Last month, I had a call with a prospective student who was a military veteran. His last question caught me by surprise. I’m used to candidates asking why I chose to go back to school for my MBA or what recruiting for consulting was like. These days, everyone wants my thoughts on the value proposition of a virtual or hybrid MBA during a global pandemic.
This person, however, wanted to know how the veterans in the program have enhanced my MBA experience.
I told him all about the perspective my veteran classmates bring to the program – and how Stern is better for it. You need to work hard and be disciplined, but also understand what’s important and what isn’t. As an example, my group projects always ran well. When I had my friend Natalie Ashbridge, a former Marine, or Stan Tunstall, a former Army Artillery Officer, in my group, the projects ran like clockwork. We focused on the aspects that added value and delivered a great product. These classmates brought that perspective to every discussion, every assignment, every project. And I felt that it was truly making me a better student.
Since this call, I’ve thought a lot about my classmates who are veterans and what the MBA means to them, in their own words. Dan Butensky and Johnny Fugitt are classmates and co-presidents of Stern’s Military Veterans Club (MVC). Johnny is a Supply Officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves and has served for seven years: three years active duty and four in the Reserves. Dan served as an Engineer Officer for four years in the U.S. Army. I’m happy to have gotten to know them over the last year; I thought they would be perfect to provide a better understanding about their MBA experience and advice on how to grow the veteran community at Stern.
STERN IS ACTIVELY PUSHING TO BUILD THE VETERAN COMMUNITY AND AID THE TRANSITION
One reason why Dan chose to come back to school was not so dissimilar from my own. I had worked abroad for three years and wanted to come back to the US; I wanted to be closer to family, while at the same time developing stronger business fundamentals to help pivot my career. Dan also decided to leave the military to be closer to his family in New Jersey and progress his career. As a result, he focused on schools within a few hours of home.
Naturally, New York City is a major part of what makes Stern an attractive school, whether you want to experience the city for two years or build a life in the area longer term. However, Johnny didn’t share the geographic focus that Dan and I had.
“Instead, I asked myself where I wanted to have a two-year adventure and where I would be pushed to grow in new ways. New York fit,” Johnny told me.
Stern has so many aspects that make it a unique school beyond its optimal location. In a Poets & Quants profile on NYU students, I talked about how I was attracted to the IQ+EQ ethos and the community feel that I experienced early on with my interactions with the school. Additionally, what makes Stern unique is the Fertitta Veterans Program. The program was launched in 2016 thanks to a generous contribution from a Stern alum, Lorenzo Fertitta, and his brother, Frank J. Fertitta III. It is designed for military veterans and active duty students to support their transition to business school. It consists of a summer session with two core academic courses, professional programming, and financial support through the Fertitta Veterans Scholarship for selected students.
“Location and the Fertitta Veterans Program made Stern my target,” Johnny shared with me, “but Stern’s top-tier reputation, international opportunities, focus on EQ+IQ and positive interactions with Sternies throughout the admissions process only reinforced my desire to be part of this community.”
PLANNING FOR AN MBA
Getting an MBA is a big decision regardless of background. But it can be even more meaningful as you think about going from the military into the civilian workforce. Johnny recognized that and found that it was actually a perfect way for him to realize his post-MBA goals.
“A top-tier MBA opens so many professional opportunities, is the perfect transition experience from military life to the civilian world and compliments the skills gained through service.”
It is also important to students to enter with a clear set of goals so they can set a good plan for themselves, as I shared in an earlier piece. At a high level, the thought process starts with understanding what they want to achieve in your MBA and what their goals are after completing the MBA.
For Dan, that meant building a strong finance and accounting background, securing a job in the world of investment banking, and strengthening the Stern Military Veteran Network through job placement and career networking in the future. In contrast, Johnny had studied political science as an undergrad and Chinese politics and economics as a Masters student. He first wanted to get a deep understanding of business. His second priority was the people, school, and overall experience. At the end of the day, he enjoys creative problem-solving, exploration, and working for a greater good, so management consulting was the natural next step post-MBA.
TRANSITIONING INTO THE MBA
In fact, there might be less of a transition than you would think for a veteran coming to Stern. On the call I mentioned earlier, I told the prospective student that I appreciated the perspective that the veterans in my class brought. And it seems that is not just helpful for the transition into the MBA, but also keeping calm during the MBA application process.
As Johnny shared, “It has shaped me in a number of ways, perhaps the most important being that the challenges of the MBA process do not seem that daunting compared to some previous challenges.
To paraphrase another vet ahead of an interview, ‘It’s easy, no one is shooting or yelling at you.’
Once veterans do start their MBA, there are so many challenges coming at them simultaneously. They are thinking about recruiting, learning how to be a student again, and adjusting to a new city, a new routine, and new people.
One underestimated resource for the transition is the professors at the school. Johnny knew the caliber of the learning that he would get at Stern, but he was still surprised at the investment that professors made. “I didn’t recognize before starting how accessible [the professors] would be and how much they would care about our growth and the success of all of their students.”
Stern’s faculty is not only first-class, but also actively creates a positive and effective learning process. Dan shared that he has “found that these professors typically go out of their way to learn more [about our background as veterans], express genuine appreciation, and follow up to provide career and academic support as necessary.”
FEELING LIKE A PART OF THE STERN COMMUNITY
For Dan, the Military Veterans Club (MVC) has provided community within Stern from the very beginning. “The day before my Stern interview, an MBA student from the club reached out to offer support,” he told me. Now, it is his turn. As co-presidents, Dan and Johnny have focused on strengthening networking opportunities through club activities. At the same time, they have connected MVC to the executive MBA and part-time programs at Stern to widen the actual network and increased the pipeline by partnering directly with admissions to find the best candidates.
When it comes to feeling like a part of the community, they don’t feel any different from their civilian counterparts. “We are now all Sternies, united in building our own professional selves and more importantly committed to leaving Stern a better place than when we found it.”
However, it is still incumbent on civilian classmates like myself to reach out to veterans. Dan has found that most classmates are eager to learn more about his experiences once they learn that he is a veteran. But building a community means being open and willing to dialogue. How that starts is by being vulnerable and starting the conversation.
“Feel free to ask questions,” Johnny told me. “Many enjoy sharing stories from their time in uniform. Others are not so keen to do so for a variety of reasons, but the only way to know is to start a conversation.”
Last year I attended a panel discussion where various MBA1 and MBA2 Veterans shared their experiences serving in the military. Civilian attendance was not at the level that MVC hoped to see, but it highlights that there is opportunity to increase ally participation in MVC programming. Next spring, Stern will host its annual Vets Week, which is usually held in the fall. In the past there have been events like a 9/11 Memorial Run and Sweat With Vets workout during Vet Week. This year, MVC still plans to do its annual Veterans week workout, which most of us could use after nearly a year of sheltering-in-place and endless baking projects. In fact, MVC is expanding the community with our partners up north at Columbia and hosting socially distanced stair running and circuit-style workouts this month. MVC also hopes to host a special Vets edition of Stern Speaks, a monthly forum where two students can share the stories that have shaped them into who they are.
“That forum reaches a diverse cross section of school so I think it supports the objective of reaching out to a broader part of our community,” Johnny shared.
WE WANT YOU TO COME TO STERN
I was happy to hear stories from Dan and Johnny about feeling supported at Stern and wanting to build broader allyship with MVC and the veteran community at school. And I learned from them that an MBA is an attractive way to bridge the gap between military and a civilian career. In their opinion, Stern provides the best military veteran community out of the top business schools – not to mention a broader community of support to not just help our veterans transition into an MBA program, but to succeed long after graduation.
I remember how I wrote in my Stern essay that I was excited to learn from my classmates. I now realize just how much I have to thank our veterans for. I want to thank them for making me a better student, making the Stern community better, and most importantly, for their service.
Happy Veterans Day!
CALL TO ACTION:
If you are a prospective student and veteran or active duty, look into the Fertitta Veterans Program and reach out to the Stern Military Veterans Club to learn more about their programming and the academic offerings and possible career paths you can follow with an MBA.
If you are not a veteran, reach out to someone who is, thank them for their service, and learn more about their journey.
Cortne Edmonds, a native who claims both New York and New Jersey as home, is a second-year MBA candidate at NYU Stern School of Business. Prior to business school, she worked as a general manager in the language services industry for eight years, with experience working in New York, Japan, South Korea, and Israel. After school, she will be working in management consulting. Each month, she offers her advice and perspective for prospective and current students looking to maximize their MBA experience.