Diana Davis Spencer Scholars 2022-2023

Podcasts and Recorded DDSS Events

Fioravanti Sireci, Ph.D.

Welcome to the DDS Scholar Hub, aka professorfiore.com, where I interview the extraordinary Scholars from the 2022-2023 cohort. This site also includes recordings of our workshops and guest speakers, as well as helpful pages on writing skills and a blog about our book club meetings. Check the menu above!     

 A little about me: I earned a Ph.D. in English Literature and an M.Sc. in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh (UK). I am a former Fulbright teacher trainer and preceptor of writing for the Harvard College Writing Program.

For quick access to all of our podcasts and interviews for the 2022-2023 session, please visit Professor Fiore interviews  on Spotify, a podcast series created for this cohort. You can also click within the descriptions below.

Elizabeth Condit

US Army

Graduate StudentCornell MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership

"There's No Other Program Like It"

Elizabeth Condit's Unstoppable Progress

Elizabeth's interview on my Spotify site brings out the toughness, humility, and perserverance we have seen in so many people here at DDSS. Elizabeth's story is one we have followed very closely, and we congratulate her on her recent successes! After being admitted to the Cornell program, she plans to continue to give back to the community in more and more effective ways. A special shout out to Isabelle Phan and Ros Grizzard! 

Some words in gratitude to Diana Davis Spencer:  


Thank you for your generosity, continued support, and compassion for our community. This is a one-of-a-kind program without any close substitutes. Without a program like the DDSS, soldiers, and veterans like myself will wander around without direction, structure, mentorship, or confidence.

Programs like DDSS, coupled with other unique organizations like the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP), ensure that the utility provided by the mentorship given through the WSP is reinforced and truly prepares the veteran for any level of post-secondary education. I do not know where I would be without WSP or DDSS. Being on active duty, I probably would have settled with my undergraduate degree and stopped there, or one of the educational options I felt was easier to get into with my military background and not even attempting to push past my fears and boundaries.

With the help of WSP, I applied to one of the schools I have only dreamed of attending but would never dare to apply to. However, with the mentorship and constant guidance of DDSS staff and mentors like Dr. Sireci and Dr. Sanchez, I can proudly say that I am an incoming graduate student of Cornell University Johnson School of Management and Weill Cornell Medicine, MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership Program, Class 2025!

Diana, I could only have done this with the direct impact of this program. Thank you so much for your investment. I cannot wait to pay it forward in every capacity possible. I can honestly say that I am now positioned in a place where I am assured about the direction my life will take after my military career. Thank you, and May God bless you. 



Andrew Nguyen

Corporal, US Army

75th Ranger Regiment (2014-2018)

Medical StudentHarvard University

"The Warrior Path to the Healer Path"

Medical Student Andrew Nguyen describes his inspiration to alleviate suffering.

In this brief podcast with Andrew Nguyen, we learn about his early days as an Army Ranger, his service in Afghanistan, where he became inspired by the work of surgeons and the possibility of alleviating suffering. He describes the challenges and motivation that launched him into a successful academic life. Join us in this last of our podcasts of '22-'23, a year with many successes here at DDSS.

Isabelle Phan

US Army

Yale Summer Research in Biomedicine

Founder, Regency Youth Program 

"I Keep Going"

Isabelle Phan's Simple and Eloquent Message

Isabelle's story (see below) is one that has inspired many of her cohort. With humility and persistence, Isabelle has already achieved some remarkable things. Take a look at her testament to the sponsor of our program, Diana Davis:

Dear Diana,


I cannot thank you enough for your generosity and kindness. Without donors like you who invest in veterans' education, higher education for many of us would be nothing but a dream. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to you and the strong community you are building. Honestly, WSP and DDSS still seem too good to be true to me, even though I have been involved with these organizations for almost a year. As an immigrant, a mother, and a financially struggling student, Harvard and MIT only existed in my mind through television. Without WSP, I would never have had the opportunity to travel to the East Coast and attend the academic boot camps at these institutions last year. Without WSP, DDSS, the WSP staff and fellows, and my mentor, Dr. Fioravanti Sireci, I would have never believed in myself and my ability to pursue my dream of becoming a military physician. Whenever I am with WSP and DDSS, I feel cared for, loved, supported, and empowered by this community. I have made many new friends and found my military-supported niche. I don't believe I can ever fully repay you for everything you have given us, but I promise that I will work hard and pay it forward to future generations.


Once again, I deeply thank you for all that you have done for us!

Roslyn GrizzardUS Navy, Hospital Corpsman, 1988 - 1998

"I Found Myself Again" 

Ros Grizzard tells of a family legacy of service that spans more than a century, including both World Wars, the Vietnam War, on down to her son, also a vet. Ros speaks on her own experience in the Navy, and about moving forward with her passion for learning. 

In our interview Roslyn told me of her extraordinary grandfathers, Lee Grizzard, who served in World War I in France and who founded one of the oldest American Legions in the country (South Side Chicago), and the other grandfather, Odell Wills, who served in World War II. Her father is a Vietnam vet while her son is a veteran as well. Ros herself is the first woman in her family in the military. She talks about her youthful journey, about getting her radiology and imaging credentials, becoming a hospital corpsman, among other upsides of Navy service. Ros also has some great things to say about our program and cohort (shout out to Elizabeth Condit), and talks about her plans to attend Texas A&M. Listen here!

- FS

This is Ms. Grizzard's message to Diana Davis Spencer: 

I want to offer up my sincerest gratitude to our donor and program namesake Diana Davis. This experience has been invaluable to me. Not just because of the resources it has provided, but by being able to dig a bit deeper and finding my path via the rich engagement with fellow veterans, our sponsor, and the amazing speakers and consultants. I am so thankful!

Dante KariUS ArmyInfantry, Armorer

"Writing is a Perishable Skill" 

My interview with Dante Kari reveals a man who has loved literature and learning his whole life. Dante discusses his Army service as an armorer and an exciting transition into aerospace engineering.

In our podcast, Dante speaks about his lifelong practice of reading and of seeking to serve with honor. He is currenty enrolled in a program that will lead to a degree in aerospace engineering, with the ultimate goal of working at NASA or SpaceX. Listen here!

- FS

Here is Dante's message of gratitude to Diana Davis Spencer: 

Thank you for investing in my future.  In my unit, we had NCO's regularly ask us 'what are your short term and long term goals, and what are you doing to achieve them?' Dr. Sireci and the other mentors of DDS consistently asked me similar questions.  That simple level of accountability is invaluable, and the DDS program greatly helped in my transition from the military to higher education.  Also, writing is a perishable skill, and getting writing instruction from Dr. Sireci made the application process a lot less stressful. Like Jay Farris said, this program is a force multiplier.  Once again, thank you for investing in my future, I greatly appreciate it.

Jonathan Banasihan(US Navy, USS Eisenhower/USS Theodore Roosevelt)Graduate Student in George Washington University Law School

"How Can I Give of Myself?" 

Jonathan's exit interview at the DDS Scholars redefines service, and highlights the oath to support freedom and democracy worldwide

Jonathan has had an amazing journey from his home country of Philippines to his extensive service in the Navy, having served on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Eisenhower. He details a life of dedication and intense work and study. Jonathan holds a B.A. in International Studies and minored in Chinese. He has worked for Raytheon and is constantly looking for areas where he can better fulfill his lifelong mission of service. Listen here!

-- FS

This is Mr. Banasihan's message to Diana Davis: 

I can never pay you back for what you’ve given. Your support fostered an environment of growth, curiosity, and passion that permitted me to dare a little more for my goals. The community that you helped create will be a lifelong source of strength for myself and others. I will do my best to build on these foundations and, in some way, help it grow. I hope that counts. Thank you. 

Lisa Elijah


"I didn't know you were a dropout" 

Fighting stigmas along my non-traditional academic path

Following up on a conversation with Lisa Elijah (USAF), in this 15-minute podcast on Spotify, Lisa talks about her experience as a teen in a small town in Montana and leaving high school to pursue a different life path, first in Alaska, and then in Washington State. Lisa and I discuss the pros and cons of a non-traditional academic path, but mostly how she has found inspiration, purpose, and meaning in higher education and research. Well worth a listen!

Also available as a link right here.  

Patrick Trujillo (USMC)Marketing Coordinator at the Warrior Scholar Program

"Recapturing Confidence" 

Patrick's exit interview at the DDS Scholars tells of his transition to higher education, MBA acceptance to SDSU, and his highly satisfying professional role at Warrior Scholar.

Join me in a conversation with Patrick Trujillo (USMC), who talks about leaving the Marine Corps at the age of 33, and pondering his next moves. Patrick discovered a love of learning, starting off at community college and now having been accepted to the MBA program at San Diego State University. He also talks about inexorably rising through various roles at Warrior Scholar, from Fellow, to intern, to his current, very satisfying and high-quality work as Marketing Coordinator. I also want to personally thank him for his generous help with this website and the development of the podcast series. Finally, Patrick says that the DDSS program has helped to remove the last smidgen of doubt as a writer, communicator, and successful graduate student. 

-- FS


"I am a More Confident Graduate Student Veteran" 

Jarrod's long and fruitful relationship with the Warrior-Scholar Project is summed up in this wonderful statement:

June 7, 2023

Jarrod (USMC): I went through Warrior-Scholar in 2015, was fortunate enough to have one of the founders and the Executive Director as part of the staff through the program, and the whole experience was an amazing opportunity and was truly foundational to my college undergraduate experience and success. After attending the program, I went on to serve and work with WSP for several years and earned my degree in Political Science, at Texas A&M University. During my time at A&M, I worked on a variety of programs for student veterans on campus, was honored to be named a Tillman Scholar in 2017, represented the University during testimony before a joint subcommittee in Congress, and ended that time interning for a Deputy Assistant Secretary in Health & Human Services. Since that time, I have been preparing to pursue my studies further, in a master’s program, and making the leap back into the classroom is as daunting as ever. With my experience in the military and the type of person I am, I want to do well in the application process; once I get in, I want to well in school; plus the fact that this is about a profession/career, and not just a piece of paper, it was more important than ever to me to do well and be successful. The DDSS program gave me the support I needed to be successful, to feel confident as I moved forward, and the direct support and feedback that have proven to be invaluable. I am grateful for the opportunity provided by DDSS, and I am a more confident graduate student veteran for it.

Jay Farris(US Army, Special Forces)Fielding/Training Instructor, CACI

"This Program is a Force Multiplier" 

Jay's exit interview at the DDS Scholars is a tale of service and advocacy for others. 

Join me (on Spotify) as I welcome Jay Farris, who served 26 years in the US Army, including in Special Forces and as a medic in Afghanistan. Jay served during 9/11 and retired one month after the fall of Kabul, interesting "bookends" as he describes it. He is now about to embark on a Master's in Coaching and Sports Psychology at the University of Western States. He speaks eloquently about his service and about facing and overcoming challenges with anxiety. Jay also helps us understand more deeply the real meaning of "service" as he commits to a life of education and counseling, helping people manage challenge and building confidence and motivation.

Jay rounds out our conversation with a heartfelt message of gratitude to fellow scholars such as Harry Foster, consultant Logan Pearce, and the sponsor of this program, Diana Davis. Here is Jay's message to her: 

Ms. Davis,

I would like to express my gratitude for your generous financial support to the Warrior-Scholar Project. I have been fortunate to be associated with this organization for two years and I can honestly say it has not only changed my academic trajectory but also introduced me to an amazing group of people that I consider friends. Before my involvement with WSP, as both a student and fellow, I lacked the confidence to pursue graduate education. Although I spent 26 years in the Army where I thrived in challenging environments, I struggled adjusting to post-military life. During my time as a STEM Fellow last summer I found a new purpose in helping other veterans transition to academics. In the span of two weeks, I watched veterans find confidence in their academic abilities. I am currently enrolled in a Master of Science in Sports and Performance Psychology at the University of Western States. I hope to use my education to help others that struggle with a lack of confidence in achieving their goals. I am not alone among WSP Fellows that plan to continue a life of service. Your generous contributions are making that possible. Thank you.

Derek Auguste

US Army

Program Director

Veteran and Military Affairs

Florida International University

Derek Auguste (U.S. Army)

"Crashed and Burned Early and Then Found My Way" 

Derek's exit interview at the DDS Scholars is a rich narrative, full of heart, wisdom, and some good advice on moving forward.

Derek Auguste speaks eloquently about his early life and dreams of being a lawyer, his strong commitment to advocacy, and his new role at Florida International University. We then turn to the nitty gritty of our time together at the Diana Davis Scholar Program. Hear Derek's advice and warm words, including a shout out to Harry Foster. Check out our 18-minute conversation on Spotify.

And here are Derek's words to the person who made our program possible: 

Dear Diana,

The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation Scholars program hosted by Warrior-Scholar Project has been a life changing experience. Growing up I never dreamed of the opportunities that I have had the privilege of experiencing. As a young adult, the idea of pursuing a master's degree seemed far-fetched and a childish fantasy. Thanks to your generosity and belief in student veterans, I have been equipped with the guidance, direction, and support I need to attain my dream. I know full well the power of education and the DDS Scholars program has given me the skills and mentorship to harness that power and make a positive impact not only in my life but in the lives of those around me. Thank you again for sponsoring such an incredible program.  

Dale Willson(US Army, 82nd Airborne)Director of Assessment and Learning, New School University

"I was both a Paralegal and a Paratrooper" 

Dale Willson, a guest speaker at this years DDSS, tells of his journey from Olive Garden to Afghanistan to a satisfying role in higher education.

The podcast with Dale was a wind-in-your-face journey. He tells some of his life journey, from a server at an Olive Garden in Mississippi to the 82nd Airborne, and through to now, as a Ph.D. candidate and the director of assessment and learning at one of the most innovative universities in the country (based in New York City). In this followup to our guest series at the DDSS, Dale narrates the challenges and successes of his military career, meeting his future wife at Fort Bragg, and his current role in higher ed administration. Among the many meaningful moments, please listen as Dale talks about his time in Afghanistan. Towards the last third of the conversation, Dale offers some insights as he deepens the often-repeated word, "transition into civilian life."

-- FS

Specialist Trinh Phan, U.S. Army

Podcast with Isabelle Phan (SPC, U.S. Army): From Vietnam to UCLA and Yale 

Isabelle's podcast episode  (also on Spotify) was fun to record and I think we can all benefit from Lt. Phan's story: Her childhood in Tam Ky, a small village in central Vietnam, her grandfather, a doctor who spent his retirement serving the people around him pro bono and who died from Agent Orange exposure, Isabelle's arrival in the U.S. and her decision to join the military to "give back" to a country where she felt welcomed and supported, and finally, her recent struggles and successes as she applies for biomedical research programs at major universities. 

Whether you're at the gym, in the park, or on a long drive, slap on a pair of cans and hear a great, heartwarming, soul-strengthening story.

Isabelle's community program for teaching STEM early (ages 4-14), the  Regency Young Scholars Science Project

Sta. Ana, California

Podcast with Lisa Elijah (Air Force): Lisa's journey to the Air Force / her JAG work / a life of advocacy for disabled vets / her current lobbying work in Washington, D.C. for Paralyzed Vets of America 

Lisa Elijah (Air Force vet.) is one of our Scholars this year and, like all of you, she has a story very much worth listening to. In this 30-minute podcast, you'll hear Lisa tell of her early life in Montana, her decision to join the Air Force, her inspiration working in legal advocacy with JAG lawyers, and then on to her current position with Paralyzed Veterans of America, where she does powerful advocacy work pushing to get changes to ADA and the ACAA laws. Please hear what she has to say on our podcast (also on Spotify) and make sure to visit the PVA page to see the sorts of things they are fighting for.

May 2, 2023: Conversation with Col. G. Smith (USMC '82) on College Preparedness and supporting the whole person as you transition to life as a student.

On May 2, 2023 our cohort had a substantive conversation with a leader in university veterans' services. Director of the OVS at Texas A&M, Col. Smith has been a national trailblazer in tending to the whole person from the time of their admission to college or grad school all the way through to career. Please check the video recording of our session, which included two special guests from Texas A&M, Sarah LeMire and John Brindle. Keep in mind that Sarah and Col. Smith are available to answer your questions. They have supplied their emails: slemire@tamu.edu and gsmith@exchange.tamu.edu

Onboarding to College and Benefits: With April Clarke of George Washington University and LeNaya Hezel, Tillman Scholar and DEI Director at Warrior Scholar

At this meeting, on April 24, 2023, April Clark, in conversation with LeNaya Hezel, offered us a host of useful information on the Yellow Ribbon Programs around the country, how to sequence your benefits, and other topics for a rich and well-supported experience on university campuses. Click here for a recording, and enter the password: knYTL8x!

LeNaya referred us to a useful page from the VA on the range of benefits offered by various schools: 

GI Bill Comparison Tool 

Podcast/Video with Matt  Moser: Writing Strategies for Application Success

Matt Moser (USMC vet) participated in the Warrior Scholar Virtual Boot Camp  in late 2022. He applied to Brown University for a graduate program in cognition and psychology and I was happy to hear he has been accepted. In this 18-minute episode, Matt gives some of his tips for writing effective application and scholarship essays. You can watch as a video or just slap on the headphones.

1st-Gen Student at Texas A&M

This two-minute video offers a testament of what it means to be a veteran and a first-generation college student. Check out Shawna Uhl's story, and a cameo of one of our guests at DDSS, Col. G. Smith of Texas A&M. 

To see the original website: https://aggieveterans.tamu.edu/development/

Time Management, Sleep, Motivation Event with Jessica Coyle

On May 18th, we had a rocking little event with Jessica Coyle, a p/t associate prof. and tutor for college students with time management concerns at City University of the New York and The New School. Please check out the video recording, here. Jarrod, Jay, Logan, and others had some wonderful things to say and resources to share.