Nov 2016


Posted by / in LGBTQ BUSINESS STUDENT BLOG / No comments yet

Rhett is a first-year MBA at Rice University’s Jones School of Business.

Can you tell us a bit about your career background and what you’re doing now?
I grew up in San Diego and went on to undergrad at the Air Force Academy, where I played soccer and earned my BS in Management. It was a “unique” college experience to say the least. Imagine a place where many trivial privileges you take for granted are taken away and given back to you one by one as you earn them. The next four years pushed me to my physical, mental and emotional limits, and I learned a lot about myself and what I’m made of. I also made lifelong friendships (forged through shared suffering) and had the opportunity to play soccer at the Division I level and be the captain of my team. After graduating from the Academy, I was commissioned as an Air Force Officer and served 6.5 years as a contract negotiator, lucky enough to be stationed in Hawaii and Los Angeles. I negotiated and managed contracts ranging from construction and commodities to satellites and rockets. I was also deployed to Afghanistan, where I managed the largest logistics contract in the region which supported US and coalition troops. Most recently I worked for BASF, a large German chemical company, doing financial evaluations and business case analysis for Large Capital Projects. I’m now attending Rice University in Houston, pursuing my MBA.

What made you decide to shift from serving your country to the business world?
I made the decision to transition out of the Air Force in order to have more control over my life. After serving from the time I was 18 to 28, I felt I was ready for the next chapter. I was already on the “business side” of the Air Force doing contract negotiation, but wanted to shift gears to have more autonomy over my career path and explore the possibilities and other opportunities for impact that the business world offers.

Were you out as you went through the business school application process?
Yes! Thanks to Rob Mark (a ROMBA/Rice alumnus and Board Member), the Rice application has a box available to check for sexual orientation. I also wrote about my time serving under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in my admissions essay. I believe a combination of the two is actually how Rice found me and nominated me for the ROMBA Fellowship. It is so refreshing to be out and not have to think twice about it, thanks to those who have paved the path before us.

Tell us a bit about being a member of the LGBTQ community while serving your country. Did DADT impact your experience?
DADT absolutely shaped and impacted my experience in the military. During my freshman year at the Air Force Academy I came to the realization that I’m gay. In the homogeneous environment of the Academy, predominantly comprised of white males, I was a mixed race, gay female. I had two choices: to quit and walk away from my aspirations of becoming an Air Force Officer, or to adapt and overcome. Something in my gut told me I would likely be part of the first generation to be able to serve as openly-gay in the US Military. I would be on the right side of history. After much reflection, I decided to sacrifice my personal liberty in the short-term and put my desire to serve my country first. Six years later, DADT was repealed. The Academy (and the entire Air Force) had an underground network of gay airmen, serving in the shadows and waiting for the day to come when we could stop living in fear. We were also forced to live in a complete contradiction of the Honor Code, which preached never lying, cheating or stealing, yet asked us to lie every day about who we were. This time taught me a lot about the detriment of not bringing your whole self to work, and how it effects not only your productivity, but your morale, and confidence. It also results in an inherent separation between personal and work life. Imagine having to switch the pronoun of your partner from “she” to “he” after you just had a great weekend spending time with a loved one. That is a lot of energy wasted that could be spent on much more useful and meaningful things.

The comment has been made that as the US Armed Forces go [in terms of policy], so goes the rest of the nation. With the repeal of DADT, how do you think the culture of the Armed Forces has changed? How do you think the culture of the country has changed?
With DADT, I believe the US Armed Forces was a little behind in terms of changing the policy. By the time DADT was repealed, gay marriage had already been legalized in many states. There was much time spent on focus groups and a study on if gays serving openly would have an impact on morale, readiness, recruitment, retention, and “good order and discipline”. Since it was such a debated topic, this study was almost necessary to have data to point to, since so many emotions and deeply held beliefs were involved with these issues. Once the repeal of DADT happened, it actually felt like just like any other day. Many people in my generation viewed gays and lesbians serving openly in the military as a non-issue. People underestimate the professionalism of the disciplined men and women in uniform who can adapt to change and challenges which far surpass this.

What did/does your veteran status bring to your MBA experience?
Being a veteran brings diversity of thought, leadership and collaboration to my MBA experience. The military has people from many walks of life, offering varying perspectives on different cultures, socioeconomic positions, religions and backgrounds. The vast majority of these people are open minded and come together to serve something greater than themselves, which oftentimes involves sacrifice. These people became my second family, and I was pushed to challenge my beliefs and pre-conceived notions on a daily basis. As an officer, I was given responsibility to lead teams since my time as a cadet and during my time serving as a contracting officer. This sink or swim philosophy is true for all services – you are trusted from a young age to rise to these challenges, even when you may not feel confident in your abilities. You learn to be comfortable with ambiguity and how to creatively solve the problem or accomplish the mission with whatever resources you have available. You don’t get to choose your team, so you quickly learn to collaborate and harness the strengths of those around you.

What advice would you give to someone currently serving their country who is considering pursuing a MBA?
Do it! There will never be the “perfect time” to go to back to school, but if you don’t go now, life will happen and you may never get around to it. The MBA is a great way to transition out of the military and offers ways to bridge between all the great skills you learned during your service and round these out with the language of business. It’s also a great time to do some soul searching and figure out what different career options and aspirations may be.


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