Matthew Kaczynski / U.S. Marine Corps / USC (Marshall): Matthew Kaczynski wanted to become a Marine Corps aviator. Just one problem: He didn’t possess any flying experience. That didn’t stop him from beating the 30-to-1 odds to earn his wings– and graduating at the top of his class to boot.
How? In his words, he “persisted,” staying true to a calling to “serve my country, to be part of something extraordinary, and to leave an impact on the world, if only in my own small way.”
Indeed, Kaczynski left his mark. He served four combat deployments, where he mentored members of the Afghan National Army and helped to build the country’s aviation program. At Marshall, he is tackling his biggest challenge yet: breaking into the entertainment industry! Think it’s an impossible dream? Don’t tell that to this “unabashed comic book geek.” He has already dreamed big and realized his potential before. Only now, he enjoys the support of the Trojan Network behind him. And he plans to repay these same blessings.
“Sometimes it takes our peers to push us to reach our full potential,” he admits. “In that sense, I hope the measure of my success will be in how much I helped my fellow classmates become strong leaders, empathetic listeners, and enduring learners. Being a Trojan is as much about celebrating each other’s achievements as it is about accomplishing personal goals. It’s about empowering each other to reach great heights, together, rather than apart.”
Taylor Sheppard / U.S. Navy / University of Virginia (Darden): Success isn’t always measured in rank or commendation. Instead, it is reflected in the respect that superiors earn from their subordinates. That’s how Taylor Sheppard measures success. By that token, she can sleep easy at night.
A Notre Dame grad and Nuclear Submarine Officer aboard the U.S.S. Georgia, Sheppard takes great pride when her sailors re-enlist. That’s because she understands the commitment involved –and the trust it requires.
“This is a huge milestone in their careers and it is extremely personal for them – they get to choose how they want their re-enlistment done, right down to the location and dress-code, as well as an officer they admire to read them their oath,” she shares. “Mentoring the sailors in my divisions and working with my crew makes all the deployments, shift work, and high-stress scenarios on the submarine worth it. Seeing them succeed, and getting to be a chosen part of their career advancement gives me the highest satisfaction.”
What drew Sheppard to Darden? It was the case method, of course! However, it was the reason why the case method appealed to her that shows why she will be as successful at Darden as the U.S. Navy. “The case method…would force me out of my comfort zone every single day,” she writes. “I knew that learning in this environment would be so much more developmental for me as a leader than if I just played it safe.”
William Vuillet / U.S. Navy / Wharton School: “My day job used to be flying F-18s off a carrier.”
That’s not the kind of modesty you’d expect from a fighter pilot. In fact, William Vuillet isn’t just any U.S. Navy pilot. He also earned an invite to TOPGUN. Yes, you can almost imagine Vuillet hot-dogging across the desert, gushing about the “need for speed” before he buzzes the tower. However, he is more Iceman than Maverick, a down-to-earth guy who also spent three years teaching at the school.
Not surprisingly, his advice to MBA applicants is equally reserved. “Stay humble but don’t undersell yourself,” he urges. “It’s easy to get caught up and be in awe of other applicants that you may run into. As a veteran, I was impressed by the background of everyone I came across and would often question my own contribution, not having any background in any of the common post-MBA sectors. Remember you bring a unique set of skills to the table that will ultimately contribute to your program’s dynamic just as much as the financier, entrepreneur, or consultant.”
Shawn Driver / U.S. Army / Cornell University (Johnson): Shawn Driver calls himself “passionate.” He is passionate about aviation, travel, and family. He has, in his words, “an insatiable desire to learn and experience life.” In other words, business school is the perfect spot for him.
That passion is reflected in his work. Over a decade-long military career, Driver has risen from being a Platoon Leader to the Assistant Operations Officer for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Known as the “Night Stalkers,” this fabled unit provides support for U.S. Army Special Forces and are considered among the best military aviators in the world. In his role, Driver planned, resourced and managed operations for a unit boasting 600 soldiers and 27 helicopters.
Translation: organizing campus events will be a breeze for Driver.
His advice for getting into a top business school? Don’t try to be something that you’re not. “The MBA application process is designed in part to learn about yourself by reflecting on your past experiences, strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. In order to effectively connect the dots and think about the next step in your career, you have to be authentic. If you’re not, it will come through in every aspect of the application.”
Jorge Tellez / U.S. Navy / U.C. Berkeley (Haas): Jorge Tellez loves adventure! He claims that he is always planning his next trip…but he has his limits. “I’ve completed two cross-country road trips. Never again.”
This appetite for adventure may be one reason why he joined the U.S. Navy. It was here where the Fairfax native identified a fatal flaw in his destroyer’s security: The training was lecture-based and failed to provide real world experience. “You don’t learn how to combat a vehicle-borne IED or stop an active shooter by simply reading about it; you learn by doing,” he writes.
Taking a page out of an experiential project conducted at business schools, Tellez gathered his team and developed an “unconventional” training that better simulated a real attack. The results speak for themselves. “We flawlessly passed seven subsequent inspections, delivered program certification three months ahead of schedule, and were lauded by inspectors for operating the best security program on the waterfront,” he crows.
One secret to Tellez’s success, however, was the backing of his commanding officer. It was this same support system that he sought in an MBA program. When he arrived at Berkeley, the students made his decision easy for him. “I knew I found the right program when current students spontaneously created a victory tunnel for us to run through before meeting our interviewers,” he jokes.