Life After Serving: A Chat with Veterans On Obtaining an MBA

November 11, 2020
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Life After Serving: A Chat with Baylor Veterans on Obtaining an MBA

For over fifty years, veterans have been honored and celebrated for their sacrifice and service to our country. Known to be a day in which we unite and pay our respects to those who have served, Veterans Day is recognized across the nation in almost every sector of our education, business, and governmental systems.  

In a recent study conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are nearly 254 million living veterans in the United States ranging from a multitude of branches, domestic upbringings, and levels of education. According to the census, nearly 30% of all living veterans have completed a bachelor's degree or higher. With hundreds of military-friendly universities, Baylor University ranks in the Top 50 colleges for veterans in the nation offering degrees and assistance to veterans pursuing a variety of disciplines and graduate degrees, including the MBA program.

In celebration of some of the our very own veteran students, we sat down and discussed their thoughts on obtaining an MBA degree, adjusting to civilian life, and learning how to balance it all while still keeping up with work and family.

HSB: Thanks for wanting to be a part of this! Okay, let's get started. Tell us a little bit about yourself (what branch you served in, how long did you serve, what made you want to join the military).

Robert Deaton ('18), Full-Time MBA with concentration in Management Information Systems and Information Security: I enlisted in the US Army Reserve in 2005 to pay for undergrad. Upon graduation, I commissioned Active Duty in the US Army in May 2009 as a Military Intelligence Officer. I ended my service in December 2016.

Conner Morrow ('19) Austin Executive MBA: I was in the US Navy for 6 years as a Submarine Electrician, Navy Nuclear Power program.

Alexandra Calderon ('21), Online MBA with concentration in cybersecurity: So, I have been serving with the Air Force for a little over 13 years. I am currently stationed in Houston as an Air Defense Controller, which are basically those who cover and protect the skies. Since the 9/11 attacks, there have been Air Defense Controllers in all major cities, so it's almost like a mission now. And I have just really liked it. I always wanted to be able to travel the world and be a part of the military in any capacity. My dad was also in the military. He had all boys and just one girl, and I turned out to be the one who joined, so I think that kind of makes me his favorite (laughs).

Ryan Kuithe ('21), Dallas Executive MBA program: For me, I joined the Navy straight out of high school (laughs). I did not want to wait, so I enlisted in 2009 and did not leave until 2017. Needless to say, it was a while. But, I loved it! I was able to work on nuclear reactors and soon was leading divisions of nearly 80 people. I finished my undergraduate degree in 2017 in Nuclear Energy and just thought that I always wanted to go back to school and get my MBA. That was always something I just wanted to do. Right now, I've been working with Amazon's delivery station for a little over three years. So, those interpersonal skills I learned are really coming into practice.


HSB: How has being in the military helped you in graduate school?

Kuithe: You learn a lot of skills. For me, learning how to manage people has been the skill I've been using most at my current job and in my program (EMBA).

Morrow: In the military you are exposed to people from many different backgrounds whose diversity is the heart of our nation. You learn how to work closely with a large variety of personalities and characters as you face the many challenges of military life together. Regardless of your background, everyone has to come together to complete the mission or task at hand. Having such experiences helped me to quickly connect and build lasting relationships with my cohort who themselves came from richly diverse personal and professional backgrounds. Each experience, whether in the military or graduate school, is an opportunity to learn and grow together with your teammates as you're working towards achieving your goals.

Deaton: Work ethic, emotional intelligence, and being comfortable in the uncomfortable. There are few substitutes for the experiences that the military can offer that force personal growth; usually exceeding that of your peers. Once you've mastered planning in life or death situations, few others will compare.

Calderon: You know, we learn how to just stay focused. You learn how to time manage your day and actually, they push you to get an education. So, that's what kind of makes you take advantage of your G.I. Bill and other incentives.

HSB: You mentioned staying focused. I assume the discipline component made it easy for you to adjust to graduate school life?

Calderon: It's funny that you say that, because I never think of it that way (laughs). I mean, yes, they definitely teach you discipline. But, they also just teach you how to push yourself and persevere. With the readings and raising a family, I have to find that balance. I have a fiancé and little boy and being able to balance everything has been tough sometimes. I mean, my job takes me away from my family for multiple portions of the day – sometimes entire days. But, I have had the best support from my family. You wouldn't believe it. My family is the biggest support system I have right now and for them to respect and encourage me to do my readings, that's what keeps me going.

HSB: How has raising a family impacted your graduate school experience?

Kuithe: Well, I have two little girls right now, so being with them is a top-priority for me. So, when I began to look for MBA programs I wanted a couple of things like being able to work and study and be close to my family without leaving them completely. Like, there's a lot of programs that are in-person, but expect you to be there almost every week, and with my life, I just couldn't do it. Thankfully, the program I'm in now (Dallas Executive MBA) is only one weekend a month and that has really helped me out a lot. I still get to work and be with my family and finish something that I've been wanting to do.

HSB: You mention that you've looked at other MBA programs. So, why did you pick Baylor?

Kuithe: Just because it had everything I was looking for. I wanted to be able to have the in-person experience without sacrificing my family and work life. The instructors are great and have real experiences, so it makes the lessons we discuss much more applicable. In fact, I been able to use some of the things we talk about in class right away at Amazon. It's just amazing.

Deaton: I had applied to several schools in my last year of the Army. I was stationed at the NSA, Washington, D.C. at the time. Laurie Wilson, the Director of the Baylor MBA program reached out to interview me. We aligned on background experiences in the intelligence community, and she has a daughter who was (possibly still is) serving in the Air Force. She was interviewing me, but I was also interviewing her - as you should do when looking at programs. That conversation with her is what sold me; having that connection with someone.

Calderon: For me, it was about wanting to get an MBA from a recognized university like Baylor. They are very military friendly and know how to communication with the Veteran Affairs office really well, so it just makes things so much easier. If I had the chance to pick Baylor again, I would. 

Morrow: I chose Baylor because I wanted an in-person experience from a top university and didn't want to be just another number or face in the crowd. The Austin EMBA setting was everything I wanted in my MBA experience with outstanding access to an amazing faculty and staff and a place to make deep friendships.

Mark Rivas (DEMBA'22) displays his Ranger coin he took on his deployments along with his new BU Vets coin.

HSB: Well, we want to thank you for setting aside some time to share your thoughts with us, but before we let you go, we think our readers would want to know your advice to anyone, specifically to those who are a part of the military, on why it's important to get an MBA?

Calderon: I just think it's important to just continue; continue your education, period. When other people see how excited you get about learning something new or going back to school, it makes others want to be like that too. I get excited seeing people excited. So, for my boy, I want him to see that I'm wanting to get a better education because he should too. I want him to see a role model. So, I just say that anyone should go back to school. I'm getting an MBA, but you could get one in whatever you want. Just go back.

Deaton: [Epictetus once said] "Know first who you are, then adorn yourself accordingly." Whether it's an MBA or a trade certificate, align it to the goals you're setting for yourself over a 3-5 year plan. An MBA isn't meant to be the place where you "find yourself," so start mapping that job/industry/area you want to be in early. I say 3-5 years as life happens, and things will change. Second, educate yourself on all of your resources. Graduate programs usually serve as a business partnership to a region of companies, so basing your assessment of a program on their career development office is crucial to that goal setting [..]. Thirdly, focus on the end-game as school is only for a time. Learning the basics in business education is important, but the reason you're in a graduate program is to land that career you want. It all goes quickly, so benchmarking what you see yourself doing where early on will keep you ahead of the curve. Fourth, network! Corny, I know. [..] Veterans have a stigma of themselves that they are horrible at networking, and this isn't the case. It's the lack of confidence in knowing what you can provide, and the context of providing it. You're more mentally resilient if not more interesting than most people you will introduce yourself to at a networking event, so use it to your advantage. And lastly, remain adaptable by remaining well read. We were taught to adapt and overcome. Corporate America shifts and shifts quickly, so being the most adaptable person in the room could serve you better than simply being a subject matter expert in one area.

Kuithe: I honestly think people don't use all of the resources that are available to them. If you were part of the military, in any capacity, you should use your G.I. Bill that you earned, especially to increase your education. You earned them, so use them. Getting an MBA can help you in so many areas, so just use your resources.

Morrow: It sounds cliché, but I'd say that it's never too late to learn. Don't be intimidated by the thought of going back to school if it's something you really want in your heart of hearts. Reach out to the school, start a conversation, and get answers to the questions that might be holding you back. It's not as impossible as things might seem from the outside once you're on the inside doing the work. Of course, by choosing Baylor, you know you'll have an amazing community surrounding and supporting you along your journey and beyond!

About Baylor's MBA Programs

Baylor's MBA Programs are designed strategically for professionals looking to take their careers to the next level in leadership. Rigorous MBA classes taught by dedicated faculty and industry experts offer both theoretical knowledge and the practical skills required to succeed in modern global business. Wherever you are in your career today, Baylor has an MBA program to fit your lifestyle and move you toward your professional goals: Full-Time MBA, Executive MBA in Dallas, Executive MBA in Austin, and an Online MBA. Visit our website to learn more about all Baylor MBA programs.

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