WSP University of Pennsylvania 2020 Cohort Spotlight: Kai Gonzales and Michael Gordon

Updated: Aug 26

Kai Gonzales, U.S. Navy veteran


Kai Gonzales

What was your educational experience prior to WSP? Would you consider yourself a confident student? I have taken one PACE course in Oceanography back in 2009. I got back into school during the summer of 2019 at Harrisburg Area Community College, and I’ve been taking 2 classes each semester at the main campus in Harrisburg. I would consider myself a strong student, but I wasn’t always that way. I had an English professor who was able to give me the confidence I needed to get back into school. Because of her, she relit my desire to learn and further my desire for a college education. Professor Sara Shaw from HACC is the reason why I want to pursue my education at an Ivy League. You participated in our community college workshop at HACC. Was there something about that experience that made you want to attend one of our academic boot camps?

Jesse Tossetti and Jorge Pintado gave us a wonderful training and a preview of how the program benefits all veterans. I’d be a fool to turn down a helping hand from fellow brothers and sisters.

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

The last two months of my spring semester were transitioned into a Zoom session. The WSP curriculum was definitely more intense and longer than what I’ve done before. Pro tip: make sure you have a very comfortable chair or set-up! Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer? Before we started, I was more apprehensive about the process than I was excited. I wasn’t sure how successful it was going to be, and if we were going to get anything out of it. I am happy to say that I was so wrong!

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

What have I learned so far? I am not alone on this journey. I have an extensive network I could easily tap into, people who want nothing but the best for me and see me reach my academic goals. That sense of security is priceless! What was your favorite session, and why?

My favorite session was the writing workshops. Dr. Amy Brown and Professor Matt Johnson were wonderful and I was excited to learn from them. The tutors provided to us were also incredible. I looked forward to these sessions every day. Are there any instructors or fellows who have made a difference for you?

Dr. Amy Brown, Professor Matt Johnson, Avery Carmichael, Jessica Nelson, and Max Martin.

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

I am confident that I am capable to enter a top-tier school and compete amongst the best.

Michael Gordon, active-duty U.S. Marine Corps


Michael Gordon

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

Before the University of Pennsylvania Warrior-Scholar Project, I had completed only five online college courses. I was able to balance my professional responsibilities while on active duty and maintain good grades in all of these classes; however, I have never considered myself well-versed with the intricacies of college-level courses or even close to an expert in effective study habits. I was confident in my willingness to sacrifice time, energy, and effort to achieve good grades, but not confident in the methods I employed to achieve those grades efficiently. The Warrior-Scholar Project provided me with several techniques, resources, the proper mentality, and a support system to do that.

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

Compared to my semester of online college courses, the Warrior-Scholar Project team was able to produce a highly interactive, personal environment more conducive to virtual learning than my college courses were. In the Humanities WSP course, the days were long, and I was mentally taxed. This mental rigor is a different variety of stimuli than is traditionally found in routine military experiences. Despite this, I felt that I had a moral obligation to put forth my best effort to benefit myself and my cohort. The relatively short amount of time that my cohort spent together was very enjoyable.

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

As my days in the Marine Corps grow shorter, I am faced with the challenges and uncertainty associated with the transition from the military to higher education. In this rift, I was excited for the opportunity to pursue personal development in an area of my life that would directly benefit my academic ability. In turn, this would increase my chances of acceptance and exemplary performance at a top-tier university. This course would provide me with indispensable tools for continued success outside of the military. Simultaneously, I was excited to be surrounded by a diverse, highly driven group of individuals on a compatible journey of personal development.

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

The most significant periods of instruction for my academic growth were the writing and critical reading portions; these are tangible skills that will immediately carry over to enhancing my academic performance. I’ve learned: to formulate my arguments coherently and logically, new introduction and conclusion strategies, and entirely new methods of structuring a paper. Writing is a refined extension of thought. Developing this skill, as this course has done, is integral to developing articulated speech and representing yourself as someone capable of widespread, beneficial influence. Equally important, I’ve learned to adopt a growth mindset mentality and acknowledge my current shortcomings in order to improve.

What was your favorite session, and why?

My favorite sessions were the morning seminars taught by the University of Pennsylvania professors. It was so refreshing to listen to their nuanced, incredibly developed lectures and thoughts as opposed to the mandatory, humdrum classes that servicemembers are accustomed to in the military. I loved being engulfed in a classroom environment where you are encouraged to offer your individual ideas and collectively refine them with the guidance of a knowledgeable mentor. Furthermore, Professor Zuckerman, Professor Smith, and Professional Harrold willingly volunteered their time to teach us and offer their insights to our cohort. Their accrued acumen in their field of study was immediately apparent, and it was captivating to witness.

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

Every single member of the Warrior-Scholar Project team made a difference. Every single one. I have distinct, positive memories of and respect for every instructor and fellow. Professor Matt Johnson and Professor Amy Brown were incontrovertibly the best writing instructors I have ever been taught by. Likewise, the UPenn student tutors were impactful, encouraging, and relentlessly drove us forward to complete our essays on time. The fellows – Avery, Jessica, Max, and Patrick – all orchestrated a positive environment while seamlessly coordinating the daily operations. They even went so far to offer advice and tips to help accomplish my specific academic goals during the check-in periods. Every individual involved in this course played a unique and meaningful role in making it a success.

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

My confidence to thrive in a University setting has unequivocally increased. I am ready to confidently take on and overcome the academic challenges I will soon face in a brick-and-mortar university this fall.

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