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11

Nov 2016

LGBTQ VETERANS: RHETT CHASE, MBA STUDENT – JONES ’18

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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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11

Nov 2016

LGBTQ VETERANS: DIANA KOUCHERAVY, MBA STUDENT – GOIZUETA ’17

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Diana is a second-year MBA at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

Tell us a bit about your career background and what you’re doing now.
After graduating from college, I attended Navy Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Pensacola, FL. I was commissioned as a Student Naval Aviator and went on to complete Primary Flight School in Corpus Christi, TX. Unfortunately, I struggled with air sickness throughout flight training, and I eventually transferred into the Supply Corps. I served for almost six years as a Supply Corps Officer, both onboard the USS Taylor (FFG-50) and at the Defense Logistics Agency Distribution Center in Norfolk, VA. In 2012, I left active duty to work for Ethicon, Inc., a Johnson&Johnson surgical device company, as a sales representative. After three years at Ethicon, I left to attend Goizueta Business School at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. I’m currently a Second Year student in the Full-Time MBA Program focusing on operations and marketing.

What made you decide to shift from serving your country to the business world?
The impetus for my leaving the military was the impact Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was having on my personal and professional life. While DADT was repealed shortly after I left active duty, it was in full-effect throughout my time in the Navy. I loved serving my country, and I was extremely successful in my career. However, it was extremely difficult to stay closeted in my work life and maintain my relationship with my partner at the time. Furthermore, I could never be completely authentic with my shipmates, people with whom I lived and served closely alongside, and I was never fully comfortable with lying to them about who I really am.

Were you out as you went through the business school application process?
Absolutely—in fact, I made a point of sharing this about myself throughout the application and interview process. Not only did I want to gauge schools’ attitudes toward this, but I felt my experiences as gay woman and military veteran shape my worldview and how I relate to and lead others—important factors when evaluating business school candidates!

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?
I can only speak to this from an outsider’s perspective since I left the military before the repeal of DADT, but I feel the policy has not inherently changed military culture. In my opinion, the military is a meritocracy and a true-melting pot of people from all walks of life. It’s been my experience that race, gender, and all the other things that make us different from one another matter very little in the military. Instead, what really matters is competence and commitment to the mission, your unit, and those you serve with.

What did/does your veteran status bring to your MBA experience?
The depth and breadth of leadership experience I gained through my military service enables me to contribute significantly both inside and outside the classroom. I am able to relate the leadership and management concepts we discuss in the classroom to challenges I’ve experienced first-hand as a military officer. My natural desire to lead and serve others has translated to my MBA experience as well, as I serve on the leadership of numerous student organizations, including as President of the Goizueta Pride Alliance.

What advice would you give to someone currently serving their country who is considering pursuing a MBA?
Do not underestimate the value of your military experience to the business school classroom and beyond. Your time in the military has not only given you priceless leadership experience, but it’s also taught you how to cope with ambiguity and how to achieve difficult objectives with limited resources. These skills will influence your success on your MBA teams and in your future business career as well.

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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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