Student Spotlight: Genevieve Chase, U.S. Army

Princeton University Cohort

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

I used to be a confident student, maybe too confident because I never did homework but still managed to get decent grades. After encountering a suicide-vehicle-borne IED in 2006 while in Afghanistan, I found learning to be a challenge. I struggled with comprehension, retention, and memory issues. In the years since I had to relearn how to learn, and that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to join WSP. I knew that if I could make it through the week-long intensives, I would be more confident about returning to school full-time.

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

The WSP virtual experience was great considering it was virtual! The fellows and professors were so organized and everything was streamlined. They had whiteboards, scratch pads, and being able to share screens was key! The use of Google Drive, Zoom, and the various tools made everything easier.

Why were you excited to participate in WSP?

I love learning and I looked forward to spending time with other veterans who have the same goals and dreams. I knew we’d all connect easily, and develop a support network to cheer us on throughout our educational pursuits.

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

The biggest thing I learned was that despite everything I’ve forgotten and all of the learning issues I’ve struggled with since my TBI, I can take classes I thought were impossible for me like Physics and higher-level math. I know how much effort I need to put in but even better than that, I know how to leverage the school’s resources to work smarter and be successful. My STEM week at Princeton was very challenging but thanks to the WSP fellows who never gave up on me when I wanted to, the experience helped me find my confidence. . . and that is priceless.

What were you looking forward to learning during STEM week?

During WSP’s Princeton STEM week, I was looking forward to learning about STEM in general. I’ve always understood it conceptually but had never considered what it would mean to pursue the field. More than anything, I wanted to push myself in subjects that were intimidating to someone who moved around a lot growing up like Physics and HARD math! 🙂

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

Our team worked on using Python programming to evaluate data to see if we could glean information for research purposes. We learned the basics of Python and how to write code that could give us various data results. It was informative and interesting.

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

I cannot pick just one because every one of them spent time supporting and encouraging me through the hardest parts of the homework. The fellows all rotated the study rooms to make sure we were all progressing. If I didn’t understand something, I could ask multiple fellows who had different styles in explaining and teaching. Hearing something described a different way helped solidify my understanding of the more complex problems and helped me remember. Most people probably don’t need this but with my brain injury, I do. I absolutely love each and every one of them. I cannot emphasize enough how great they are. I will forever be grateful to Dan L., Ana V., Michael B., Dylan P., Logan A., and Patrick H.

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

Yes, of course. Not only am I more confident in going back to school but I’m also more confident that I can do more than I believed I could.

Princeton University Cohort

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

Prior to WSP, I was an average high school student from a lower-middle-class family in rural North Carolina who did not apply herself. I briefly attended a local community college, but I lacked the desire and discipline required for college at that time of my life. I joined the United States Air Force in 2001, and throughout my 20-year career, I did manage to complete two Community College of the Air Force associate degrees. I honestly believed a bachelor’s degree was an out-of-reach dream that I was not smart enough to obtain for most of my life. At least until 2018, when I applied and was accepted to Arizona State University (Online). 

I am currently pursuing a degree in urban planning, and I found that I thoroughly enjoy learning and that it isn’t too late to learn. Even though I’m already attending school, WSP/Princeton Cohort was paramount in regaining my confidence in continued higher education. Even though I am close to completing my degree, I have experienced my fair share of setbacks and started to feel a bit stagnant and unworthy of my educational goals. However, through the Warrior-Scholar Project, I have regained a new sense of self-worth, for which I am so grateful. I really felt the positive vibes from all of the Fellows. I interacted with students, professors, and peers who shared their similar goals/journeys, which was such a relief. I am now looking forward to accomplishing my dream of receiving a Bachler’s degree, and I know that I am capable of more than I realize. 

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

I attend Arizona State (online), but most of my studies consist of slide shows and pre-recorded lectures. I have had very little interaction with my professors besides the comments posted on discussion boards or graded assignments. WSP was refreshingly different. I am not going to lie, the two weeks I attended were intense, morning to late evenings (with breaks in-between), and even though I was attending at home via Zoom—I felt like I did not see my family for two whole weeks. However, the fellows, professors, peers, and tutors were engaging and interactive; those two weeks went by fast. I was legitimately sad on our last day because I loved being a part of the experience and making connections with people I never thought I would have an opportunity to meet. 

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer? 

I was excited to see what it felt like to attend a top-tier school like Princeton, even just for a moment. I knew I would enjoy the humanities week, which I did. However, I was the most anxious about the STEM week, which I was nervous to try but really needed to help get over my fear of Math. In my urban planning studies, I have a lot of geographic information system courses, and though I find them interesting, I tend to struggle due to the math/science. The WSP STEM week was a great starting point for decreasing my anxiety and learning better studying techniques. 

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

The biggest takeaway was that is it is ok to ask for help. I know this seems like a simple concept, but asking for help or seeking tutors was so difficult for me. I’m not sure if it’s military pride or just an internal aversion. I know that my current school has resources, but I felt embarrassed to ask for help, which has been my biggest downfall. The WSP program and the atmosphere were set up so that I was able to reset my mindset. I learned that the educational environment is different than the military environment in that it is truly acceptable to ask questions.

I do not know everything. That’s why I’m in school–it is unnecessary to tough things out while in a learning environment. 

What were you looking forward to learning during STEM week? 

Truthfully, I wasn’t looking forward to STEM week; It was more like a necessity. I knew it would be the most challenging week for me. I decided I would go into STEM week with an open mind and realistic expectations. I knew I wasn’t going to become a math genius suddenly, but if I could at least try to see what skills I could learn without my usual negative thoughts, it would be a success. 

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

Our team had data exploration where we used coding techniques to study inquiries about particular subjects. In our case, we were studying the songs of 2018 Spotify top 100–What makes a song a hit? Is it the tempo? The danceability? We learned how to type code in Python to create scatter plot graphs and histograms for our research. 

I had zero experience with coding and had absolutely no idea what it was, but by the time we presented our project, I was able to create scatter plots and change color on the graphs. Our project lead was so patient and knowledgeable. I really enjoyed working on our project and learning about code. 

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

These two ladies, Ana Vidal (fellow) and Caroline Holmes (project lead), were my heroes. They were so patient when it came to explaining math problems and code, and they were just so impressively knowledgeable in their respective fields of study while being humble at the same time. 

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

WSP has played a huge part in raising my self-esteem, especially regarding STEM. My desire to further my education has been renewed. I am even thinking more about graduate school, which I never even thought was possible. I feel better in knowing that I am not alone; other military members/veterans are also passionate about education and face challenges along the way. I loved that my accomplishments were all on me but in a low-risk environment. There was no pass/fail hanging over me—this increased my willingness to learn. With my teammates cheering me on along the way, I felt so much pride at the completion of the course.

Cornell University Cohort

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

I was an average student in high school, and I was smart enough to skate by on good grades without needing to study. In doing so, I didn’t realize any academic passions. I tried college for two years and primarily learned quite painfully how poor a student I was, so I decided to “take a break” from school and enlist in the Navy. After boot camp, I was sent to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA where I earned an Associate’s Degree in Spanish. From all this, I learned I had the capacity to be a good student, and I needed to define for myself what my academic direction would be.

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

This is my first virtual learning program.

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

Very much so! I hope to attend Cornell after getting out of the Navy. It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to learn from the very same professors that might be teaching me if I’m accepted to Cornell.

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

I have never before annotated a book while reading it. Going back and reflecting on my thought processes to particular passages really helps the material stick.

What was your favorite session, and why?

I really enjoyed the Declaration in Context and Constitutional Framework seminars. I’ve never offered so much critical thought about our founding documents. It was enlightening to think about both in a new light.

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

All the instructors and fellows were awesome! Dr. Dani and Dr. Bujalski were a great dynamic-duo in teaching us good academic writing.

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

Absolutely! I’m constantly drawing parallels to the skills I’ve learned in the Navy and how I’ve been able to apply them in our virtual classroom. 

Princeton University Cohort

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

As veterans know, you have to be a 24/7 Airman, Soldier, and Seaman when you are a service member. This means that education is a supplement to your military career; a means to an end, not a goal pursued for its own sake. My education experience before WSP was always a compromise between pursuing opportunities for growth through academia and fulfilling the obligations of my day-to-day maintenance career responsibilities. As a student, I felt confident in getting good grades; I worked hard, maintained a 4.0 GPA, and always kept the goal of post-military education insight. However, I feared when starting WSP that it would be difficult to maintain that vision in a collegiate environment where distractions and stressors are constantly present. Ultimately, I knew I had to go from a 9 hour day job in a consistent environment to a flexible, self-directed study schedule with an ever-changing environment as new topics are introduced within the scope of the curriculum. This is what I expect in the physics undergraduate program I start this autumn; suffice it to say, it is very different from my previous education experiences, even if I have been successful as a student previously.

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

Yes, I did participate in a virtual program: an online version of Airman Leadership School (ALS). This is where US Air Force personnel are given a month and a half long course on leadership and communication skills upon promotion to the non-commissioned officer tier. I am happy to say that Warrior-Scholar Project adapted to the new environment brought about by CoVID more successfully than that of ALS. Despite running six full classes and a full year of preparation and feedback, the military struggled to overcome the challenges imposed by an online format. There was not the personal touch in their work that I came to identify with WSP by the end of my two weeks.

There was also a clear dedication to the quality of the education provided, an emphasis placed on fostering a comfortable environment and passion the Princeton 2021 fellows demonstrated in tutoring and mentoring us. As in all things over this last year, everyone would have preferred to be together in person, but that did not stop our classroom from forming genuine connections.

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

I have gladly worked these last 5 and a half years in the Air Force knowing at the end of my contract, I would finally begin the academic journey that was not financially possible for me straight out of high school. I like to think that Warrior-Scholar Project was my official start as a full-time student. For me, school represents an opportunity to learn, not obtain a degree, certification, or credit. I want to master the material presented to me and use that knowledge to engage with the bigger world positively. As I entered WSP and began to transition out of active-duty military service, some doubts began to creep in. Despite my preparation, desire and motivation, I asked myself: was I making the right choice? Would I be able to afford to pursue what is effectively a dream? When we began our two-week experience at Princeton, I was hoping WSP would assuage that burgeoning pessimism. I made the right decision to leave the military, but I had to prepare myself for the plunge. 

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

Physics! I honestly underestimated how far the fellows and teaching staff would challenge us to dig deeper and work harder on topics many of us felt uncomfortable with. I did not expect to learn the maths behind 2-dimensional motion in our one-week STEM course, and I did not. The topic was too deep, and there was not enough time. However, I realized my capability as a math and college student. Alien topics suddenly made sense, and subjects that had previously overwhelmed me became quite sensible when I gave them the time and attention they deserved. There is nothing given in this world, and everything is earned. Unfortunately, I never had that mentality with school. Sitting down and devoting myself to disciplined study for two weeks put into perspective what college will be. Warrior-Scholar Project helped me realize my academic intentions are not based on optimistic potential but tangible possibility. Anything can be accomplished when the effort is made; I cannot imagine a more valuable lesson to be learned.

What were you looking forward to learning during STEM week?

STEM week at Princeton represented an intense academic challenge and pivotal opportunity. To be taught by great minds and mentored by passionate peers was a privilege. I did not have any expectation that I would learn the plethora of material we were exposed to. It was of far greater interest how successful students– like the fellows we worked with throughout the week– came to learn the concepts we all find so challenging. They are veterans just like us, spending years of our lives thinking along fairly rigid lines. Since we all evolved from the same environment, I wanted to know how it was possible for them. What strategies were they employing? What advice could they share? Like I said in the previous point, I can confidently say that learning how to be a student was the most valuable lesson from the week.

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

My research project was concerned with the “Tsiolkovsky rocket equation”: an elegant, simple, beautiful mathematical principle of proportion. In practice, the equation states that it takes a lot of mass to get into space, but more mass makes it hard to go more fast. The experience was incredible and without a doubt the most enriching academic experience I had over my two weeks at Warrior-Scholar Project. Our instructor and research lead was Jed Biesiada, a former PhD from Princeton who went on to work at CERN– the exact research institute I indicate when people ask where I hope to go with my education. He wasn’t just available as an educator, but to field questions related to the field of physics and how he got into the positions he previously held. WSP proved to me again that it was just as much about the individuals you meet through the program as it is about the material. Rather than being a stifling environment where questions could not be asked, as students, we were treated with respect and the necessary patience to learn completely unfamiliar material.

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

There was Manny Johnson, Harry Foster, and Ethan MacDonald during the humanities week; we had Michael Bollinger, Dylan Pancoast, Ana Vidal, Patrick Hollenbach, and Logan Allen for the STEM week. I mention every fellow that was present because they left an impression and made a difference in how I viewed the course. All being wonderful individuals, it became abundantly clear that WSP welcomes back alumni who invested themselves in the program during their time. Whether it was being instructed through confusing math principles or casually discussing life and mutual interests, the fellows were always available to make the participants feel welcome and encouraged engagement every step of the way. Each and every one of them improved the experience in their own way. Their presence made the experience that much more enriching.

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

I look forward to the next four years of school with excitement because of Warrior-Scholar Project. Again, I feel confident from the work we did not because of the material I learned. Prior to WSP, I was willing to step into the college environment and figure it all out along the way: effective study skills, true analytical reading and strategies for problem set solutions. I know I would have learned through trial-and-error as I began my first year as a full-time student, but it would not have been ideal. Now, I can step into a physics major with the confidence that I have done the groundwork to set myself up for success. WSP helped me develop the skills I mentioned above. Having the fundamentals in mind, I can build on those skills and become a leader in my academic environment. Knowledge is only as valuable as it is shared.

California Institute of Technology Cohort and Cornell University Cohort

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

Before joining WSP, I attended various community schools to attain my associate’s degree. I did not consider myself a confident student while attending post-service schooling. But my mindset changed while attending WSP, and I gained skills for my future education. 

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

I had previously participated in virtual learning, but nothing compares to the WSP experience. WSP’s virtual learning experience has taught me that there is a possibility for true discussions, collaborations, and communication while in a virtual learning environment. This was completely different from what I’ve experienced before. 

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

I was excited to participate in WSP this summer due to my hopes for the program. I hoped to see this program be in a learning environment with like-minded individuals with a commonality of background: the military culture, life, and views. 

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

I learned various essential skills while participating in WSP. Those skills include social and educational communication, study skills, and dissecting information. These are crucial skills that are needed for future education opportunities that will ensure success in school. Other skills that I learned during WSP are reviewing techniques and making important notes to comprehend materials for the course (mainly readings). 

What was your favorite session, and why?

I can confidently say that my favorite part was the writing workshops. They allowed me to challenge myself and attain feedback regarding my writings. I have received valuable input that will be crucial for my transition to college. 

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

All the instructors and fellows have made a difference in their own way. With Jazzmen, I built a connection with our similarities in life that made me feel comfortable to speak at ease. Harry’s comedic input and direct communication method helped me retain information and make notes for future use. Manny’s earnest and humble communication methods and directions also made me feel comfortable asking questions and keeping an open mind. When Ethan spoke, it made me pay attention to his words. His method of communicating made me feel at ease to ask questions. Whether I was right or not, he made me feel comfortable still providing answers and comments without feeling lost.

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

WSP had had a positive effect on my confidence as a student. I feel that I am more prepared for future avenues that my academic goals may take me. I no longer feel mentally or academically unprepared for the next steps. This experience was worthwhile!

Harvard University Cohort

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

Because I enlisted in the Navy directly after high school, I had not had any experience with higher education prior to WSP. I’d taken some CLEP courses here and there to stay sharp, but re-entering an academic setting has been an exciting and nerve-wracking journey. I considered myself a confident student years ago, but now I’m open and ready to sharpen my skills and dive back in. 

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

I had not participated in any virtual learning before WSP. I had somehow made it through 2020 without using Zoom or other video conference software at all. I was a bit nervous about the virtual WSP course because I had heard that virtual learning could be challenging. My WSP experience went smoothly, thanks to my team of fellows’ technical support and patience. 

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

As someone in the early stages of preparing for college and entering a major life change, I was most nervous that I would be doing it all blind and without context. I was most excited for WSP as an opportunity to acclimate to an academic setting in a comfortable and supportive environment. 

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

My first big takeaway was my insights into the academic writing process. The second thing I learned was a large, supportive veteran community for students exists, which was previously unknown to me.

What was your favorite session, and why?

I particularly enjoyed the session with professor Jonathan Hansen from Harvard. That was my first interaction with a professor, and it left an incredible impression on me. His passion was evident, and I realized that however nervous for school I may be, those are the types of people I’d like to be around on this new journey. 

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

My entire team of fellows was incredible. They were all welcoming and provided a wealth of knowledge. I gleaned the most from Mack Fina, one of my fellows attending Harvard University. He had some really useful insights and advice along the way. 

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

WSP has most definitely boosted my confidence. I wasn’t even entirely sure that school was feasible for me just months ago. I had figured that the adjustment to school would be too overwhelming. I left WSP with a much clearer path to school and exactly the confidence boost that I needed.