Student Spotlight 2023: Jackie Chen, USMC

Tell us about yourself.

I am from Mission Viejo, CA, and served in the United States Marine Corps as a data systems administrator. I also worked in IT and did some cyber security. I joined the Marine Corps when I was 19 because I was lost in life, unsure of who I was and what I wanted to do. I felt a calling for something bigger, for a purpose. I eventually found that in the Marine Corps. 

A fun fact about myself is that a few months after I was born, my parents sent me to live with my grandparents in China for 5 years so that they could work full-time. Technically, Mandarin Chinese is my first language, but my English is significantly better than my Mandarin now.

Why did you decide to participate in WSP this summer, and was there a shift in your confidence level from the first day of the course to the last day?

Prior to enlisting in the Marine Corps, I completed one year of community college and took online classes as a Marine. I decided to take a risk at what sounded like something that was too good to be true but ended up being more than just worth it. I felt a bit nervous about returning to school after so many years, so I wanted to take a chance with the Warrior-Scholar Project.

My confidence was low on the first day of the humanities course at Williams College. I had not taken an in-person college class in about two years and was worried about my writing ability and focusing on class. The Marine Corps holds classes in what we like to call “death by PowerPoint,” and I struggled to focus and pay attention in those classes, leading to my low confidence at the start of the course. My confidence on the last day of the course was at an all-time high. The professors and fellows were enthusiastic and engaging, making time pass almost too fast. I felt their passion, and that motivated me to work even harder. Leading me to say for the first time in my life that I was looking forward to homework. The course also helped me reignite my love for learning.

What were some key insights you gained during your course, and what is your biggest takeaway?

First, the power of networking is key, both in academia and in professional life. Next, by sharing their life experiences and journeys through the military and academia, the fellows (peer mentors) were able to draw parallels from their journeys to ours. They provided us with tips and resources we otherwise did not know. They also taught us about fellowship as both future WSP alumni and connected us closer to the veteran community at large.

The most important thing I learned was that although I am on a “non-traditional’ path to higher education, my experiences and journey make me a strong candidate for top colleges and universities. I also learned how to have confidence both in myself and the experiences that I have had and that it is never too late to pursue higher education.

How would you describe your overall experience?

Valuable! The value of this course could not be stated more. The confidence I built, the connections I made, and the community I joined will be a valuable part of my higher education journey and beyond.

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