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For Student and Alumni Veterans, a Community to Rely On

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If there is one piece of advice Nathan Peper, LGO ’17, wants to share with his fellow Sloanie veterans, it is the importance of networking.

“Network like crazy,” Intel’s head of strategy and innovation in health and life sciences said during a recent MIT Sloan Admissions panel. “Your classmates come from different backgrounds. Talk to them. You can learn a ton about their industries, what they did, what the work was like, and why they do or don’t want to go back.”

Peper, a former aviation company commander in the U.S. Army, joined the other four veterans on the virtual panel, titled “From the Military to an MBA – Veterans Share Their Experience,” to discuss their stories.

Much of their conversation concerned the ins and outs of attending MIT Sloan, but they also emphasized the many benefits of joining the growing community of military veterans at MIT Sloan, both on campus and beyond.

“The transition from military service to academia was smoothed considerably by the power of the MIT community,” says Sungi Cho, an MBA candidate and former U.S. Army aviation company commander who interned at Formlabs this summer. “Current students and alumni are always there to support you when you make the effort to connect.”

Members of the MIT Sloan Veterans Club

Credit: Lara Kimmerer

 

A community to rely on

The experience of veterans like Cho, who decided to leave or pause their military service and transfer their skills elsewhere, is of the utmost importance to Frank Finelli, SM ’86, retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and managing director at The Carlyle Group.

Frank Finelli, SM ’86, Managing Director, The Carlyle Group

With his wife, Kathy, Finelli established the MIT Sloan Veterans Fund to provide fellowship support to students who have served in the U.S. military and are now seeking master’s degrees in management. He also works to bolster the expanding network of alumni veterans to encourage community members to reach out to, and rely on, each other.

“One of the things that veteran graduates of MIT Sloan seem to be overly shy about is leveraging the MIT network, but you absolutely shouldn’t be,” says Finelli. “I think MIT alumni are very eager to offer their support, but it’s also a laid-back culture. We’re not going to pound the drums and say, ‘Call me!’ But if you do reach out, people will help.”

Aaron Thornton, MBA candidate, agrees. The culture at MIT can often be laid back, but the former U.S. Navy deputy cybersecurity department head insists the network of students, alumni, and friends of the school is “anything but passive” once engaged.

“I’ve been continuously surprised by the warmth and readiness of alumni to assist, guide, and mentor, making both my student life and future prospects brighter,” says Thornton.

More than a cog

After eight years working as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Joint Special Operations Command, Ryan Kochert decided to pursue new ventures and apply to the Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program. The lessons learned and connections made landed the LGO candidate an internship with LFM Capital, a private equity firm founded and managed by operators and engineers with strong ties to the Institute.

“As I transitioned from the military and looked towards potential career options, the MIT network became an excellent resource for me, especially the veterans,” says Kochert, co-president of the MIT Sloan Veterans Club. “I personally found my future career path through veteran alumni connections and their willingness to get to know me as an individual rather than seeing me as a cog in the machine.”

Student veterans like Cho, Thornton, and Kochert come from a military culture that prioritizes high-performing teams. “The fact is you can’t do it all yourself. You’ve got to trust the framework put in place,” says Finelli. At the same time, he notes, these students “are all phenomenally capable and should never doubt whether they can make a huge impact,” especially given the Institute’s national security technology ecosystem via MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Draper, and other on-campus and affiliated labs.

Ryan Kochert, LGO candidate

After all, the MBA curriculum emphasizes both teamwork and leadership. So, from their first day, student veterans and reservists are not only prepared for their respective programs’ advanced coursework, but they are also supported by a community of alumni veterans who know what they are going through and what lies ahead.

During the admissions panel, Ashley Ferguson, MBA ’19, vice president of business operations at Merlin Labs and U.S. Navy veteran, invoked the common phrase “Sloanies helping Sloanies.”

“Anytime I’m looking for a new opportunity or someone to ask a question or bounce ideas off, I’ll check in with my ocean [cohort] chats,” she said of her cohort. “They’re still active. I talk to all my friends from here and it’s truly amazing. I feel like I know everybody.”

To learn more about the MIT Sloan Veterans Fund, please email Julia Luu at jluu@mit.edu​​​​​​.

For more info Andrew Husband Senior Writer & Editor, OER (617) 715-5933