Warrior-Scholar Project 2020 UCI Cohort Spotlight: Chris Casper

Chris Casper, U.S. Marine Corps veteran

Chris Casper
Chris Casper

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

In high school and in my freshman year of college, I was a terrible student. Like many of my friends and family, I would chalk it up to my ADHD, but that was certainly not the reason for my poor grades. I was immature and lazy, though I didn’t see it that way at the time. I assumed that everything would work out for me in life because I had the sheer mental horsepower necessary to ace my finals and slip through school by barely passing each semester. Naturally, this didn’t work in a college setting, so I joined the Marine Corps after leaving my grades in shambles. I went to the Defense Language Institute to train as a cryptologic linguist. This is where my transformation occurred. You can’t fake language ability for any real length of time, and I had never learned a word of Chinese before in my life. With no safety net to rescue me from my own failings, I had to work hard in a classroom for the first time, and it was brutal. After graduating DLI, I considered myself a rehabilitated student. However, I was still nervous about the eventual transition back into a conventional classroom setting, which I had not been exposed to for several years. This is where WSP assisted me. The weeklong exposure to an academic environment was invigorating, and my self-confidence skyrocketed. 

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

WSP was my first experience with an online classroom. It was fantastic to get acquainted with the odds and ends of online programming before stepping into a  virtual college classroom for the first time. 

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

After so much time away, I very much needed an objective evaluation of my ability to perform in school. The WSP course is an excellent litmus test for college readiness. Both my significant other and a close friend of mine from DLI completed a WSP course, and they couldn’t say enough about the value of the experience for someone in my position. 

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

Though it isn’t the lesson I expected to take away from the course, I came to understand the value of participating in the student veteran community. Before WSP, I wasn’t keen on the idea of leaning on the other student veterans on campus or clinging to my own veteran status. I had preconceived notions about how many of them would feel, believing that they may be overly attached to their veteran identities. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Student veterans come from many different military backgrounds, from special operations to administration and logistics, making them an immensely valuable group of resourceful and experienced individuals. And, of course, they all chose to pursue higher education. I was short-sighted, not considering that many of them may have experiences very similar to my own, and they may also share many of my goals. Now I understand that all of the factors that make me a dynamic and capable student are also what makes the student veteran community as a whole an incredible support system. 

What was your favorite session, and why?

While the seminars each morning were highly engaging, the sessions that will stick with me the longest are the writing sessions led by Dr. Christine Connell. Over the course of the week, she had us piece together our essay in a manner that I had never seen done before. Well outside of my comfort zone, I was able to craft a strong essay structured in a way that made it easy to effectively address the prompt. It was a huge confidence booster for my collegiate writing ability. 

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

No one instructor or fellow can be singled out. This course was staffed only with passionate and hardworking fellows and educators. It was inspiring to be a part of this program, so much so that it makes me want to volunteer to become an ambassador or fellow myself. This speaks volumes about the effect of the staff. At the end of the first seminar, Dr. Matthew Beckmann dropped a pearl of wisdom. He told us to “choose great professors over great classes.” My experience with the staff for our UCI cohort served to reinforce his point. 

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

Most definitely. Attending this course allowed me to work out any pre-game jitters before starting the fall semester. Being solely for veterans, any moment of class that wasn’t strictly focused on academia was focused on the process of adapting to our lives as full-time students. This is enormously therapeutic for someone in my position, someone who sometimes doubts their ability to make the changes necessary to excel where they once failed. Before WSP I was anxious and full of negative self-talk, but now I know that I have the ability and drive to succeed in any school environment. 

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