Student Spotlight 2023: John Goeken, USMC

Tell us about yourself.

I am from Desert Hot Springs, CA, aka “the real desert,” and served from 2004 to 2013 as an infantryman in the Marine Corps. I deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan twice as part of the security forces in Bahrain. It had always been a dream of mine to join the military. Knowing that my father and grandfather were both in the Army, it felt natural for me also to serve. Serving my country felt especially apt because 9/11 occurred, and the immediate deployment of troops to Afghanistan took place. I still had a couple of years of high school left, but I’d often see juniors and seniors from my school joining the military and returning from Afghanistan before I was able to enlist. This only solidified my resolve to join. A fun fact about me is that I enjoy a little honey in my coffee. Most people find this strange, but If you use just a little, it isn’t sweet enough to overpower the coffee and gets rid of the bitterness of most coffee. And if you believe the old wives tale, wildflower honey specific to whatever region you are in will help with allergies.

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?

I was already two years into an engineering program before spending two weeks at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. The humanities and STEM courses were exactly what I was looking for to help me prepare to continue my education. I immediately signed up when this opportunity was presented at a Paralyzed Veterans of America seminar earlier in the year. It was one of the best decisions I made. 

As for my confidence, it was decent going into humanities week, and my STEM confidence was a little too high. I had to get knocked down a couple pegs for sure. I went into WSP “knowing” calculus but not understanding its application. My weaknesses and strengths were highlighted, giving me places to work on academically and personally. The course pushes you in a way that makes your seams split or cracks open a little wider, so you to no choice but to them.

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

If you’re thinking it, someone else probably has the same idea, just ask. The ability to have a group discussion only takes one person to start and the open-mindedness of the group to listen to what is being said. This was more apparent as the course continued. It only took one idea to get the gears turning for everyone. 

But the most important thing I learned was to ask for help or clarification whenever you can. Sometimes, all you need is a different perspective. You don’t have to struggle or torture yourself to figure things out. If you’ve exhausted all resources and “it” just isn’t clicking, it doesn’t hurt to ask for help. It makes you a better student in school and life when you are willing to acknowledge your weaknesses and help others with your strengths.

Also, If you use all the tools available, even if it takes extra time to learn to use them effectively, they can save you in the future. I had only used ChatGPT once or twice before the course, but I took advantage of it for reading materials and STEM tutoring when we weren’t in class. New tools like ChatGPT (Language Learning Models), Khan Academy, YouTube tutorials, and old tools, such as simply getting new perspectives, working in groups, reading text, etc., are what make the difference in learning.

Knowing something and applying it are two different things. I knew calculus, but it was beyond my ability to comprehend some of the questions with my skill level when it came to applying it to physics questions. It was a great lesson to learn because it forced me to think differently and ultimately helped me change my thought process when tackling problems.

In one word, How would you describe your overall experience?

Gratitude!

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