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Penn State MBAs Learn Leadership From the Marines

“Only two things that come out of Penn State: Linebackers and MBAs…

Which one are you, boy? I don’t see you wearing no cleats, so you must be an MBA!” 

You can almost imagine Smeal students facing a gunnery sergeant like Emil Foley from An Officer and a Gentleman. “Listen up, rubbernecks,” he’d bark. “Forget all those cases you read. I could care less about that CLIO on your wall. For the next 24 hours, you are marines. You’re gonna climb walls. Crawl through the mud. Swim across rivers. And run until your toes fall off. And if you don’t like that, go cry to your advisor. Ooh Rah!”

No, it wasn’t quite like that at a 24-hour immersion program on leadership and decision-making, held at the United States Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia. Here, students from Penn State, Wharton, and Cornell University gathered to learn by doing. If they thought finance was rough, they certainly got a wake-up call…as in a 5:00 a.m. wake up call.

That’s when they were awoken, divided up into teams of four or five, assigned a marine mentor, and given their instructions. And what did their day entail? This is how The Penn State News described it:

  • “The Leadership Reaction Course (LRC) tasked teams with confronting seemingly insurmountable physical and mental challenges. The point of the challenges was not necessarily to complete them, the Marines told the students, but to build leadership, teamwork and decision-making skills in the attempts.”
  • “The high-ropes course focused on personal confidence. Students began by leaping onto a cargo net, and then traversed a number of barriers before a zip line ride over the Quigley — the legendary water obstacle they would experience later that afternoon.”
  • “The day’s physical activities culminated with a run through a shortened, simplified version of the obstacle-laden Combat Course that Marine Officer Candidates endure during training. The course included crawling through mud, traversing ropes obstacles and navigating 50 yards of water, logs, barbed wire and tunnels as part of the Quigley.”

Guess waking up with a hangover and heading off to Quantitative Reasoning doesn’t sound so harsh after all, huh?

So what did students learn? For Joshua Mathis (’14), the program reinforced how difficult decision-making is. “The whole program definitely pushes you out of your comfort zone,” he says. “It also focuses on removing doubt from your thought process. You have to make decisions and actions quickly and trust that you are making the best decision given the information you have.”

Leading by example was another lesson that students absorbed throughout the day, says Mathis. “My team’s leader, Capt. Gulliksen, was an amazing leader. He didn’t ask us to do anything he wasn’t willing to do with us, and he supported us every step of the way.” Mathis adds that he gained greater confidence from his day at Quantico. “I learned to trust myself more…The experience gave me the confidence that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.”

For Erik Orient, Smeal’s MBA student services director and retired marine officer, those are the lessons he hoped students can apply to their business careers. “The Marine Corps emphasizes decision-making in the face of adversity and uncertainty. Marine leaders must become comfortable with the 70 percent solution and then make adjustments as situations change. The Quantico immersion was designed to take our students out of their comfort zones and to give them a sense of decision-making and leadership in a distinctly unfamiliar and challenging environment.”

Don’t Miss: My Story: From the Military to Stanford

Source: Penn State University

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