Warrior Scholars at the University of Notre Dame

Chase Tolles stands with other veterans from all different military branches in the halls of Notre Dame. (Courtesy of Chase Tolles)

Chase Tolles stands with other veterans from all different military branches in the halls of Notre Dame. (Courtesy of Chase Tolles) 

Waking up with the sun during the summer every day is not usually part of a student’s plan, but for Chase Tolles, taking classes at a prestigious university like Notre Dame, from some of the best professors, the opportunity was something he couldn’t resist.

The program veteran 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 or university, 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 Scholars 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. ”

Chase Tolles was in the military for five years as an anti-tank missileman. Right after coming out of the Marine Corp he was a combined anti-armor team leader and being in charge of mission planning and integration with heavy weapon support. He was stationed out of Camp Pendleton and was deployed three different times.

Once he’s up and ready to go, Tolles has an hour to make the lengthy trek across the Notre Dame campus to get to 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 were filled with discussions, writing assignments and lectures all based on different majors. For Tolles, topics included humanities, philosophy and international relations.

Tolles set up in his classroom with other vets at Notre Dame campus. (Courtesy of Chase Tolles)

Tolles set up in his classroom with other vets at Notre Dame campus. (Courtesy of Chase Tolles)

After the 10 hour in-class sessions students then went back to their housing with their course instructor and continued on with discussions about separate readings outside of the classroom. On top of that, the students would go back to their room after the second meeting and write a paper for the next day of classes.

As extensive and grueling as their days were, the hard-set structure of it all was easier for Tolles. The militaristic setting that they were learning in put school into a manner that they 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.”

Now, after spending time at Notre Dame, Tolles feels refocused about his classes in fall semester. With the help of the professors, he was able to start fresh and strong realizing the academic potential he has.

He is working towards a degree in international relations and the environment that the program out him in helped him realize the full potential he has in what he can achieve at Saddleback College and further down the line when he transfers to a four-year university.

“Coming back here I try to live every day as if I was at Notre Dame,” Tolles says. “I really try to push myself in the classroom and if I don’t know something I ask.”

Tolles is an extremely humble person, he pushes himself at school and works really hard to understand each concept and if he does not understand something he reaches out and asks for help. Looking back at the program, that was one thing that they helped him come to terms with. He is now able to accept that it is okay to need help.

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. Barely caring about academics and caring more about partying, he joined the military after graduating. Going back to school was difficult, but with the help of Warrior Scholar and the advisors, he was given a boost of academic courage.

“It’s really cool because you look at every class different now,” Tolles says. “You can really see that hey 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 Tolles before he did the program. Luckily with the help of the veteran program here at Saddleback he was well supported, everyone there wants to help out the vets anyway they can and make sure they have everything they need to succeed. 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.

Now, Tolles knows he is capable of supporting himself through school and in succeeding and knowing that he is capable of doing anything. He has different people at Notre Dame asking if he’s coming back and telling him that they need more people like him there at the school which, to Tolles, is “very very empowering.”

“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?” he says. “It’s the same thing with knowledge, why wouldn’t you.”