Student Spotlight: Donte Calabrese, U.S. Navy WSP-University of Notre Dame Cohort

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

Prior to WSP, I was attending community college full-time while serving in the Navy full-time. Due to having a full schedule, I usually felt defeated and exhausted from the course load. Although I am a stellar student, I often doubted my ability to maintain this standard and attended WSP to learn how to balance the two aspects of my life in a productive way.

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

WSP has taught me many critical skills that will help me fundamentally as a college student. However, the biggest lesson I took away from WSP is learning how to develop an “outside of the box” mindset. From the very beginning, the military emphasizes following orders or instructions to an exact point. When I entered the college community and realized that there were no blueprints or instructions to follow, the transition was extremely difficult. Throughout the business week, I was encouraged to find answers to problems with no set solution, plan for the unexpected, and find innovative ways to do even the smallest tasks. By taking these in-depth courses, I feel even more confident in my ability to tackle the unexpected challenges of college.

What was your favorite session, and why?

My favorite session was the Invanti entrepreneurial class taught by Dustin and Maria. Their in-depth lessons on what it means to be an entrepreneurial thinker were extremely insightful and have helped me immensely. I also really liked putting together a pitch for a company that I created and presenting it to experts in the startup industry. The feedback and encouragement that I received were amazing and has greatly encouraged me to think about starting my own business.

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

Han Nguyen and Patrick Trujilo were absolutely amazing fellows! They were there for me every step of the way through this rigorous course and provided a lot of insight on what it takes to be a successful college student. Seeing that they were veterans in schools and positions that I aspire to be in has allowed me to believe that my goals and dreams are not only possible, but achievable.

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

I attended Baylor University for one semester prior to joining the Navy. Also, throughout my time on active duty, I took a few college courses online. I would not say I am a super confident student, but I know I am willing to work hard to succeed.

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer?

Initially, it was for the academic learning aspect of the program, but as it continued, I valued the people significantly more. The professors were awesome, and learning from those smart individuals gave me a broader academic sense of mind. However, getting to interact with other veterans was the most rewarding part. Before the program, I was struggling with transitioning from active duty to civilian life because I lost that specific type of camaraderie. This program gave me that camaraderie again.

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

I think what I have learned is a somewhat non-conventional answer. The best thing I learned from this program was balance. I don’t have to go all out on academics all the time to be successful. Part of college is learning who I am, even at 25, and this program reminded me of that. Balance isn’t something we are taught in the military, so now I can try to implement that into my life during college, so it is more enjoyable.

What was your favorite session, and why?

This is a hard question to answer because I have favorites in both the academic sessions and the fellow-led sessions. My favorite academic sessions out of the program were the seminars from Professor Fraga and Professor Dempsey. Although humanities will not be my avenue of study, their lectures really taught me the importance of taking an active role in government. Prior to their lectures, I had the mindset that my vote would never matter, but after hearing them talk about democracy and our country, it made me want to do more. In the fellow-led discussions, the “Making the Transition” session was my favorite. The fellows were awesome about being candid and letting us talk freely about things that have been hard in the transition. I honestly thought I was alone or being a wimp since I was having a difficult time transitioning, but that whole session validated my thoughts and reminded me that others were feeling the same.

Are there any instructors or fellows who have made a difference for you at WSP? Is WSP having any effect on how confident you feel as a student?

Oh man, this is another difficult one. All the instructors made a huge difference in my confidence, especially the writing professors, Mr. Capdevielle and Mr. Zurro. As far as fellows, I felt like Joseph Grillo, Matt Braaten, and Kahlil Ello were so supportive. I was able to have one-on-one conversations with them, ranging from interacting with students younger than me to philosophy. They really made it an inclusive environment, and it made me feel like I could actually do this whole college thing.