For almost a decade, Amit Patel was on active duty with the U.S. Army. Growing up in the suburbs of New York City, Patel joined the military as a junior firefighter after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Between 2008 and 2017, he flew Black Hawk helicopters in Afghanistan and led various military units as a captain and company commander.
Despite his achievements in the military, the excitement and adventure of making history, Patel says he remained fascinated by the world of business because it happens everywhere, all the time.
“Business drives current events and I wanted to learn what goes on behind the scenes,” says Patel, who graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from U.S. Military Academy in 2008. “Serving in various positions in the military taught me invaluable leadership lessons and helped me develop a better understanding of how people think, how teams function, and how to motivate different types of people in different types of environments. I loved the military, but always felt there was a void.”
In 2017, Patel, together with other U.S. Army veterans and elite athletes, gathered in a classroom at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. They were attending the two-week Next Step program to learn how to transition to business. Nearly 70 military personnel and athletes joined the unique program as the inaugural cohort in Hanover last year.
A PROGRAM ESTABLISHED FOR TWO SIMILAR POPULATIONS — VETERANS AND ELITE ATHLETES
The idea to develop a business education immersion program at the Tuck School to help transitioning veterans was sparked several years ago, when a second-year Tuck MBA student and military veteran imagined a bridge-like program for people like himself. He told administrators that the program would have made his transition into Tuck easier — and when a former Olympian echoed the sentiment, the school set out to establish a program.
“The team here researched programs for these two populations — veterans and elite athletes — and identified a common need,” says Punam Anand Keller, associate dean for Innovation and Growth at Tuck who is leading the Next Step program. “Tuck pursues programs if they meet five criteria: our mission to educate wise leaders in the world of business; a transformative experience for the participants; faculty enthusiasm and inclusivity; connections with our MBA program; and fiscal responsibility. Next Step checked all the boxes.”
Those who join the immersive business certificate program pay just $1,500, which includes tuition, program materials, lodging, and most meals for two weeks. The program is heavily subsidized by private donors such as JetBlue, which covers the cost of participants’ air travel. Veterans and athletes who need further financial assistance can approach the Tuck School and partner organizations such as The COMMIT Foundation and The Navy SEAL Foundation. Next Step is also eligible for GI Bill funding, education benefits to help with cost of education for service members and veterans, and Yellow Ribbon Program funding in partnership with the Department of Veteran Affairs. Veterans at any stage of their transition can apply and it doesn’t matter whether they are still on active duty.
Tuck has been working closely with the Navy SEAL Foundation and the U.S. Olympic Committee to create outreach promoting the program, Keller says. “The veteran and elite athlete communities, although seemingly quite different, have a lot in common,” he says. “Our goal is to help a deserving group of people achieve their goals when they need help the most.”
FROM OLYMPIC BRONZE TO NEXT STEP
These days, Caitlin Leverenz Smith is a rotational associate in the Visa Olympic Business Development Program. But just two years ago, the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist was the team captain of USA’s Olympic swim team. After six years in the water, Smith wanted to make the transition into business, and when she heard about Next Step, she knew it was what she had been looking for.
Smith learned about the program through an email from the U.S. Olympic Committee’s athlete network. “I was immediately drawn to the program, because I was not finding many resources or programs that aid in the transition,” says Smith, who has a degree in public health from the University of California-Berkeley. “I knew I wanted to get into the corporate world and was looking for experiences like Next Step that would provide a foundation to help get me going in the right direction.”
Candidates apply for the program online. The admissions committee is made up of Tuck administrators, including several with backgrounds in military service and elite athletics.
Next Step’s mix of courses and career development support is directed at translating the skills that athletes and veterans acquire in the field and making them relevant to the world of business. Over the course of two weeks, students do everything from learning to do financial analysis and projections, pricing and strategy, dealing with buyers and seller and growing a business, to branding, negotiation, and influencing through leadership.