Student Spotlight: Jeff Sousa, U.S. Army WSP-Georgetown University Cohort

What was your educational experience prior to WSP? Would you consider yourself a confident student?

Admittedly, I was not a great student in high school. The idea of sitting in a classroom all day felt unbearable. Although I often enjoyed the subjects we studied in class, I generally struggled to focus, and found far more enjoyment in my extracurricular activities than I did in my academics. My grades reflected this as a result. As I progressed through high school, I found myself spending more and more time in the band room perfecting my music skills — and far less time doing homework. Around my sophomore year, I stopped doing homework completely. I found that completing homework had little effect on my test results, so I asked myself, Why bother? I was managing decent grades on test scores alone, so I believed my time to be better spent practicing skills that I thought might be more relevant to my dream career in the arts. I believed I would either be a successful musician or independent filmmaker, so it never seemed important to succeed in my core academic classes.

By junior year, however, this approach caught up to me. I was no longer acing tests without studying and completing homework. The classes that once came easy to me now suddenly felt challenging. I couldn’t accept that this was a result of my own lack of effort, so as a defense mechanism, I convinced myself that these classes — and school in general — just didn’t matter. I stopped caring about my grades, stopped trying on tests, and occasionally skipped classes altogether. The confidence I once had in the classroom was replaced with disappointment and despondency. I no longer felt capable of succeeding in school at all, and I slowly abandoned any remaining hope of going to college. My decisions up to this point ultimately led me to forego higher education and enlist in the military. Although I am extremely proud of my military service in hindsight, I can’t help but wonder how different life would be if I made different decisions in high school.

After completing my time on active duty in the Army, I returned home and decided to give formal education another shot for the first time since high school. I decided that I would benefit most from a gradual reentry to schooling, so I signed up for three online classes with American Military University. I told myself that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes I made in high school, so I created a comprehensive plan to succeed in college. This plan included ways to better manage my time, techniques to limit procrastination and maximize productivity, and daily reminders of my educational and professional goals as motivation. I am incredibly proud to say that I have been a successful and confident college student, despite my experiences in high school. I look forward to utilizing the new skills I learned from WSP in the coming fall semester at my local community college to continue building my confidence and success. After completing this next year at community college, I hope to apply for transfer admission at a four-year college or university.

Had you participated in any sort of virtual learning before? If so, how does your WSP experience compare to that?

All three of my previous college classes were entirely virtual and asynchronous. At first, I really enjoyed them. The study material was interesting, and I enjoyed the ability to complete work at my own pace. I wasn’t feeling the stress that I often felt in high school. I soon realized, however, that this wasn’t the most effective way to learn, as it was missing two crucial elements: communication and collaboration. If I struggled to understand a certain topic, it was difficult to reach out to fellow students or professors for assistance. And conversely, if I was especially excited by a particular topic, it was difficult to reach out and have a conversation about it. This, I believe, is a common limitation for most online educational institutions.

My WSP experience was far more rewarding than my previous experiences with virtual learning because it addressed these limitations. The Georgetown University humanities boot camp contained so many opportunities to communicate and collaborate with my fellow classmates and learn from their experiences. This style of learning allowed for thoughtful group discussion and teamwork which added to the overall experience. The MTT fellows and my classmates truly made this experience enjoyable and enriching.

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

I was excited to meet fellow veterans who shared my enthusiasm and passion for learning. I looked forward to learning from my classmates and establishing relationships with them that will last through college and beyond.

My experience certainly met my expectations. Through WSP, I met some incredibly intelligent and interesting people who I am proud to now call my friends.

What have you learned so far that you think will be helpful as you pursue your degree?

The most valuable lesson I have learned so far is the importance of maintaining a network of fellow veterans on whom I can rely. Having a group of veterans that I can reach out to for assistance, guidance, and friendship will be invaluable throughout my college experience. I understand that college will be an entirely new experience which will likely be difficult at times, and my non-veteran classmates may not understand the difficulties I will face as a non-traditional college student. WSP has already given me an incredible group of fellow student veterans that I can reach out to whenever needed, and it has taught me the importance of forging new friendships with student veterans in my future college experience.

What was your favorite session, and why?

Overall, the entire humanities curriculum was extremely fun and rewarding. Specifically, I enjoyed the essay writing portion. This assignment allowed me to process what I was learning throughout the week, analyze different perspectives and interpretations, and develop my own thoughts on the learning material. The assignment challenged me academically, pushing me to write clearly and effectively, while also allowing me to better understand democracy and the true meaning of freedom. I feel that this assignment best prepared me for the rigor of college.

Are there any instructors or fellows who have made a difference for you?

All my MTT fellows were incredibly helpful in different ways, so I don’t think it would be fair to highlight the actions of only one. Instead, I would like to talk about how each one personally affected me.

The first of my fellows, Eric Wood, regularly checked up on me throughout the course to ensure I had everything I needed to succeed. I could tell he truly cared about my success, as well as the success of my fellow classmates, and did everything he could to ensure it.

Another fellow, Josh Maxwell, went above and beyond to give me realistic and meaningful advice about how to succeed in both college and my professional career. His advice has already helped me during my current college experience, and I believe it will continue to help me as I progress.

My last fellow, Mack Fina, provided me with some incredible resources that will assist me in the college search process when I look to apply for transfer admission next year. Mack helped me identify which schools would be the best fit for me personally.

I truly can’t thank all three of them enough. They have provided so much for me in one short week – their help has been immeasurable.

Is WSP having any effect on how confident you feel as a student?

I already feel more confident as a student after completing my WSP boot camp. Truthfully, I have felt some anxiety about returning to campus and taking in-person classes this upcoming fall, but WSP has given me the skills and confidence I will need to succeed. I look forward to bringing these skills to the classroom and proving to myself that I can be a highly-successful student academically, despite my challenges in high school.

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