Over the summer, Williams hosted the Warrior-Scholar Project, an immersive, intensive, academic boot camp for active duty service members and veterans around the country seeking to attend college. The 15 or so participants studied the American ideal of democracy, federalism and public service, among other topics, guided by several Williams professors, staff, students and community members who volunteered as seminar hosts, instructors and tutors during the weeklong, virtual program. Participants also had a chance to learn about Williams—part of a comprehensive effort undertaken by the college in recent years to recruit more veterans and support them once they’re on campus.
With Veterans Day around the corner, Williams Magazine Editor in Chief Amy Lovett spoke with Alex DiAddezio ’11, assistant director of admission, and Liz Creighton ’01, dean of admission and financial aid, about the college’s recruiting efforts, veterans’ experiences once they’re on campus and where they go after Williams.
Why is Williams focusing so intently on veteran applicants? Is this a trend we’re seeing among our peers or in higher education generally, or is this something unique to Williams?
Liz Creighton ’01: There is certainly growing awareness in higher ed about the ways student veterans enhance life on campus and benefit from the opportunities that colleges provide. Williams is excited to be part of the expanding effort to open opportunities to this talented group of applicants because once they enroll, they contribute deeply to the Williams community. Needless to say their military service gives them a unique perspective among their peers on campus, but it also imbues them with leadership, critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork skills that are at the heart of the college’s educational mission. It’s been remarkable to see all the ways student veterans impact life on campus and in the broader Berkshire community.
Once someone has served in the military, why would they want to come to Williams?
Creighton: Williams offers student veterans the opportunity to be immersed in a supportive and rigorous living-learning community. They find community with one another, but they also find community with the larger student body. They’re full members of Williams. Whether they live on campus or off, they’re within a two-minute walk of all aspects of life at the college. They’re varsity athletes, members of student government, consultants for the local community and so much more. They’re critical voices in classrooms, and they develop close and lasting relationships with professors.
Alex DiAddezio ’11: We offer student veterans a space to be challenged, to be included, to be academic explorers and to be part of a lifelong community that will support them every step of the way. Veterans choose to come to Williams because they want to put their education first and because they want the chance to be a student in every sense of the word, with tremendous resources and abundant opportunities available to them in that pursuit.
When it comes to recruiting veterans, what have been some of the barriers, and how is Williams working to eliminate them?
DiAddezio: As we initially took on this work, the biggest barrier was simply finding military-affiliated students in the college search process, and, as with most of our recruitment, we realized this needed to be a team effort. We sought out partners in this work, and we found incredibly valuable ones, including Service to School (S2S), Leadership Scholar Program (LSP), Warrior Scholar Project (WSP), and counselors and educators that directly support student veterans. These organizations and individuals exist to bridge the gap between student veterans looking to continue their education and the institutions seeking to find them, and we’ve had a growing number of impressive applicants apply to Williams because of this critical collaboration.
Creighton: In addition, we’ve joined forces with peer institutions who hold similar values and are also eager to connect with this population of students. We’ve traveled together to military bases. We’ve held events for counselors at community colleges. And we’ve hosted information sessions (virtually, this year) specifically aimed at military affiliated students. For us, it’s incredibly important that student veterans know what opportunities are available to them, that Williams is actively seeking them out and that they belong on our campus.
As we’ve admitted and enrolled more veterans, we’ve realized some student veterans have personal dynamics that are not easily accommodated on a campus originally designed for students who are 18 to 22 years old. This might include moving to campus with spouses, partners, children, etc. So, just as partnerships have been critically important externally, so, too, have they been internally as we’ve worked to identify housing dynamics and other supports to meet the personal needs of our student veterans. Colleagues on campus have been tremendous partners, and, together, we’re constantly reflecting on how we can support students best.
Can you describe some of the new programs and initiatives related to recruiting and retaining veterans, and what has been the result?
Creighton: We’ve created several initiatives in the last few years to engage with military affiliated students. We held our first-ever Transfer and Veteran Open House in 2018 to provide students an immersive experience on campus and allow them the chance to sit in on classes, talk with current students, share a meal with faculty, hear from our Dean of Transfer and Veteran Students and learn more about our admission process and incredibly generous financial aid program.
DiAddezio: In 2018, we also started the Williams Travel Grant Program. This program offers selected transfer and veteran students the opportunity to have an all-expenses-paid overnight visit to campus at a time of their choosing prior to applying to Williams. We know how essential it is for any student, but particularly student veterans, to see and experience the Williams campus and to meet members of our community. For that reason, we also offer all admitted veteran students with financial need the chance to have an all-expenses-paid visit to Williams before deciding whether or not to enroll. These visits have often been a critical factor for those who have decided to enroll at Williams. So that military-affiliated students have an opportunity to connect with our current student veterans, we created a Transfer and Veteran Admission Ambassador program to do exactly that. The ambassadors support recruitment efforts by joining (virtual) community college visits and fairs, talking with prospective students through our Williams College Connect platform and assisting with other programs and events.
Creighton: We’ve also invested deeply in cultivating partnerships with others who are doing this work and were thrilled to host (virtually) our first Warrior Scholar Project boot camp this past summer. The program gives military-affiliated students the opportunity to get to know the Williams community and to access support for their higher education journey. Of course, we’ve also made an effort to think critically about the admission and financial aid process for student veterans. We’ve automatically waived the application fee for all service member and veteran applicants. We are also Yellow Ribbon program participants and take the most generous approach possible to helping students maximize Yellow Ribbon support. Student veterans can choose to use their GI Bill benefits toward the cost of attendance at Williams, or they can choose to hold onto their benefits for graduate school or other opportunities. Regardless, we meet 100% of their demonstrated need through one of, arguably, the most generous financial aid programs for student veterans in the U.S.
How many veterans do we currently have on campus, and how many have come to Williams since the college’s focus on that population has deepened?
DiAddezio: We’ve admitted 26 student veterans over the last four years. Eight have enrolled, four of whom are currently enrolled. The impact these students have on campus is disproportionate to their numbers. We’re committed to seeing this population grow and excited to see the impact they will continue to have on our community.
How does having veterans on campus enhance the experience for all students?
DiAddezio: Every year, we strive to continue to create a vibrant living and learning environment for all students by enrolling a talented and diverse class. Veterans bring to our community their own unique backgrounds, perspectives and set of lived experiences, and they carry all of that with them through their classes, conversations with peers, extracurricular engagements and more. Our student veterans have served as critical voices on committees, as leaders in student organizations and as advocates for change. They’ve offered their voices in class discussions, as part of all-campus panels and events, and at conferences and gatherings across the country. They deeply contribute to the richness of our community. We know, of course, that our differences provide opportunities for growth and connection, and those opportunities are only strengthened when student veterans join our community. Over the last five years, as we’ve enrolled student veterans, that has been confirmed time and time again. They’ve enhanced and shaped the Williams community in countless meaningful ways, and we know they’ll continue to do so in the coming years.
Among recent graduates, what kinds of things are our veterans doing?
Creighton: The student veterans who graduated in the last few years have found success in a variety of fields. They’re working in technology, consulting, finance and management and are discovering the wide reach and the impressive adaptability of their Williams degree.
DiAddezio: One is working with Anheuser-Busch’s venture capital team as a Global Manager. Another is finding meaningful applications for his philosophy major as a healthcare and education consultant at EY-Parthenon. Another is working as a Software Engineer at Microsoft. Whatever their field, all of our veteran alumni point to the importance of their liberal arts education in helping them to develop critical thinking, creative problem-solving and perspective-taking and ultimately becoming highly competitive candidates in post-graduate life.