free for soldiers, but the Warrior-Scholar Project spends about $6,000 to sponsor each attendee.

The program is a registered charity and accepts donations.

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