Making Moves at McDonough: Veteran Students Find A “New Life” In An MBA Program

A morning in the life of Alex La Bruno looks a little different today than it did a year ago.

Back then, as an executive officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, he would wake at 3 a.m. beneath the stars in the remote Southern California desert. Those days were reserved for coaching infantry Marines, where he trained and certified them for deployment. Other days, he would indulge in a bit of extra sleep and rise at 5 a.m. to head straight into formation and training.

Now a first-year MBA student at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, Alex spends his mornings with his wife and two kids before biking through the bustling streets of D.C. to get to class. It’s a big change from his previous life, he admits with a laugh:

Alex La Bruno

“I haven’t slept outside in a minute.”

For veterans like Alex, returning to school represents not just a career shift, but a lifestyle transition. Similarly, Dan MacDonald and Matt Devlin, two other McDonough veteran students, have experienced the same lifechanging pivot. The three offer insights on how they navigated their first year of business school.


Dan, a commander in the U.S. Army, said his decision to leave the military was a highly individual one.

For 10 years, he served in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal units – or the bomb squads, as it is more commonly known. He loved his work, but felt like it was time for a change – commercial real estate seemed interesting to him, and pursuing an MBA was the path to the job. McDonough seemed like the perfect fit for him with his wife, who was at Georgetown’s medical school. Dan was also attracted to the robust resources at Georgetown’s Steer’s Center for Global Real Estate, and the deep veteran network in the D.C. area.

“Take your time. Where you go and what you do after the military is a very personal decision,” Dan said. “A lot of factors that went into my decision aren’t necessarily what you would find online. Think about your professional and personal goals and see how that next step aligns with those.”

Once a veteran makes that decision, the time between leaving the military and starting school is huge opportunity, said Matt, who was an executive officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

During Matt’s five years in the military, he was second-in-command over 200 Marines. He was also an officer in an amphibious assault vehicle – “a duck boat with a machine gun,” as he describes it. His deployment was north of the Arctic Circle, where he worked to strengthen NATO alliances and trained alongside British, Dutch, and Norwegian forces.

Matt Devlin

Coming out of the military, he had two priorities: recharge and explore his options.

“If you can, I definitely recommend taking a couple of months to just rest and go on vacation,” Matt said. “After that, start your career exploration right away. If you can get some pre-MBA experience, great. If not, try to at least do some self-reflection and reach out to other veterans in industry before you get to school.”


Matt and Alex, who are co-leads of the school’s veterans club, McDonough Military Association, said joining the club and forming bonds with other veterans played a big part in easing the transition once they started classes.

“From the veteran orientation in July, to [consulting] casing with the vet second years in the fall, the McDonough Military Association is above-and-beyond what I thought the club would be,” Alex said. “The other vets were constantly there for me and always said yes.”

The club offers veteran students an opportunity to support one another professionally with mock interviews, mentoring, and resume-building. They also host War Stories, an annual event which provides veterans a platform to share their military experience with the broader McDonough community.

Even outside of the club, Alex said he felt at home at McDonough. During his first semester, he and his wife welcomed their second baby, and his cohort surprised him with two big ticket items from his registry.

“I was in shock. It meant so much to me,” Alex said. “Coming into school, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’ve been really impressed by the openness of the other students and their acceptance of me. They’re interested to know what I did these past six years. It’s validating and has made me feel much more comfortable here.”

Dan MacDonald

On top of the social aspect, returning to school also means a return to studying, homework, projects, and exams. MBA students frequently come from a variety of backgrounds, so an expertise in finance or accounting isn’t a necessity. That said, most first-year MBA courses are quantitatively heavy, which can be challenging for students from traditional and non-traditional backgrounds, alike.

Matt said his key to staying on track in school was the same strategy that he learned in the military: a routine.

“Going back to school, you realize how much freedom you have now that you may not have had previously,” he said. “I don’t have class until 3:30 pm on Monday. If I’m just hanging out until then, I don’t feel good, so I work out in the morning, eat breakfast, study, and then go to class. Keeping that disciplined routine I’ve always had has been helpful for me.”

For Dan, the academic hurdle was one he paid immediate attention to. To overcome it, he leaned on his strengths in team-building and leadership, which the military instilled in him.

“Everyone in the program has different backgrounds, different strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “You’ve been trained on team dynamics since day one in the Army, so use that to your advantage and help your study teams navigate that.”


MBA programs provide a unique avenue for veterans to transition directly from military service to corporate roles. That said, the journey isn’t always straightforward. Taking advantage of career events and networking opportunities is foundational to success.

“I encourage people to cast a really broad net,” Matt said. “Go to as many career panels and networking events as the school offers. You don’t know what you don’t know, and it can be a lot when you’re coming out of the military and considering civilian career options.”

A special benefit Matt saw in McDonough’s MBA program was the significant veteran network within the D.C. area. According to the Departments of Veteran Services, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland are home to more than a million veterans. Furthermore, Georgetown University is a participant of the Yellow Ribbon Program, which can help students pay for tuition fees that the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover.

Dan Macdonald in uniform

Dan also saw this network as a plus and encouraged veteran students to take advantage of it, particularly for help with articulating how skills learned in the military can be transferable to post-MBA roles.

“Bottom line is, don’t sell yourself short,” Dan said. “Veterans are generally humble and don’t want to say a lot about their accomplishments. A good way to mitigate that is by reaching out to vets in industry and second years – they can help translate the valuable skillsets you’ve learned in the military into more corporate language.”

Dan, Matt, and Alex are now successfully wrapping up their first year of b-school. Over the summer, Dan will be an acquisitions intern at TruAmerica Multifamily Investments; Matt will be an intern in Fidelity’s Financial Leadership Program; and Alex will be a summer consultant at Strategy&.

For veteran students entering Georgetown McDonough this fall, the three said they’re ready to welcome the new class of first years with open arms.

“I got a lot of help, and I plan on paying it forward,” Dan said. “It’s been a huge transition but a positive one. It’s been a new life.”

Veterans can find details about being a student at Georgetown McDonough, as well as resources that can help them prepare for an MBA, on the school’s website.

Bio: Rachel Solomon is a second-year MBA student at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Prior to business school, she worked in product management at BCG and communications at Delta Air Lines. This summer, she interned at Microsoft on their Cloud Marketing team and plans to focus on product marketing after graduation. Learn more about her via her LinkedIn and blog!





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