TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It may be summer, but school is in session at the University of Arizona for some of the brave men and women who have served our country.
“It is a double-whammy, but I knew from the beginning it would be a process," said Susan Park.
Park joined the Navy twenty years ago, opting for an “independent" life in the military over college at the time. In the last two decades, she was stationed in Seoul, South Korea, Hawaii, New York and Chicago, Illinois.
Now, Park is one of 15 enlisted veterans spending the next two weeks at the U of A with the Warrior-Scholar Project.
The national nonprofit guides veterans through their transition from the military and helps them develop the skills necessary to succeed in the next chapter of their life, a college degree.
The program is free for enlisted veterans.
“It’s a boot camp. It’s an immersive experience and we want to see how they handle it," said Jorge Pentado, a Navy veteran and Junior Fellow with WSP.
The two-week academic boot camp is a lot for the brain. A normal day starts around 7:15 a.m., filled with lectures, study sessions and breaks for meals in between. Park said the veterans do get homework, so studying can go well into the night.
“It’s almost unreasonably demanding, right? And that’s the purpose," said Pentado. "That’s what college is going to be like, especially to someone who might be rusty, who might have a pretty decent gap of time between high school and returning to college after their service.”
The curriculum is also about giving confidence to veterans as they move out of their comfort zones and into a college setting.
“Definitely helped me boost my confidence and kind of helped me take off a little bit of the rust in my academic skills," said Pentado.
“How we need to go about our studies, how to structure our day," said Park. "Planning, scheduling, all that kind of stuff.
With skills to juggle a new schedule, Park said WSP also gives her the camaraderie she lost when she left the military.
WSP launched its first program at Yale University in 2012 with nine participants. Since then, WSP has expanded to 18 college campuses and will serve 275 veterans at boot camps across the country in 2019.
In addition to the U of A, WSP graduates have gone on to enroll at prestigious institutions including Georgetown, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Columbia, Yale, and Stanford.
“I went from the Army to Columbia University, a top-tier university. I just finished my first year and I was able to succeed," said Pentado.
Park hopes to pursue her college degree at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.
“I served my country and now I feel like my calling is to serve my community, so I want to do that at the capacity of being a nurse," said Park.
Since 2016, 39 veterans have attended WSP at the University of Arizona.
If you are an enlisted military service member on active duty, in the reserves, or already separated you can apply for WSP.
To learn more, visit www.warrior-scholar.org.