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11

Nov 2016

LGBTQ VETERANS: THOMAS WICHMAN, MBA STUDENT – BOOTH ’18

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Thomas is a first-year MBA at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

As I write this, and observe my first Veteran’s day as a bona-fide combat veteran, it’s not lost on me that Soldiers from the organization I most recently came from at Fort Bliss, Texas are dirty and tired as they are three weeks into a month-long deployment certification exercise in the California desert. I have no doubt they are frustrated by long days and cold nights, and deserve recognition as those that continue to hustle in the name of service to our country.

Can you tell us a bit about your career background?
I spent seven years as an Army combat engineer. Leaving ROTC from Syracuse University, I had an awesome chance to find truth to every military recruiter’s pitch to “see the world.” I spent three years traveling Europe while stationed in Vilseck, Germany as a Platoon Leader and Company Executive Officer. During that time, I completed a year-long deployment to Zabul, Afghanistan. After some additional schooling I found myself in El Paso, Texas where I finished my service as a Company Commander.

What made you decide to shift from serving your country to the business world?
I would like to say a profound sense of patriotism was my motivation to serve. Although a component, the chance to be a positive leader for others (especially young Soldiers often using the Army as an opportunity to improve themselves) is what really got me out of bed each day. I got to a point in my military career where the ability to realize that primary motivation was limited. Done with direct leadership roles, my immediate future would have been defined by staff and support functions. Although I did not take the decision lightly, after two years of weighing options I decided it was time to see where else I could have an impact. For a long time I considered entering a PhD program and landing as a teacher, but quickly realized I needed to round out leadership and communication skills provided by the military with real world business acumen before I would ever feel comfortable teaching someone “how it’s done.”

Were you out as you went through the business school application process?
I was, and for the first time in my life. I will admit I’m still in the process of realizing how transformative being a genuine, authentic self can be to unlocking individual potential. I’m grateful for the opportunity and totally supportive environment at Chicago Booth.

Tell us a bit about being a member of the LGBTQ community while serving your country. Did DADT impact your experience?
I was on a plane from Afghanistan to Kazakhstan when the repeal of DADT took effect. We got off the plane and the Commander briefed us immediately on the flight line on how the new policies impacted us. I remember looking around and seeing that what was momentous to me was insignificant to those simply happy to be headed home from theatre. I don’t believe, however, that policy creates culture. I was certainly thankful that DADT policies no longer discriminated against my service, but no regulation could solve the internal turmoil I had to be comfortable as a gay leader.

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?
The military rightfully asks itself this same question quite often. I don’t know if I’m qualified to comment on the organizational transitions of the Army and larger society, but I can say I think my experience has highlighted trust as a critical component of culture. I left the Army still in the closet not because I thought the culture would discriminate against who I am, but because I’m not sure I trusted that I could count on the support and impartiality of all those around me. I think the larger society and LGBTQ+ rights movement similarly has large gaps where social change may not be adequately paired with trust across populations and individuals. I personally think building trust across groups at a pace that matches progress will continue to be vital for any reforms to matter in the long term.

What did/does your veteran status bring to your MBA experience?
More than anything, I appreciate the challenge. Veterans of course bring a menu of experience and perspective, but really so does every other student. What I take home every day is the motivation to improve from the incredible community of peers and faculty that a MBA provides access to. Performing well in the Army was difficult, but I enjoy being challenged across entirely different dimensions as a veteran returning to a top academic program.

What advice would you give to someone currently serving their country who is considering pursuing a MBA?
First, talk to folks! You have a huge network at almost any program and in any field. Don’t decide a MBA is right for you because it has proven to work for so many others. There are great opportunities and reasons to pursue options across an entire spectrum, and weighing them each fully ensures you feel secure moving forward while making such a big transition. Second, Service doesn’t end! Certainly, no profession will fulfill the same sense of meaning and responsibility as leading Soldiers. Finding a way to serve your community, though, can go a long way to maintaining purpose. Third, take the GMAT now! Don’t wait to start studying, you’ll never find a good time to make it happen.

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10

Nov 2016

LGBTQ VETERANS: ANDREW JANISZEWSKI, MBA STUDENT – BOOTH ’18

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

Andrew Janiszewski is a first-year MBA at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

Can you tell us a bit about your career background and what you’re doing now?
After graduating from the Air Force Academy in 2006, I served on Active Duty as an intelligence officer for eight years. For about the first half of that period, I was primarily involved in the special operations drone and ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) programs, leading teams of analysts that were trying to map out terrorist networks and find their leadership. I deployed twice, once to Iraq and once to the Philippines. After that, I was selected for a unique assignment as a defense intelligence liaison officer to the Canadian government. Stationed in Ottawa, Canada, I was both a liaison officer, helping to facilitate the exchange of defense intelligence between our two countries, and an exchange analyst. The latter role was the majority of my time and responsibility: I was a strategic analyst for the Asia-Pacific region, researching, analyzing, and formulating high-level assessments of regional defense and security concerns for senior government leaders and military commanders. I left the military after my assignment in Canada, and took a couple of years before deciding that business school was the right path. I applied and was accepted to Chicago-Booth earlier this year. Booth is a perfect fit thanks to its flexible curriculum and its discipline-based approach to a business education. Coming from a non-business background, I’ve found both of those qualities to be immensely valuable. I’m now looking to transition my passion for problem-solving and innovation into a position in strategy consulting or in the tech industry.

What made you decide to shift from serving your country to the business world? Were you out as you went through the business school application process?
In 2014, when I reached the end of my assignment in Ottawa, I decided to separate from Active Duty to pursue a career in medicine; I was looking for a chance to help make the world a better place, but in a different way than what I had been doing in the military. I spent a year in a pre-med post baccalaureate program at Columbia University when I realized that I had stronger interests in the problem-solving and innovation happening in the health care industry. I was more interested in the digital realm of health care than I was in the actual practice of medicine. Business school was really the better fit. After leaving the postbac program, I joined Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign as a full-time volunteer policy analyst while applying to business school (I wouldn’t recommend trying to do both at the same time!). It was an amazing opportunity to analyze problems and create policy solutions – my work was mostly in the foreign, defense, and veterans policy areas. That experience furthered my drive to pursue an MBA, which would give me the opportunity to learn fundamental skills and tools that are necessary to understand and operate in the global economy. I was out and proud throughout the business school application process, and the connections I made through affinity groups – both LGBT and veterans – were incredibly helpful and valuable. And even after arriving at business school, the friends I’ve made through those groups are some of my best friends at Booth.

Tell us a bit about being a member of the LGBTQ community while serving your country. Did DADT impact your experience?
I served both during DADT and after its repeal. Honestly, serving under DADT was difficult. I think coming to terms with one’s sexuality is often a difficult experience even in the most welcoming of circumstances. I went to a military academy for undergrad, was stationed in some pretty conservative parts of the country, and for a long time felt like I couldn’t talk about my struggle with even my closest friends.

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?
I was assigned as a defense liaison and exchange officer in Canada when DADT was repealed. The Canadian Forces have allowed LGBT people (yep, T also!) to serve openly since 1992. Day-to-day I sat and worked alongside Canadian military members and defense civilians. So, my view on how the culture in the U.S. military at large has changed is a bit insulated. That said, I do believe that the military has broadly and positively adapted to the repeal of DADT. I began coming out to friends and colleagues while I was stationed in the U.S. before DADT had been repealed, and even then I found people to be largely supportive and appreciative that I’d been willing to show them my “true self.” People were far more concerned with my character and how good I was at my job rather than who I was dating. I’m concerned but hopeful that the country will continue to move in the same direction after the election.

What did/does your veteran status bring to your MBA experience? Your LGBTQ MBA experience?
At first, arriving at Chicago-Booth I felt a bit intimidated by my lack of business experience when I started meeting my classmates and learning about the amazing careers they’d had in consulting, finance, and industry. But despite my lack of business-specific experience, my veteran status still inspired a significant amount of confidence from my peers, not only in my leadership skills, but also in my judgment and ability to organize and prioritize groups to get things done. LGBT veterans in business school are like unicorns – there aren’t very many of us! In seriousness, one of the most incredible things about getting an MBA is the opportunity to go to school with an amazingly intelligent, successful, and motivated group of classmates. And the diversity of that group only serves to enhance the richness of the experience. I helped organize Booth’s National Coming Out Day celebration and, as part of that, shared my story of serving and coming out under DADT. I hope that in some small way I’ve helped enrich my classmates’ experience by facilitating conversation and understanding about the struggle many LGBT people face.

What advice would you give to someone currently serving their county who is considering pursuing a MBA?
Definitely spend a good, long time thinking seriously about what you want to do after separating from Active Duty and how an MBA might (or might not) figure into your future career goals. An MBA can open a lot of doors and offer a lot of benefits, but it has costs: it might be expensive, it might force you to relocate, and it might preclude you from earning a full-time salary for two years. A lot of those benefits and costs might seem unclear while you’re still in the military, so definitely reach out early and often – to veterans and others — to make an informed decision. You don’t have to have all of the exact answers, but you owe it to yourself to at least think through these considerations.

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