Student Spotlight: Colby Cox, U.S. Air Force

Princeton University Cohort

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

Prior to attending the Warrior-Scholar Project, my educational experience was quite limited. I had attended a few community college courses here and there part-time. 

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

I had very little virtual learning experience, aside from webinars, prior to WSP. WSP was an incredibly rigorous, yet rewarding experience. I learned a lot about myself and acquired some valuable skills along the way. 

Why were you excited to participate in WSP?

I was excited to participate in the program because I read about the experiences of others and was inspired by the impact it had on them. 

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

I believe both the problem-solving framework and academic reading/writing will be helpful as I pursue my degree. 

What were you looking forward to learning during STEM week?

I was most looking forward to exploring physics during the STEM week. I’ve had some exposure to computer science and mathematics prior to the course but physics wasn’t a subject I had any recent experience with. 


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

My partners and I had the privilege of working with Professor Daniel Marlow on Galactic Exploration of Invisible Light, in which we got to observe radio emissions from the galaxy. This project was a real treat because it called us to draw upon the material we had covered in the reading/lectures and some newly minted Python skills to fully flush out what the data was offering. Not to mention, watching a refurbished Cold War-era dish remotely operated was an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

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

Literally every single instructor and fellow had a positive impact on me at some point during this course. The example problem breakdowns we collaborated with Lucas Fernandez and Hayden Treu on were particularly helpful in cementing the material we covered in the lectures. 

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

Absolutely, I am more confident than ever in my ability to succeed as a student after honing skills like time management, effective prioritization, and problem-solving.

Princeton University Cohort

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

I have always been the type of student who goes to class and then straight home. I never asked questions or participated in study groups or even took advantage of professors’ office hours. This was because I didn’t need to do that in grade school or even during the two Air Force technical training schools I attended. I was able to get great grades and understand the material without the need to ask questions, which is not the case anymore. That didn’t help me with projects where I had to work in teams because I was so accustomed to working alone, something that didn’t give me the opportunity to test my confidence. I did not consider myself to be a confident student for a number of reasons, from my age, my strong Puerto Rican accent, my physical appearance, and my visible/invisible disabilities. 

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

No, Warrior-Scholar Project was my first virtual learning experience. 


Why were you excited to participate in WSP?
The real reason I was very excited was that I was going to be able to visit, stay at, and take classes at an Ivy League school while getting to meet other veterans who, like me, believe in the power of education and who want to pursue higher education. I also wanted to add more people to my network, while at the same time sharing my networks with them, because I think that the veteran community is like a huge family and we should all be connected one way or another. 

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

I learned that I am capable of accomplishing great things and that if I give it my all, I can also help others see themselves reflected in me, believing in their endless possibilities and potential. I also learned that no matter where I came from or how my past looks, I can always strive for more if I really want to. My future is in my hands and there’s plenty of people ready and willing to give me a push when I need it. 

What were you looking forward to learning during STEM week?

I was definitely looking forward to learning about coding, how it can be used, and the doors that will be opened for me in the future. Also, I was interested to learn how diverse STEM careers are, and how there’s something for everyone, something that I wasn’t aware of. 

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

For me, the entire team was excellent, from the professors to the brothers and sisters that attended the course with me! I am definitely grateful for that. 
I would like to mention a couple of them in particular. Let me start with Avery Carmichael, one of the fellows that was with us during humanities week. Avery is one of those people who doesn’t say much but is always there to be a cheerleader and to help you see and discover things about you that you thought were not possible. It is hard for me to relax and to feel free to be myself in front of groups, especially because I have been criticized in the past for that. Avery gave me the confidence and helped me feel at ease to be me, even from the distance over a computer screen.

Another person who I would like to thank and recognize is Professor Shaw, also from the humanities week. The first day he was with us, I was intimidated and even questioned if I had made the right decision when I accepted to attend the program. Then I gave him a chance to challenge me and to push me out of my comfort zone when it comes to books and reading selections. Professor Shaw is such a smart and eloquent human being and he made everyone feel okay to share conflicting opinions and learn how to use critical thinking in order to see history from another point of view. That was an eye-opener and something I will definitely use the rest of my life. 

Things I will also like to point out are Lucas’s personality, he is one of those people that everyone likes and can identify with in one way or another; Tyler‘s patience and wisdom while working with my group during the coding and research project, Jessica’s mellow vibes and listening skills. 

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

The answer is simple: absolutely!

Columbia University Cohort

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

As a kid, my teachers nicknamed me “the philosopher” — I was quite contemplative. However, I was also very energetic, which got me into trouble. I began my education by scoring the highest in my grade and receiving prizes. I also remember my first-grade teacher being so proud of me for scoring highest, but also one day aiming to hit me on my hands with an orange pvc pipe, but instead hitting my lips, that bled turned blue and then doubled in size. I also remember in third grade pulling my principal’s tie as he was forcing me down to hit the sole of my feet with another pipe.

So from the beginning, my educational experience has been so traumatic and emotionally complex, that I just avoid dwelling on any part of it and for the most part avoid school for the sake of my sanity and to preserve the little “philosophia” flame – love of wisdom and learning- within my heart. 

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

I have never participated in any virtual learning, but I loved how WSP organized it.

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

I was not excited to participate. I was anxious as I usually am with anything related to school, teachers, or organized learning. However, Columbia is one of the few happy places of learning for me. When I was in high school, I met a teacher there who allowed me to do what I wanted and respected me.

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

I have learned many things, but my biggest paradigm shift is becoming a heretical bibliophile. My idea of reverence for books was a sanctimonious effete tradition. A book that is not engaged with a pen, highlighted and dog earmarked won’t be passed down or inherited because its previous owner didn’t really own it. It was just a hollow shelf decoration. 

What were you looking forward to learning during STEM week?

While I always thought of physics as a spiritual pursuit akin to reading a mystical poem. I was never lucky enough to learn it in a class. I feel blessed to have had two great professors from MIT who had the patience to engage our ever-expanding curiosity. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cohort and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Cohort

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

I attended a local community college prior to joining the Army. After serving in the military for over four years, I lost confidence in myself as a student. After my service, I returned to the local community college, regained my confidence, and was accepted to Brown University. 

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

While attending a local community college, I had to switch from in-person classes to virtual learning via Zoom due to COVID-19. In comparison, I enjoyed the virtual learning with WSP fellows and participants more since everyone actively engaged and participated at all times. 

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

I was very excited and grateful to take a course at one of the top universities in this nation. More importantly, I was excited to participate in the WSP STEM curriculum this summer with my interest in environmental science. In addition, I am thankful to be connected with other veterans and fellows who are passionate about higher education. 

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

One of the most insightful experiences with WSP was how kind and willing other veterans are to help. It was nice to know that there are resources available to support and guide me through my journey in higher education. 

What were you looking forward to learning during STEM week?

I was looking forward to connecting with other veterans interested in obtaining a degree. I was especially interested in learning Python programming while participating in the research project during STEM week. 

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

My research project was on gravitational waves with guidance from Sylvia Biscoveanu. This phenomenal research project taught me how Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or LIGO detects gravitational waves. Furthermore, using Python programming, we analyzed and interpreted LIGO data. From this experience, I learned to cherish teamwork as my peers helped each other understand the concepts and present the work we completed through a well-constructed presentation. 

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

All of the fellows and instructors were phenomenal. All the participants, including myself, felt very welcomed and comfortable in this healthy learning environment. 

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

Yes, WSP has helped me gain more confidence as a student. One of the more prominent realizations I experienced from this program is to let myself relax and have fun in academic settings by asking questions and sharing my personal experiences during discussions or seminars. Lastly, with studying skills and tips given by WSP, I feel more confident as a student.  

University of Southern California Cohort

Where were you in your academic journey when you completed your WSP academic boot camp? 

I was wrapping up my community college courses and was applying to a couple of universities in my area.

Where are you now in your academic journey? If you are enrolled in school, where? What are you majoring in? 

This past winter, I just started business school at Santa Clara University, majoring in management and minoring in construction management.

How did what you learned at WSP help you get to where you are today?

As a first-generation college student, I felt like I didn’t have a lot of options or support when it came to pursuing higher education. As a result, I joined the Marine Corps, where I gained the grit and determination needed to accomplish whatever I set my mind to. However, I didn’t think that was applicable to higher education. WSP helped me realize my potential as a student veteran and reinforced that we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to as veterans.

What’s the best part of being a WSP alumnus?

While serving in the military, there was a unique sense of camaraderie and trust among one another. I am fortunate to have the same kind of people in the WSP alumni group. Whatever we need, we know that there’s someone that we can reach out to that will give us a hand. 

What advice do you have for other vets or service members who might want to pursue higher education?

If you think you are not smart enough. Have doubts about your ability to succeed in academia because of your past grades. Or, “insert whatever excuses you use”, that’s ok because I thought that too. What you’re feeling is entirely normal! School will not be easy, but you learn a thing or two in the military that you can use to succeed in higher education. There are many experiences, memories, and friends to make in this new chapter of your life, so keep an open mind and see where it takes you! 

Do you have a post-education career goal in mind? What is it?

As my time in the Marine Corps was ending, I began looking into entrepreneurship because I felt that I had learned how to lead a team and manage an operation. My dad has owned his business for the last 20 years, so I decided to join the team and grow the family business.

Amherst College Cohort

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

Before joining the military, I had taken a full year of college. During my enlistment, I used Tuition Assistance to take two classes a semester at a community college. Two months before starting WSP, I finished up my last course there. I find that my level of confidence changes from subject to subject. Overall I’d say I’ve never been very confident when it comes to schoolwork.

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

I had taken online classes before, but nothing like WSP. Those were run on either Blackboard or Canvas and had more of a “teach yourself” model. Although the professors were available for help, it felt very independent. Since WSP took place over Zoom, it felt more immersive than the virtual learning I grew accustomed to. I liked interacting with the instructors, fellows, and other scholars in real-time.

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

I was looking forward to gaining the skills necessary to help ease me back into attending college full time. I was also excited to connect with other veterans starting their college careers back up.

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

The studying skills taught by the fellows on the third day of instruction will be really helpful. I’m not the best at studying, so the tips we were taught made me realize that there’s a much easier and more effective way to structure and go about studying.

What was your favorite session, and why?

My favorite session was the lecture with professor Cullen Murphy and Thomas Ricks. I felt like I could have listened to them talk all day! Not only were each of the lecturer’s interesting to listen to, but the discussion was very fluid and engaging.

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

All the fellows and instructors were great and essential to helping me work through WSP. The writing instructors, Cassie Sanchez and Roy Andrews helped me immensely improve my writing abilities in such a short amount of time.

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

My confidence has definitely been boosted since completing WSP. I feel more prepared for this upcoming school year and plan to use all the skills I learned as best as I can!