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Student Veterans Embrace Uncertainty and Each Other

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Among the many membership benefits identified on the MIT Sloan Veterans Club website—like access to networking, job opportunities, and a private room beneath the Muddy Charles Pub—the first one stands out:

“Emotional, psychological, and physical support from like-minded Veterans undergoing the transition process in order to help our community be as successful as possible in their personal and professional endeavors.”

MIT Sloan Veterans Club

“Going from what we did to sitting in a classroom can be very difficult for some,” says Justin Mueller, a U.S. Navy veteran and MBA candidate who serves as club co-president. “With this group, we get to be with people who have had similar experiences, often from different branches and career paths, and talk about the struggles we’re all potentially having.”

Liam Gale, a U.S. Air Force veteran and the Student Veteran Success (SVS) program administrator in the MIT Registrar’s Office, agrees. “For some, higher education is the first major milestone after leaving the military, so there can be a transition period that is unique to every individual,” he says, adding that the difficulties student veterans encounter will affect individuals differently.

“This is where Student Veteran Success can help ease that transition,” says Gale, “but it is important to note that the student organizations and stakeholders at MIT play a crucial role in this process.”

Frank Finelli, SM ’86, managing director at the Carlyle Group and founder of the MIT Sloan Veterans Fund, echoes these sentiments and extolls the club and the Institute for emphasizing the importance of transitional well-being for student veterans.

“These folks are very gifted leaders, many of whom have served in combat and have been in tough situations where they had to embrace uncertainty and rely on each other,” he explains. “They’re part of a generation that has been in combat for the last 20 years, and I don’t think America fully embraces that. This is a very special group of heroes who are going to wind up in all kinds of different circles, and America will continue to benefit from their leadership.”

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

A retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, Finelli and his wife Kathy, who comes from a military family, have regularly given their time and resources to several veterans’ organizations. They were inspired by their son Paul, who served in Afghanistan, and a conversation with MIT’s Vice President for Research Maria Zuber about the Institute’s long track record of participation in national security research, to create the MIT Sloan Veterans Fund—a fellowship fund for student veterans seeking master’s degrees in management.

“There are several hundred remarkably talented veterans going to the top five business schools every year,” says Finelli. “I want to encourage those who are technically- and entrepreneurially-inclined to remain involved in the national security technology ecosystem here at MIT.”

Mueller and Rich Newton, a U.S. Army veteran and fellow MBA candidate who also serves as club co-president, could not agree more. They also want to see MIT Sloan become the “go-to spot” for veterans seeking MBAs and other advanced management degrees.

“MIT has had so many relationships with the U.S. government and the military in terms of research, development, and cutting-edge technologies,” says Newton. “A lot of veterans who come here are pivoting to consulting and entrepreneurship, but many are also drawn here because of the opportunity to meet the engineers who are building the next wave of the future of defense technology.”

Besides attracting technologically oriented veterans to MIT Sloan, Finelli also wants to support current student veterans with their research and extracurricular activities, like the MIT Sloan Veterans Club, which has been an important resource for Mueller, Newton, the rest of the club leadership, and their fellow members.

Along with support from Gale and SVS—which resulted in significant revisions to the Institute’s Yellow Ribbon Program policy for graduate student veterans seeking financial assistance—the club has provided its members with access to alumni expertise. “Veterans have helped one another along in their MBA journeys, and we see alumni as an extension of that,” says Newton.

During a recent campus visit, Finelli met with Mueller, Newton, and other club members to talk about his experiences in the army, as a student veteran at MIT Sloan, and at the Carlyle Group.

“People like Frank show us what we are capable of doing,” says Mueller. “We get to see somebody who was able to utilize both his veteran status and his Sloan status to become a managing director at one of the largest private equity firms in the world. It’s just amazing to get to listen to somebody who got to do the thing that many of us are trying to do.”

“I wouldn’t be where I am today, if it wasn’t for MIT Sloan,” says Finelli. “There are many West Point graduates, but there are exactly zero who have been a partner at Carlyle for 24 years. That’s not lost on me, and I wanted to do something that would make an impact for MIT Sloan veterans.”

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