Student Spotlight: Catherine Escobar, U.S. Army

Yale University All Women Cohort

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

Before WSP, I obtained an associate’s degree from a community college. I then attended a four-year school for a bit before joining the military. As I am getting ready to go back to school, I realized that I needed support in getting back to academic reading and writing basics. After taking part in the Warrior-Scholar Project at Yale, I am much more confident in my success getting back into the classroom. 

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

Like many others, I had to take my learning experience virtually due to the pandemic. During those times, I struggled to connect with my peers and faculty. In comparison, at WSP, I engaged with every single one of the other participants, fellows, tutors, and professors about the readings and our writing assignments. I also obtained specialized attention from instructors who catered to my academic needs and extended their hand in help in and outside of the classroom from beginning to end. 

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this summer? 

I heard many great things about the program from an alum and current fellow. He told me the program would help me get ready to return to school. I wanted to be part of a network of students with a similar background who faced the same challenges in transitioning from the military to college students. 

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

I learned so much from WSP, from properly reading and writing academic papers to how to access the different resources that colleges offer for student veterans. 

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

All the fellows and instructors were helpful. They went above and beyond to make a difference in my academic path. Not only that, but they all opened their doors to an extended chain of communication that I feel I can make use of without hesitation. 

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

Definitely, I feel fired up after attending WSP. I am more confident now than I was before participating at Yale. I feel that I belong at a good university and will successfully finish my degree. 

Amherst College Cohort and Yale University Cohort

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

My educational experience heading into my first WSP program was only online college. I didn’t consider myself to be a confident student whatsoever. Following my first experience, I enrolled at the University of Chicago. I finished my first quarter before returning to WSP for Yale’s STEM course. Today, I am a much more confident student. Think you know something? Read it again. Trust me; you missed something.

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

I had completed almost 100 credit hours online in the way we knew online school pre-COVID-19. I have also completed three classes at UChicago in a more virtual classroom format. WSP is absolutely nothing like “old” online school and much closer to how UChicago imagines it. This isn’t forum posts and replies – WSP implements legitimate face-to-face instruction by leveraging technology.

Why were you excited to participate in WSP the first time, and why were you excited to come back for a second program in STEM?

I was excited to come to WSP the first time because it was a big step in my transition from the military and into higher education. I had just come home from a deployment, and I was excited to get a sneak peek into what life would be like for me at a top college or university. That being said, my reason for coming for round two was different. Frankly, the military just gave me an affinity for a challenge, and that is what WSP is. It’s challenging. You learn more in a week or two than you often will in a few months. When given that kind of opportunity, I can’t turn it down.

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

There are a ton of good nuggets of information regarding how to stay organized and effectively study, which have helped me. I would be wrong not to mention that. The most significant value added from WSP is the confidence the program instilled in me that I can succeed at any university I attend. The idea of UChicago is daunting, but it was much less daunting after WSP.

What were you looking forward to learning during STEM week?

Data science. UChicago has three different economics degree tracks: business, empirical, and data science. Having the data science research group to participate in basically gave me a free weeklong test drive to see if I enjoy data manipulation and visualization. Surprise, I do, and I am now much more confident about the prospect of the data science track.

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

Data science with Dr. Allison Merritt! It was a great experience. Our group worked through data sets focused on biology (penguins) and consumer trends (Spotify top 100). I had a bit of coding experience before but had never worked in a collaborative setting doing it. No prior knowledge was necessary, and we were all relatively capable practitioners by the end of the week.

Are there any instructors or fellows who have made a difference for you at WSP, either during your humanities program at Amherst or at Yale STEM?

Of course! I should definitely shout out Eric Winenger and Anthony Lenkiewicz first. They ran a fantastic course at Amherst in 2019 and have continued to check in on me and see how I am doing.

With that, I would love to shout out Dan LaFlamme. Dan is awesome! I would encourage any servicemembers or veterans to engage with him. Besides being ridiculously good at math, he knows how to interact with veterans. He makes you feel comfortable while you struggle through concepts that are novel to you, like calculus-based physics.

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

Definitely, WSP puts you through the academic meat grinder. If you can handle one week or two weeks of WSP, I have no doubt you will feel at home during any week at any university in terms of workload.

What have you been doing since you first attended WSP at Amherst?

I was transitioning out and moving to Chicago! Luckily, UChicago has a great group of veterans that Beau Butts has assembled, and I really feel at home there.

What advice would you give to enlisted veterans or transitioning servicemembers who might feel intimidated by the idea of going to college?

Take the first step. A few years ago, I thought I would end up at a small school or somewhere struggling to make the cut, and I never really thought I was cut from the right cloth academically. Now, after two rounds of WSP, I am looking to double major at UChicago. Life comes at you fast.

Yale University Cohort

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

Before WSP, I took some community college courses in 2003 and began taking courses in my current undergraduate program in 2017. I took evening classes during our training cycles and took online courses while deployed. My confidence varied depending on the coursework. I never really had a solid, repeatable system in place over the last few years.
 
Had you participated in any sort of virtual learning before? If so, how does your WSP experience compare to that?

While deployed, my courses were entirely online. I would often have to pair evening classes with an online class due to training at night. After the spring of 2020, during the Covid-19 academic changes, my courses became hybrid virtual and online. I feel my instructors at Campbell did a great job of adapting to those changes. WSP’s virtual course was exceptionally well put together, efficient, and better than I would’ve expected for a virtual experience. The staff did an excellent job with our schedule, guest speakers, and evening mentor groups.

Why were you excited to participate in WSP this winter?

I was excited to participate in the winter STEM program and learn more about creating and implementing a system that I could apply to my future coursework. I was also looking forward to meeting other peers with similar goals in similar seasons of their journey.

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

One of the best things I learned was the value of self-assessment and seeking improvement. Asking for help is difficult and asking, “How can I do this better?” was key to my success this past week.

What were you looking forward to learning during STEM week?

 I was looking forward to learning how our fellows and professors approached the problems and material, and how they organized it to retain and apply it in the future.

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

I worked on the “Data Exploration” research project with Dr. Merritt. I learned that I enjoy Python and can now appreciate the versatility of coding. We were able to look at code, not just as a skill but as a way to help us answer questions.

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

All of the fellows I interacted with were amazing, and they were patient, competent, and structured. I enjoyed the week.

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

WSP has dramatically improved my academic confidence. We were given an overwhelming amount of work on novel topics and were guided along the path of problem-solving. This course has shown me that taking on a problem one step at a time, reading ahead one lecture at a time, and organization all matter. If this isn’t enough, then asking for help from a mentor or tutor is the next step. By taking this approach, I have supreme confidence moving forward in my education. I will apply the lessons that I learned in my remaining undergraduate courses and on my path to becoming a Physician.