Veteran students in the Tepper School of Business support each other through transitions to civilian life
By Heidi OpdykeMedia Inquiries
Lt. Cmdr. Evan Werner joined the U.S. Navy at 22 after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy and receiving his commission as a Naval Officer. During his time in service, Werner served as a pilot and tactics instructor on F/A-18 Super Hornets. As a graduate of the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School — also known as TOPGUN — he was at the top of his field.
"CMU and TOPGUN are very different environments based upon the nature of what you're learning. At that time, TOPGUN was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. You're exhausted flying multiple missions a day," Werner said. "They really push you to the limits. However, you learn much about yourself as a person and what you are physically and mentally capable of. You also learn how to teach graduate level fighter tactics, be an effective communicator, a leader and a better fighter pilot."
After an 11-year career in the Navy, Werner joined Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, aiming to take his civilian career to the next level. Working on his master's degree in business administration was his first professional undertaking outside the military. Add on a young family, and the experience was entirely new.
"Transitioning out of the service during my first year at Tepper was difficult. This was something completely different and foreign to me and my family. Initially, my first quarter at Tepper was the hardest. But I quickly found that many of the soft skills I learned in the Navy, such as time management, work ethic and the ability to operate in ambiguity, were applicable to what I was doing at Tepper. I found myself leveraging those skills heavily to aid in a successful transition," he said. "The initial transition challenges that I faced would have gone significantly smoother had I reached out to other veterans who had already successfully completed their MBA journey."
Werner is now president of the Tepper Veterans Association. He serves fellow veterans making similar changes as well as offering advice to prospective students.
"Veterans are more than happy to jump on a phone call or communicate via email to help you discover if an MBA is the right fit for you and your successful transition from the service based upon your passions and goals," Werner said. "I highly recommend an MBA if you have the opportunity, and Tepper's value proposition makes it a wonderful institution to meet your goals."
Tepper provides a number of opportunities for networking as well as including a mentorship program with first- and second-year MBA students. Veteran alumni will meet — virtually, these days — with current students to discuss their own job search to help highlight transferrable skills and help them better understand the different industries and functions that are a good fit.
For example, Werner served as a squadron training officer, which involved not only developing and implementing a $15 million weapons and training budget, but also mentoring, scheduling and training pilots. Those skills relate to project management, supervisory experience and budgeting.
"We want to show how everyone can bring a unique perspective, so that when our classmates are in management positions they understand what each of us can bring," he said. "The goal is to really increase all of our competitive advantages and our teams' edges."
Werner continues to serve as a reserve member of Naval Forces Europe and Africa Detachment 205, based in Coraopolis, a suburb of Pittsburgh. The unit supports U.S. Sixth Fleet operations and conducts a full range of maritime operations and theater security cooperation in concert with coalition, joint, interagency and other partners to advance security and stability in Europe and Africa. The efforts include planning and organizing an annual maritime exercise in the Mediterranean to increase collaboration between North African countries and Southern European countries to combat human trafficking, piracy and drug trade.
Throughout his Naval career Werner worked at the forefront of strategy and technology.
"I saw firsthand how a concrete strategy can really help drive innovation and increase your competitive edge," Werner said. "My goal is to join an internal strategy team to develop the next innovative approach to their business processes and look for process improvements."
To advance on that path, he interned with Dell Technologies over the summer and was offered a full-time job once he graduates.
More than 50 students and 60 faculty and staff at the university self-identify as veterans, said Master Sgt. Michael Danko, who serves as CMU's veterans services and ROTC coordinator. Because of COVID-19, this will be the first year CMU will not be hosting a Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 11.
Since 2010 CMU has been named a Military Friend School by GIJobs.com with the goal of providing the best possible services to students eligible for Veterans Affairs education benefits.
Staff Sgt. Ben Fleming, left, stands with a member of the Iraq Counter Terrorism Service at Radwaniyah Palace in Baghdad, Iraq. Fleming took a break from his MBA when his Army National Guard unit was activated in 2019.
Staff Sgt. Ben Fleming saw first-hand how CMU helps veteran students. Fleming began his MBA in 2018 but took a leave of absence when his Army National Guard unit was activated in 2019.
"It was very easy to take a leave of absence and then come right back. I had very few issues on the administrative side. It was very accommodating. With CMU having built a great pre-COVID hybrid program, it's very easy to switch back and forth from full-time to part-time regardless of what life brings."
Fleming spent nine months as a communications trainer for Iraqi forces and came back in time for the start of the fall 2019 semester. Prior to joining CMU, he spent two tours in Afghanistan training soldiers and police.
"It was like a consulting job as far as relating it to business school," Fleming said. "We worked to improve their efficiency and build up their capacity. It was a lot of advising and getting them to look at things in different ways and improve how they can build what they have to do."
At CMU, Fleming is the president of the Students at Tepper for Astronautics, Rockets & Space, also known as STARS. The club launched in 2017 with the goal of helping Tepper students become more familiar with the space and aeronautics industry.
The club hosts events with recruiters and leaders from private firms and defense companies. It also hosts the Space Innovation Challenge case competition in early November that draws students from across CMU and other universities to develop and present solutions to a problem faced by new space industry companies.
"We had a team from MIT last year, and with it being virtual this year, we're trying to get more schools to participate," he said.
Fleming is focused on joining the space industry after graduation. Over the summer he worked as a business strategy intern for the Association of Space Flight Professionals.
"An MBA is a great way to pursue the career that you want or to explore new opportunities, especially to be a leader in industry," Fleming said. "One thing that really appealed to me was that they could take my experience leading people and build upon that as well as give me the ins and outs of business and expose me to what those opportunities are."