Shawn Goodin is a first-year MBA at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
Can you tell us a bit about your career background and what you’re doing now?
I served in the Army for eight years as an engineer officer. Although I studied civil engineering in undergrad, I was a combat engineer in most of my assignments. The combat engineers I had the honor of serving with are like infantrymen, but specialize in explosives. They take great pride in being called Sappers, which goes back to the days of breaching castle fortifications in pre-modern warfare. During my first deployment, I led a platoon in Iraq, where our mission was to find and neutralize the threat of IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, on key mobility routes. During my second deployment, I led the United States effort to improve infrastructure and build new police stations for the Afghan National Police in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. During my third deployment, I was fortunate to serve as the aide-de-camp or military assistant for the senior engineer general officer in Afghanistan. I culminated my service as the company of a route clearance unit where I was entrusted to ensure that my 125+ soldier unit was prepared to deploy around the globe when called upon. I am now a candidate for my MBA at MIT Sloan, with a focus on finance.
What made you decide to shift from serving your country to the business world? Were you out during your business school application?
I decided to transition from the Army because I wanted to continue to serve the country with optimal flexibility to determine what that service might look like. As I transitioned from service, my peers, my leadership, and most importantly, my soldiers knew that I was gay. During the application process, I openly identified as gay. I found self-identification to be a very unique part of the application process because I was never asked to formally declare my sexual orientation in the Army. In the military, you are part of a uniformed service, so you do your best to fit the mold. All of a sudden, I was being asked to say what made me unique and different. Nevertheless, I found that the story I told was more so about my professional experiences rather than the struggle of being gay or black. When I started the MBA program, I was looking forward to enjoying the professional LGBT experience that I never had. Members of our club do a great job of socializing and diversifying our associations across the school. I believe that this is a testament to the profile of students that Sloan assembles and the spirit of equality that Sloan and MIT embraces.
What are your thoughts on DADT and the recent repeal? How was your experience impacted?
I am amazed at how far we have come from DADT. The Army now has a gay Secretary of the Army! As a company commander, I never heard that any of my soldiers had an issue with my sexual orientation. In fact, I found them to be very supportive and defensive of me in at least one instance. When I was at West Point, it could be difficult at times because college is typically the time in your life when you try and understand more about yourself. My exploratory phase was confined to a world where I felt like I was the only gay guy at the Academy, although I knew better. Looking back, I think the experience made me a bit more reserved than I was growing up. When you’re afraid that fellow soldiers will find out about your sexual orientation, which might result in your discharge from the service, it’s easy to be a little withdrawn—sometimes the less you talked or socialized, the more protected you were. This is counter to the Army culture of forming cohesive teams that are in effect small and large families. I am so proud of our country for correcting this injustice.
What did/does your veteran status bring to your MBA experience?
Finance and accounting may be keeping me up at night, but I feel pretty confident that I know how to connect with individuals on an emotional level and create environments that are conducive to professional development. The Army is a people business. Folks assume that the Army is about trucks and weapons, when in reality, the Army’s greatest asset is its people. I am always looking for opportunities to share my experiences with my classmates. I was talking with a friend in another MBA program about the MBA experience and we were amused because we realized that the thing that frustrated us the most about the Army was the thing that was allowing us to cope with all of the MBA requirements. In the Army, the tendency is to “bull-through” any problem set or challenge despite the number of constraints, such as available resources, personnel, or time. The understanding is that the mission is first, any deviations are in most cases unacceptable. So, I’ve come to the realization that when it seems like Sloan has filled my ruck-sack and latched on a couple additional requirements, I know that I can “bull-through”. The irony is knowing that something once so frustrating has become such an enabler.
What advice would you give to someone currently serving their country who is considering pursuing a MBA?
Many of us in the LGBT community spend so much time doing what or acting like what we think is required of us. I learned that when it’s all said and done, you are ultimately responsible for your experiences in life. If an MBA program is something that you’re interested in, you should not hesitate. There are many ways to serve our great country, and with an MBA, you have the potential to contribute to our national defense, be an external voice for our troops, or facilitate a service or product that can either improve the lives or better protect our service members and their families.