Cait Haner, MBA ’22 and Tillman Scholar, spent eight years in the U.S. Army before beginning her MBA at MIT Sloan. Selected for the Civil Affairs branch, Cait was assigned to the Indo-Pacific region, where she served as the liaison element leader for U.S. Special Operations forces in Nepal. Soon after arriving on campus, she and her husband celebrated the birth of their son—and were continually amazed by the support of professors, classmates, and the Sloan Parents Club and Veterans Club. “There’s definitely a space for parents here!” she says. After graduation, Cait will be off to Washington, D.C., where she’ll work in the federal consulting department of Microsoft. But first, she shares her reflections and advice through the lens of being a mother and a veteran.
Was there a specific experience that sparked your interest in pursuing an MBA?
I’d always known that I wanted to attend graduate school. About six years into my career, my husband and I decided that it was the right time for us to pursue our graduate degrees. I was deciding between an MBA and a degree in international relations. As I reflected, I realized that the things I loved doing in my free time—listening to business podcasts, reading about exciting new startups, planning events—were more aligned with an MBA.
You mention that you didn’t have a lot of exposure to MBA programs and post-MBA careers when you started the process. How did you learn more?
I’m from rural Washington State and was a history major in undergrad, so I definitely had a learning curve! I started by googling, exploring MBA blogs and rankings. Once I got a better grasp of what business school entailed and learned some of the vocabulary, I started reaching out to veterans clubs at schools that interested me. The vets that I was put in touch with went above and beyond to help me understand what was involved in the admissions process and how to put my best foot forward.
To beef up my quant skills, I also took an online calculus for business class and an online business school prep program. Looking back, a lot of that was covered in the first semester Core, but it was very helpful to get used to some of the concepts early.
After going through the application process, what made MIT Sloan feel like a particularly strong fit?
First, I knew that given my background, I wanted a program that would give me a holistic education, and MIT Sloan definitely had that box checked. But beyond that, it was how collaborative the environment was. Sloan doesn’t have a reputation for being competitive, and I’ve found that everyone here is so willing to help you. It feels really genuine.
In addition to being a full-time student, you are also a mother. What has it been like to navigate big changes in both your professional and personal life?
Yes! I was pregnant when I started the MBA program and had my son after the first semester. One silver lining of the pandemic was that my husband and I were able to be home taking classes remotely while caring for our son. In my second year, as I’ve been taking classes in person, my professors have been very understanding of what it’s like to have a baby and a spouse who is also in a graduate-degree program—I don’t take that support for granted.
Has anything surprised you?
There’s a really solid parents group here, the Sloan Parents Club, and we share resources and plan meetups. But what’s really surprised me is that I didn’t expect to participate in so many social activities! I have a bunch of friends who aren’t parents, and we’ll go to the local rock-climbing gym and take turns—one person on the wall, one person belaying, and everyone else entertaining the baby.
My husband and I have had to be flexible and work together to coordinate our schedules, but I’ve been able to attend way more social events than I thought possible. People are incredibly inclusive.
At MIT Sloan, you had a leadership position as one of the co-presidents of the Veterans Club. How was that experience?
When Dan Borchik and I first became co-presidents, we sat down and talked about how we wanted to move the club forward. We had two goals: First, we wanted to make MIT Sloan the best business school for veterans, whether they’re still active duty or transitioning U.S. or foreign service vets. Second, we wanted to share the veteran experience with our classmates and be active supporters of other affinity groups.
What has that looked like over the past year?
I am so proud of our community. We’ve supported individual members with things they are pursuing, like running marathons or building startups. The club also has an active role in facilitating workshops for the Sloan community—like Go Ruck, a field experience leadership program, during SIP and Leadership Lessons from the Military during IAP.
One highlight though…the Sloan Pride Club reached out and asked if we would perform at their C-Function. We got a whole team together—I’m talking choreographed dance moves and costumes—it was a lot of fun.
Are you also staying connected with the broader veterans community?
I volunteer as a mentor with an amazing program, Service to School. I wish I’d known about this program when I was applying—when you go to the website and enter your information, you can request a mentor who will help you with everything from figuring out what you want to do with your career to researching graduate schools and programs to sharing exam study tips and helping with your application.
As you approach graduation and reflect on your two years at MIT Sloan, what stands out to you most about the experience?
Looking back and considering my background, I wasn’t really sure what I would bring to the class. However, I realize now that my military experience—in terms of working in teams, working with such a variety of people, being thrown into various situations and running with it—has been a lot more valuable than I expected. That practical experience has been a real asset.
Do you have any advice for prospective students who identify with your background and are considering an MBA?
Take it one step at a time and don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way. The Sloan Veterans Club wants you here, and wants to support you throughout your entire experience from applying to graduating to pursuing your career. I’ve also realized that you can absolutely do an MBA and other parts of your life—like have kids—at the same time. It might take teamwork with your partner and resources and support from the school, but you can 100% do it!