2020 Warrior-Scholar Project Caltech Cohort Spotlight: William Doran

William Doran, U. S. Air Force veteran

William Doran

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

I left active duty two years ago and have been in community college for about half of that time, so I came into WSP with more school experience than most of my cohort. Even with that experience under my belt, however, I still have issues of confidence in a classroom. I had a lot of struggles in my previous education that I have allowed to hang over my head for too long, even though I’ve completely turned around my performance now in college. Unlearning a negative mindset is a complicated task, but my experience at WSP is already helping me to accomplish this. 

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

I was taking classes this spring when California went all-online due to COVID-19, thus marking the start of my virtual learning experience. I did about two months of classes online, but none of that was as challenging as my week at WSP was. My college classes were built around accessing recorded lectures and PowerPoints, with no interaction completed over Zoom or the like. As I’m entering a university this fall, I expect a lot more of my classes to be done through Zoom, so I’m really lucky to have had this experience with WSP to help prepare me for what’s coming. 

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

I didn’t have the opportunity to visit colleges like many students do in high school, and in missing that, I have felt like I wasn’t good enough to go to these colleges at all. Even though I’ve been successful in community college, I still retain a degree of that negative thinking. Having the chance to go to Caltech made me experience the same sort of energized feeling so many others have used to catapult themselves into higher education. I’ve never felt like a university of that caliber would have any interest in me, yet here I am after a week of instruction by their incredible professors.  

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

It’s frighteningly easy to feel alone as a veteran attending college, a world away from what we dedicated so much of our lives doing. It’s even easier to feel alone when you lose your connection to the veteran community at large, which is where I have found myself. Since separating, I haven’t felt fully a part of either the veteran or student community, but in working with the fellows and my cohort at WSP, I’ve been able to grow my understanding of myself and how I connect with others. Though I have negative feelings towards some of my time in the service, I am learning how to embrace it still as a source of strength and as a tenet of my identity as a student and citizen.

What were you looking forward to learning during STEM week?

I was often told in school and in the military that I was good at what I was good at and nothing else, or, that I wasn’t the right “type” to do something, so I shouldn’t bother trying. I heard these things so much that I really started to believe them. I doubt myself in math and have avoided even attempting physics for fear of proving people right. This week for me was the opportunity to expose myself to learning something new without any need to doubt myself, and to learn it from the most qualified instructors I’ve met in my life.  

What research project did you work on, and what did you learn from that experience?

I had the opportunity to research the Python programming language and its use in writing numerical simulations. I have seen models written by others and always thought it was interesting, but hadn’t yet attempted it myself. Working with my group and our instructor Lee Rosenthal, the process was demystified and it became a much more approachable topic. It was great to lay a foundation in programming with Python, a skill that is increasingly necessary for the pursuit of a STEM education and a career. 

Are there any instructors or fellows who have made a difference for you this week so far?

Honestly, everyone involved with WSP has made such a difference for me. As someone who has struggled in school previously, every positive educational experience helps to reorient my brain into a more productive mindset. The eagerness of WSP fellows to listen to us and explain how they navigated their transition has made my own difficult switch to college seem far less daunting. Similarly, the willingness of Caltech professors to instruct us over Zoom reinforced in me that my education is important, so much so that JPL scientists are taking time out of their day to be available to teach us. 

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

I have never felt so ready to go to college as I do now, after having completed WSP.  I constantly feel the weight of imposter syndrome, just as many student veterans do, but this experience has reinforced in me that my success in school is not an accident. I am here because I have worked hard to study and to learn and to prosper from every opportunity I’m given. I’m done feeling that unnecessary burden and I’m ready to get back to class. 


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