Student Spotlight 2023: Justin Cole, U.S. Air Force

Tell us about yourself.

I am from Colorado Springs, CO, and served as a satellite operator in the United States Air Force. I decided to join the military because as I was nearing the end of high school in 2012, I was completely rudderless. I knew I’d drop out of college as soon as I tried. A cousin on active duty recommended I enlist in the Air Force as soon as I graduated. I feel lucky to have listened to that advice. Military service has had a huge impact on my life. A fun fact about me is that if we’re friends, you can assume I’ll cook for you at some point. 

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 attending a WSP academic boot camp, my background was all over the place. I graduated high school with a 1.6 GPA. After enlisting, I completed a two-year degree through the Community College of the Air Force. After completing my contract with the Air Force, I enrolled in an engineering program at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. I’ve maintained straight A’s ever since.

I decided to apply for the STEM academic boot camp at MIT because I couldn’t shake this feeling that there was something to be learned at WSP that couldn’t be learned anywhere else. I’m sure we’ve all been advised to “work smarter, not harder” during our time in the service. In my mind, if anyone knew how to adapt that ethos to the classroom, it would be other veterans. In the end, that was exactly the case.

As for my confidence, after seeing our schedule, I was a little nervous about how much activity was crammed into each day. However, the WSP fellows assigned to our class did a fantastic job of helping us understand how to pace ourselves.

On the final day, my confidence level could be described with one word: High. I felt this wave of excitement about applying all the things I’d learned at WSP in the upcoming college semester. Since then, I’ve been incorporating those lessons learned and new habits into my daily life, and it’s been working out really well.

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

Get to know your professors, and let them get to know you! If you have an interest in their research, ask them about it. Who knows, maybe they’ll offer to involve you somehow. Also, there is no such thing as a dumb question. If you don’t understand something about the material, pursue an answer until you get one that satisfies you.

However, the most important thing I learned is that practically nobody graduates from a difficult academic program alone. You can get pretty far working hard, but if you don’t build relationships with the people around you, the odds you experience negative outcomes (like burnout) go up, while the odds you experience positive outcomes (like graduating) go down.

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

Meaningful!

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