Chase Tolles stands with other veterans from all different military branches in the halls of Notre Dame. (Courtesy of Chase Tolles)
Wake up calls at 6 a.m. everyday for school is not usually part of the college lifestyle. For Chase Tolles and many other veterans, this military structured schedule helped keep these men on track.
Getting up every morning, Tolles was given an hour to make the long trek across the Notre Dame campus for morning chow. After that, the long haul of classes began.
Around 8 a.m. the veterans were expected to be in the classroom, where they stayed until 6:30 p.m. These classes revolved around discussions, writing assignments and lectures all based on different majors. For Tolles, topics included humanities, philosophy and international relations.
After the 10 hour in-class sessions, students went back to their housing with course instructors and continued on with discussions about separate readings outside of the classroom. On top of that, they would go back to their room and write a paper for the next day.
Even though the days were long and gruesome, the setting Tolles was learning in put school into a manner that he knew how to operate in.
“It actually did make it helpful, just because it’s very structured and very rigid,” Tolles says. “There was no time to take a break, your break was at chow or when you were sleeping.”
Tolles set up in his classroom with other vets at Notre Dame campus. (Courtesy of Chase Tolles)
The program that Chase Tolles, as well as many other vets at Saddleback College, took part in over the summer is called Warrior-Scholar Project, which gives active duty service members and veterans who are in either a junior college or a four-year college an academic rebuild.
This program motivates vets back into a classroom at different prestigious schools around the country and demonstrates that they are capable of being in classrooms and succeeding in them.
“When veterans sit in a classroom for the first time in a long time it is very intimidating,” he says. “We haven’t done this in a long time and we’ve lost all those intangibles that we’ve learned as a young child. So that’s the whole premise behind Warrior Scholar is to show them that they can stand on the shoulders of giants and be able to play in the same playing field as everyone else.”
After spending time at Notre Dame and going through Warrior Scholar Tolles felt refocused coming into his classes this fall semester. With the help of the professors he was able to start fresh, realizing the academic potential he has.
“Coming back here I try to live everyday as if I was at Notre Dame,” he says. “I really try to push myself in the classroom.”
One thing Tolles feels Warrior Scholar taught him is to be more humble. He was taken through a process called degraining which taught him to take who he is now and who he was before and reassess to find a balance between the two.
For Tolles, he was not the best kid before he enlisted. He barely cared about academics and more about partying, he joined the military after graduating. Going back into school was difficult, but with the help of Warrior Scholar, he was given a boost of academic courage.
“It’s really cool because you look at every class different now,” Tolles says. “I can sit in a classroom at Notre Dame or Cornell or USC and really contribute something back to the program.”
Coming back to Saddleback was not the easiest for him before he did Warrior Scholar. Luckily with the help of the Saddleback Vet Program, he was well supported. Everyone there wants to help out the vets anyway they can and make sure they have everything they need to success. The program, at Saddleback specifically, is not just veteran friendly but it is veteran ready. Which helps guide vets through their school year instead of just handing them a military discount.
After coming home from Notre Dame, he no longer only felt supported but confident in succeeding and knowing that he is capable of doing anything. He has different people at Notre Dame telling him that they need more people like him at the school.
“If I had a car that was bought and paid for and all you had to do was go and get it, would you do it?” Tolles says. “It’s the same thing with knowledge, why wouldn’t you.”