McDonough Musings: From Serving Their Country To Leading Businesses Of Tomorrow

Christina Kasper, U.S. Navy veteran and a second-year MBA candidate at Georgetown McDonough

You can pursue an MBA for various personal reasons, but most students use the degree to make a professional transition. I too am a career pivoter, aiming to diversify my existing skills from a career in journalism and communications to one more business-oriented. Over the past year-and-a-half, I have found numerous others at McDonough who have similar goals to pivot. Among these colleagues, veterans and service members have struck me as some of the most admirable on campus.

Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business currently has a substantial number of military-connected students with around 70 in the MBA program. According to the school’s Military and Veteran’s Resource Center, the campus is home to roughly 1,400 military-connected students, including service members, veterans, and military families.

“Georgetown is very veteran-friendly. I believe they have one of the highest Yellow Ribbon Program allocations in the country, so (for) people using the GI Bill to pay for school that’s a pretty big draw,” said Christina Kasper, a second-year MBA candidate at Georgetown.

Georgetown University has partnered with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and actively participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, an education and training project designed by the U.S. Department of Defense.

FROM OFFICER TO STUDENT

Before coming to business school, Kasper was a midshipman in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) at her undergraduate institution, Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

“Service was always important to me and also something that was pretty prevalent in my family. My dad was in the Navy and one of my sisters is in the Army. So in a way, it’s a family tradition,” said Kasper, who went on to commission as a Naval officer after graduating from Vanderbilt.

After seven-and-a-half years of active duty, Kasper said she felt ready for the next challenge and wanted to see what she could achieve outside of the military.

“I just had no experience with the business world, and I hadn’t done any internships,” she said. “That’s kind of what led me to an MBA since it’s such a flexible degree and you can do a lot of things with it. I thought it would be a really nice way to pair the leadership and soft skills from the military with the more technical business skills I felt I was lacking.”

For Joey Abla, a first-year MBA student, the transition from the Army to business school had been planned ahead of time for similar reasons as Kasper’s. However, the actual transition was particularly challenging as he split his busy schedule between working on the nation’s response to Covid-19 within the Army Corps of Engineers and preparing his business school applications.

“I was going to work every day. At work, I traveled with my boss to different project locations in the U.S. and prepared for the GREs at the same time. I literally was studying for the GRE on the plane. I had my GRE textbooks with me everywhere we went, and I also studied after work in the hotel rooms, worked on resumes, prepared for interviews and so on,” said Abla, who at the time was an interim executive officer to a two-star general in charge of military and international operations for the Army Corps of Engineers during the height of the pandemic.

Michael Dunn, second-year MBA student and U.S. Army veteran

This hectic schedule led to Abla marking his final day in the military on a Friday in July 2021 and starting his MBA program at Georgetown the following Monday. He highly recommends veterans take leave prior to starting business school.

“You’ve been doing this for 10 years and then one day you stop wearing a uniform, and on Monday you have to show up to business school. Don’t do that, take the time to reflect before the new start,” said Abla, who has an engineering background. “The learning curve for business school itself is a lot for someone who doesn’t have a business background, let alone a transitioning military member.”

The veterans enrolled in Georgetown’s MBA program come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. For Michael Dunn, a second-year MBA student, the transition was a “little softer”, as he began his MBA journey straight out of undergrad after serving active duty for three-and-a-half years then being in the National Guard for another three years during undergrad and the first half of his MBA.

Still, Dunn says he felt he didn’t have the same leadership experience coming into graduate school that some of his other veteran colleagues had as he had been an enlisted soldier as opposed to a military officer. This, he said, was an imposter syndrome hurdle he had to surmount.

“These (business school application) essays we have to write – what are you going to do, why do you want to be here – I gave it some thought, I put thought into it but it’s so different when you’re actually going through it,” Dunn said. “I wasn’t prepared for all the failure that I was going to receive from all these internship interviews. I applied to 40 places and only five people were, ‘ok, sure you’re good enough’.”

In defiance of his struggles, Dunn snagged a summer internship at Deloitte last year and will be working for Boston Consulting Group after graduating this summer.

William Park (center) active-duty second year MBA student

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE

Apart from the obvious transition that veteran students go through at business school, there are other differences between military and school life that military-connected students have noticed. William Park, an active-duty second year MBA student, says concepts like diversity are different from his 10 years of service and school.

“How the military deals with diversity is different than how business deals with diversity. They have their own reasons but business seems to promote individualism more while the military focuses on everyone being treated equally,” Park said.

Park is also pursuing the sustainability certificate at the MBA program as sustainability is not something that most junior leaders in the military must face, and he expressed that by pursuing the certificate. He wishes to learn how business leaders solve problems and make decisions under various limitations and constraints.

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