The participants in the 2019 Warrior-Scholar Project. (Photo/Shahla Fatemi)


Warrior-Scholar Project takes veterans from the battlefield to the classroom

For five years, USC has partnered with the academic boot camp to help veterans transition from active duty to college. This year, the university added an extra week focused solely on business.

October 08, 2019 Chandrea Miller

With a booming voice and grand hand gestures, Jonathan V. Saint-Louis aims to dazzle his audience. For 10 minutes, Saint-Louis and two other young men in suits passionately pitch a new business concept.

“With a lean business model,” Saint-Louis said, “we can have a return on investment.”

Warrior Scholar Project
Fleet Marine Force Hospital Corpsman Jonathan V. Saint-Louis delivers his business pitch. (USC Photo/Chandrea Miller)

Despite the animated pitch, Saint-Louis is not a contestant on Shark Tank. He is one of 16 participants in the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP), an academic boot camp designed to help service members and veterans transition from active duty to college.

“USC was the first West Coast partner to team up with the WSP, sharing a singular goal: helping vets consider top-ranked schools,” said Ryan Pavel, CEO of the Warrior-Scholar Project. “We designed the program to ensure that every hour of programming advances this mission. This isn’t a part-time program where participants work a few hours a day; it’s an intensive boot camp that drills down on the skills that veterans will need to succeed in the classroom.”

While this is USC’s fifth year participating in the program, this year’s commitment is unprecedented.

Warrior Scholar 2019
J.D. Ortman, far right, with fellow Warrior-Scholar Project participants (Photo/Shahla Fatemi)

“For the 2019 Warrior-Scholar Project, USC takes the lead to become the first university to launch an extended week of the program,” said Mark Todd, vice provost for academic operations at USC. “In addition to the current humanities courses, USC is adding an extra week devoted solely to a business curriculum.”

Infantryman J.D. Ortman, a current guard at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, found out about the program from a fellow veteran.

“I was privileged to attend the pilot program for students interested in studying business,” he said. “I needed to be tested in an environment that would replicate actual campus life. WSP’s capacity to do that was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.”

Warrior-Scholar Project: Honing veterans’ business skills

Farzin Samadani, who teaches at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC Marshall School of Business, helped design the Business and Entrepreneurship Week in conjunction with USC Military & Veterans Initiatives.

“The business curriculum is a fusion of core business skills, theory seminars and workshops, including accounting, finance, business operations, business communications, leadership, organization and management,” he said. “In addition, there were experiential learning experiences and an entrepreneurship curriculum that culminated in a showcase of mock startup business pitches.”

Warrior Scholar project
Instructor Farzin Samadani teaches the business curriculum he helped to create. (Photo/Shahla Fatemi)

Saint-Louis, a Marine Corpsman, said he serendipitously stumbled upon the program while searching for veteran resources.

“The name really intrigued me; I liked the idea of being a Warrior-Scholar,” he said. “After doing my research on what they offer veterans, I was sold.”

But persuading USC professors to be sold on his business pitch proved no easy task.

“I was terrified,” Saint-Louis said. “When my turn to speak came, I spoke what I rehearsed and tried to show confidence.”

Despite a few pregnant pauses and some nervous pacing, Saint-Louis wrapped up his business presentation with flying colors. Afterward, he said he felt empowered.

Boosting academic confidence in our military veterans

Also feeling empowered was Marine Sgt. Alana Karp, who said the program taught her something unexpected: academic confidence.

Warrior Scholar Project
Participating in the Warrior-Scholar Project gave Alana Karp the confidence to consider traditionally elite colleges, such an Ivy League school, she said. (Photo/Shahla Fatemi)

“This program got me thinking, ‘Wow, I can apply to an Ivy League college,’” Karp said. “This course is designed to let military active duty and veterans know that we have what it takes, so now I am considering attending a more elite university.”

And it is precisely that perspective that is considered “mission accomplished,” according to USC interim Provost Elizabeth A. Graddy.

“Confidence is key for our veterans to make a successful transition from the military to a top-tier university,” she said. “USC has supported our veterans, service members and their families for more than a century, and we are excited to continue to do so through partnerships with programs like the Warrior-Scholar Project.”

Saint-Louis said he’s not only gained confidence but also a support system, developing a comradery with his fellow WSP service members and forming a kind of academic platoon.

“I found a group of staff members at WSP who genuinely care about my success in education and who are committed to accomplishing great things,” he said. “I found a group of professors who have fundamentally changed the way I see life.”

When asked if he would encourage other veterans to attend the program, Ortman was quick to answer.

“Bottom line: if you’re getting out and enrolling in college, attending this course should be just as important as your honorable discharge,” he said. “It’s a breeding ground for success.”

Applications are now open for the 2020 Warrior-Scholar Project.