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Darla Moore School of Business

MBA program, UofSC boosting recruitment and support for student veterans

Nov. 7, 2019

In 2019, the Moore School implemented a targeted military MBA initiative to encourage more military veterans to pursue their MBAs at the University of South Carolina.

Tying into to the national Hire Our Heroes enterprise, the Moore School is taking the lead among academic units on a larger initiative at the University of South Carolina to increase recruiting of and support for student veterans. 

“We have a moral responsibility toward veterans,” said Jennifer Ninh, managing director for full-time MBA programs.

Ninh is head of the MBA military strategy team, which began in the Moore School in fall 2018, and is on the university-wide military council.

According to the military strategy team, top global companies are actively seeking candidates with MBAs and military experience. Those holding top security clearance are in demand for some of the highest-paid post-MBA positions.

In 2018, the Moore School joined the MBA Veteran’s Network, a national networking organization that connects student veterans and alumni of the world’s top-ranked universities with prospective employers.

Student veterans are looking for an education that can translate their international military experience to a global private-sector career, Ninh said, and they are choosing the Moore School because of its consistent No. 1 U.S. News & World Report ranking among international MBA programs.

Veterans also choose the Moore School and USC for its support for veterans. 

Added support for veterans ensures their success

“Recently, the staff at the Moore School have made serving their military students a priority, and the results are immediately evident,” said Andrew Kirkland (’19 IMBA), who served for nine years in the U.S. Army before enrolling in the Moore School’s International MBA program. “Their new [dedicated military MBA] webpage provides veteran students with a wealth of information to ensure they stay both informed and connected during their time at the Moore School. The exclusive support offered to military students with completing their application, obtaining financial aid and preparing for their job search is easily accessible from this one central location.”

During his military tenure, Kirkland deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, Honduras and Germany and served as a commander of a U.S. Army recruiting company for two years in Monterey Bay, California. When he decided to transition to a civilian business career, he chose the International MBA program at the Moore School due to their globally focused curriculum, language instruction and international marketplace immersion. 

“Serving in a variety of countries with very different cultures instilled in me a passion for learning how to successfully conduct business internationally,” Kirkland said. “The University of South Carolina’s International MBA program stood out among other top schools. After doing my research, I knew the Moore School was the best fit for me to achieve my goals in global business.”

Kirkland interned with the BASF MBA Leadership Development Program in Detroit during his final semester in the International MBA program and continued working for the program in their Florham Park, New Jersey, office beginning in July. BASF is a German sustainable chemistry company that focuses on environmental protection and social responsibility that includes nearly all sectors in almost every country in the world.

BASF’s MBA Leadership Development Program is a two-year program; Kirkland will work in four different business units and functional areas and will go on a six-month international rotation in the next year. Currently, Kirkland is undertaking project management, controlling and data analytics in support of a major global project for the North American Headquarters’ Mergers and Acquisitions department. He credits the Moore School’s IMBA program with preparing him for his work with BASF.

“The majority of classes at the Moore School teaches students to solve complex business problems using data analytics; this dedication to ensuring students are prepared to operate in a data-driven world has prepared me for the challenges of working for a large multinational corporation like BASF,” Kirkland said. “Day one at BASF had me working with a massive, complex data set, which required me to use all of the skills I picked up while getting my MBA. Also, I can’t understate how important the soft-skills instruction was for my development post-military service. Learning how to network, communicate and present yourself in a business environment is extremely important!”

Just five months after graduating with his International MBA, Kirkland said the return on his investment for his degree is “incredible.”

“While the military provided me with a foundation for what would allow me to be successful in the corporate world such as discipline, agility and the ability to perform under pressure, the Moore School’s International MBA program filled in the crucial gaps to ensure my success,” he said.

Combining military and business skills helps veteran launch successful jet sales company

Similar to Kirkland, Glenn Gonzales (MBA ’13) paired his military skills with a Moore School MBA to refine how to market his military experience and develop his business proficiencies.

Gonzales combined his experience with the Air Force, flying and sales with his MBA business skills to launch Jet It, a company that sells jets to owners who purchase part of a plane with a setup similar to timeshares.

Gonzales, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, served on active duty for 10 years and has been a reservist for the past 10 years and counting. He was in an executive sales support role for Gulfstream Aerospace when he decided to enroll in the Professional MBA program at the Moore School.

“The primary purpose of my position [with Gulfstream Aerospace] was supporting sales efforts through flying, attending trade shows and speaking to the airplane as a technical expert,” he said. “There was a perceived element that as a pilot, I may not have the business acumen to sit down with the CEO and work through the financials associated with acquiring an airplane. I wanted to round out my resume to make sure the company viewed me as more than qualified for other opportunities.”

While Gonzales entered the program ahead of the Moore School and university’s recent concerted efforts to recruit and support veterans, he said he found the Professional MBA program especially accommodating since he was serving as an Air Force reservist while also working a full-time job in tandem with working toward his degree.

“I needed time and opportunities to do other things than just be in class, and I was able to catch up thanks to the technology integration into the Professional MBA program,” he said. “They also had multiple campuses, so I could catch up there or at a later time. With how the Moore School’s PMBA program was organized, it afforded me the ability to still serve in the military while getting through the program.”

Referring to the return on investment for his MBA as “a priceless experience,” Gonzales said the skills he learned in the military like leadership, communication and integrity were all transferable to the business environment, but he lacked the hard skills on the business side necessary to advance.

The MBA “definitely rounded out my knowledge and experience with not only business but also human resources, finance, accounting, strategy and management of that strategy, marketing,” he said. “Each element of the program was incredibly instrumental in preparing me for leading Jet It in all aspects of the company. In the military, you never ask someone to do something you’re not willing or capable of doing yourself.”

While Gonzales established Jet It in June 2017, he spent more than a year fundraising and finalizing the business plan with his co-founder and Jet It President Vishal Hiremath. They officially launched Jet It on Labor Day weekend in 2018. Unlike other private jet rental companies that rent by the hour and ownership models that insist individuals buy an entire plane, Jet It’s owners purchase up to one-half of the plane and can choose which days they want to fly. Jet It had enough owners to purchase its first plane in December 2018. As of August 2019, Jet It has five planes but has plans to purchase three more by year’s end. 

“Initially we had one share every couple of months, but now we’re closing shares every week, so we’re doing incredibly well. I’m excited about our growth, and we’re growing very quickly,” Gonzales said.

Like Kirkland and Gonzales, many veterans who have recently left active duty are looking for opportunities to help refine their skills so they can be successful in the private sector, Ninh said.

“Veterans are already coming out of the military highly skilled in things like leadership, as Kirkland and Gonzales indicated, and in others like operations management and finance,” Ninh added. “They have a need for higher education as they’re in a perfect career transition time.”

While the MBA program provides direct support to veterans when they begin to consider the program, the Moore School team plans to consider the needs of military families as well by assisting them in finding accommodations and settling into the Columbia area. In addition, military-friendly companies are being identified so veterans will know who to target for prospective employers at job fairs and as they’re searching for internships and other opportunities.

“We’re invested in this initiative because the veterans have earned this,” Ninh said. 

University efforts

On a larger scale, South Carolina has been bolstering efforts to attract and retain veterans the past several years with concentrated efforts in 2018-2019.

As a Yellow Ribbon university, USC agrees to provide additional funds for veterans beyond the GI Bill. Veterans receive in-state tuition if they enroll within three years of service separation, and veterans and ROTC cadets receive priority class registration.

The university has a memorandum of understanding with Fort Jackson, Shaw Air Force Base, Parris Island and the Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station to deliver educational opportunities for service members on those bases.

Beginning in 2019, incoming student veterans will have their own orientation and will be able to enroll in U-290: From Service to School, a class similar to University 101. The class will help with veterans’ transition from full-time service member to college student and ensure they’re aware of the support programs and services available.

“Serving those who serve isn’t just a mantra or saying,” said Jared Evans, the university’s director of military engagement and veteran initiatives, a position that was created in 2018 to increase support and visibility for veterans on campus. “As the flagship university of the state of South Carolina that has eight military installations and more than 400,000 veterans, it is our duty to serve and support them.”

In alignment with the university’s efforts, the greater Columbia region was one of five U.S. communities to be named a 2019 Great American Defense Community, which are communities known to go above and beyond to support their military installations and populations. USC was an active partner in the award application.

When it comes to academic performance, according to national data, veterans tend to outperform traditional and other adult students, said Evans, a Marine Corps veteran who completed his MBA at USC in 2017.

“They bring life experiences and perspectives that enrich the overall student population,” he said. “Furthermore, they graduate with little to no debt and gain meaningful employment with higher salaries compared to traditional students.”

Moving forward, Evans hopes to pool the university’s resources, including veterans’ services currently housed within the Registrar’s Office and some aspects of ROTC, to create a more cohesive office of military and veteran initiatives.

USC is also “aggressively pursuing funding opportunities to support a state-of-the-art Veteran and Military Center of Excellence that would serve as a one-stop shop for the approximately 2,000 military-affiliated students on campus,” Evans said.

“We have the potential and opportunity to be the premier military-supportive university of the Southeast,” he said. “Serving and supporting the 1% of the American population who are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for their families, friends, communities and country is our commitment as a university.”

Student veterans appreciate the university’s efforts.

“The veteran student services at the University of South Carolina greatly exceeded my expectations,” said Kirkland, the 2019 International MBA graduate. “Whether providing assistance with the use of earned education benefits such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill, organizing events to honor and bring veterans together, the veteran student services at South Carolina has a huge positive effect on the lives of the students it serves.”

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