Stanford MBAs Say ‘Yes’ To Pickleball But ‘No’ To Defense Tech

Stanford MBA


Like so many of the MBA students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Evan Szablowski is one impressive dude. He graduated from West Point with a degree in math, earned the honor of being a Rhodes Scholar, picked up two master’s degrees from Oxford University, and was a U.S. Army officer for more than nine years.

But when he tried to create a student club as an MBA at Stanford, he was turned down. His fellow students chose to support and fund a pickleball club instead of the club he proposed that would have served students interested in defense technology.

Szablowski isn’t calling out his classmates for being “woke.” Instead, he is graciously chalking up the rejection to funding priorities.


Stanford MBA

Stanford MBA Evan Szablowski

Rather than walk away from this issue, however, Szablowski is trying to get his defense tech club funded without help from the elected group of his peers who voted down his request.

“At a campus where we glorify occupations in industries like technology, finance, and consulting, I believe highlighting defense technology is an opportunity to redirect some of Stanford’s brilliance,” he wrote in an essay published by the student newspaper, The Stanford Daily. “This was the original motivation of the defense technology club — to promote alignment between our student population’s superb capabilities with careers supporting public service and/or national security. If we can get one student to consider a career in defense technology instead of dedicating their exceptional talent toward increasing advertising click rates, that is a win. ”

Yet, his MBA peers did vote to approve an official MBA Pickleball Club. “The rationalization sent to all denied clubs included scripted justifications of ‘not addressing an underserved need’ nor having enough ‘potential contribution’ to enhancing the school’s culture,” he explains. “To be clear, I’m confident these students were not ideologically fighting against the presence of national defense on campus. Rather, their decision was based on a bureaucratic priority ranking under fixed resources. Because Stanford University restricts external financial sponsorship, club funding is generated through default “student activities” fees alongside tuition. New clubs either dilute the fixed funding pool and lower all club budgets (not ideal), or Stanford raises student fees to maintain funding (also not ideal). Under this fixed constraint, my MBA peers were stewarding limited resources to best serve our community. A defense technology club was simply not ranked above the cutline as a prioritized, independent organization.”


While Szablowski is taking the high road here, it’s also clear that the rejection of his club reflects a bigger concern. “To me, this event serves as a microcosm of a broader tragedy that threatens our future national security,” he writes.  “I firmly believe the students who voted against our proposal are not naive individuals at an elite, out-of-touch institution against defense; rather, my peers are brilliant individuals who simply do not feel urgency toward this area. The tragedy here isn’t ‘woke’ resistance — it’s apathy. And, I argue that dismissal is equally as dangerous to our country’s future.”

Student clubs at Stanford and other business schools, of course, are a ubiquitous feature of the MBA experience. They are a place to meet like-minded people with similar interests and ambitions. And certainly a defense technology club would seem no less compelling than existing GSB clubs that embrace such vital concerns as the Improvisational Theater Troupe, the Epicureans at the GSB (E@T), the People People Club, the Wine Circle, or the All Y’all Club. The latter organization is focused on the American South. “Our mission is to create an inclusive community that celebrates this region of the country while contributing to business innovation, economic progress, and social impact in these states we love so much,” according to the school’s website. “Whether you are from the South, have passed through, or are just a fan, you are welcome here! Can we get a yeehaw??”

If ever there was a time for a club devoted to students interested in defense technology, this would seem to be it. Rarely a day passes without reports of a new drone strike or the importance of intelligence gathered by orbiting satellites. As the former U.S. Army officer rightly points out, current events in the Middle East and Europe demonstrate that defense technology is an urgent matter. “Amid the first major land war in Europe since 1945, conflict cascading across the Middle East beyond Gaza, rising tensions from a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan and democracy declining across the globe,” writes Szablowski. “Stanford students are graduating into this “decisive decade” with global uncertainties set to immediately shape our nation’s future.

“In this consequential moment, our country’s defense leadership agrees that innovation is a vital step toward securing the nation’s future. However, most discussions automatically equate the concept of “defense innovation” with technological advancements, which I believe is incorrectly short-sighted. Any such consequential advancement in technology is veritably built on the hard work of individuals. Put simply, pushing the limit requires brilliance. Therefore, I argue that true defense innovation must first focus on capturing that foundation of human capital — attracting outstanding, young talent toward careers supporting our national interest.”

So Szablowski is taking matters into his own hands. “We are pushing forward to build a movement here on campus advocating for defense technology. If you want to be involved with our “club,” please reach out — we would love to expand the community and show you opportunities that have a real impact in securing our nation’s future.”


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