My Story: From NASA To Stanford

Patrick Martinchek was accepted to both Harvard & Stanford

Patrick Martinchek was accepted to both Harvard & Stanford

Patrick Martinchek went from the farm to The Farm. Raised in Petoskey, a northern Michigan town with a population of under 6,000—“the middle of nowhere,” he says. Martinchek now attends the Stanford Graduate School of Business and wears Google Glass like it’s no big deal.

The path from Petoskey to Palo Alto was partly paved by the hosts of MythBusters, a popular Discovery Channel show that debunks science-related urban legends. As a junior in high school, Patrick Martinchek had the chance to attend the MythBusters’ presentation in his hometown. “They were talking about space, and they were talking about launching rockets,” he recalls. “They said that it’s basically impossible to do, which is why very few people succeed.” That part captured his attention. “I thought to myself, ‘Well, if you’re looking for one of the biggest challenges in the world, this might be it,’” he says. “I was fascinated by this very challenging task.”

To take it on, Patrick Martinchek, who will graduate with his MBA in 2014, studied aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan. During the summers, he completed two internships at General Electric; while at school, he worked at the Student Space Systems Fabrication Laboratory, eventually leading a team of 22 students in a project involving a deployable solar array. “We were all really young, we were all learning together, and I was really fascinated by that,” he says. “And so when I graduated, I knew I wanted to work in aerospace for a short time, and I wanted to work with brilliant, brilliant people.”

That desire led him to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) after college. There, he was responsible for the health and safety of a rover on the surface of Mars. He enjoyed his job, but about two years in, he was itching for a new challenge. After surveying his options—another part of NASA, another company, graduate school—he decided to go to Stanford. His new goal: Starting and growing companies. “Up until then, when I was in school, when I was working, I spent every day surrounded by 99% very technical people, PhDs—we’re talking about people who only had experience in science, technology, and engineering,” he says. “And so I knew that it was going to be a big change for me, moving away from that world into a world where the primary background was business. But I was very excited about that.”


His story:

First and foremost, I think a lot of people are grateful for their health. I definitely fit into that bucket. But more importantly, I’m grateful for my family and friends who, along with being incredibly hardworking and motivated, taught me that it’s okay to think independently.

The University of Michigan has a wonderful engineering program, and I was fortunate enough to be accepted to study aerospace engineering. While I was there, I focused on student-run projects at the Student Space Systems Fabrication Laboratory. Once I graduated,  I started working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. I worked with a brilliant team of scientists and engineers; it was an awesome job. Still, I knew that I wanted to transition into more of a business-focused position—though I didn’t necessarily know that getting an MBA would be a good way to switch over until I started exploring my options in detail.

I only applied to Harvard Business School and the GSB. I went into the application process knowing that I was only going to apply to top schools, because I believe that the value of an MBA is primarily based on the quality of the professors and, more importantly, the quality of the students. Harvard and Stanford are sort of top one, top two—both very prestigious organizations.

In the end, I had to decide between them. It was a good decision to have to make; I’m very grateful to have been in that position. Choosing was difficult, though. It really came down to the people and the culture. I went with Stanford because I connected much better with everybody there. Plus, location counts. If you want to start a technology company, Silicon Valley is still the best place to be.

I’ll admit: Stanford students are probably some of the most difficult people to teach in the world. We’re very independent thinkers. We’re strongly opinionated. Particularly at the GSB, we invest our time and our resources in what we’re interested in and what makes us happy.

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