Michigan Ross MBA Student Veterans Share Stories of Leadership and Resilience at Virtual VetX Event

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As part of the University of Michigan’s 2020 Veterans Week celebration, the Armed Forces Association at the Ross School of Business virtually hosted VetX on Nov. 13. 

VetX is an annual event where student veterans in the Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA Program and Online MBA Program share their personal experiences in the military. This year’s virtual format allowed for more veterans to get involved than in years past, as audience members were able to hear from 12 student veterans at the event. 

At the event, veterans deliver TED-talk-style speeches, highlighting stories from their time in the service and connecting those stories to leadership in business. Mike Desmond, MBA ’21, shared that the goal of VetX is to share stories and lessons that veterans have learned from service. 

VetX gives the audience insights on the entire veteran journey — from why they joined the military, to challenges faced while in uniform, to the transition from the military to business school.
-Mike Desmond, MBA ’21
U.S. Marine Corps

“We want to help share the experience of being a veteran with the Ross community,” explained Desmond. “The stories and commentary are so genuine and deeply human.” 

VetX opened this year with introductory remarks from Scott DeRue, Edward J. Frey Dean of Michigan Ross, and Mike Barger, executive director of Ross Online and professor of business administration, who served as a naval officer for 13 years. AFA members Dave Horvath, MBA ’21, and Colin Veney, MBA ’21, moderated the event. 

There were featured storytellers: Joe Duggan, MBA ’22; Brian Louie, MBA ’22; Ryan Woodall, MBA ’21; and John Murtagh, OMBA ’22. Audience members heard from eight additional speakers about their experiences: Josh Ahrens, MBA ’21; Joe Alvillar, MBA ’21; Chaz Crayne, MBA ’22; Patrick Holstad, MBA ’22; Robert Kent, MBA ’22; James Camarda, MBA ’22; Daniel Bader, MBA ’22; and Jaehong Park, MBA ’21. 

Watch VetX 2020

Hear more about being an MBA student veteran at Ross

Fostering a close-knit veteran’s community at Ross

Desmond said that after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, it was really important for him to stay connected and involved with the veteran community. 

“We’ve all been through a similar set of experiences and are now on similar career paths,” he said. “Joining the AFA was a great way to build friendships with other veterans at Ross. Being a member of the AFA really gives you access to a daily personal support network. AFA members look out for each other.”

Ahrens echoed Demond’s thoughts, as he has found the AFA to be a welcoming and supportive community and resource. 

“Current and past club members are a constant source of information and help to each other,” he said. “The AFA has really acted as a primary support system while I navigate business school.”

Why they chose Michigan Ross as Veterans

AFA members Ryan Woodall, MBA ’21; and Wes Davis, MBA ’22, shared that they were drawn to the culture and community at Ross. 

“Students from both the Armed Forces Association and the broader student body were extremely high-performing, yet also warm, welcoming, and community-oriented,” said Woodall. “I immediately felt at home when visiting Ann Arbor and speaking with students.” 

Davis added: “Yes, Ross is a world-class business school that gives the skills and connections to successfully transition from the military to the business world. But what really drew me in was the immediate connection and support I received from every Ross student I spoke to.” 

Using skills from the military in business school

Joshua Ahrens, MBA ’21, U.S. Army

Many of the Ross MBA student veterans said that they were able to bring transferable skills, such as leading teams and influencing others, from the military to the classroom. 

“I think the military provides you with a lot of skills that are applicable to business school. Things like: leadership, time management, dealing with ambiguity, and lots of interpersonal skills. All of these are tenets of military service and I think are invaluable throughout business school. I think the biggest thing Ross has taught me is how to employ these skills in a business environment,” explained Ahrens.

Advice to veterans considering the Ross Full-Time MBA Program 

Desmond and Ahrens’ advice for prospective veterans who are looking to pursue an MBA at Ross is to reach out to the AFA. They believe that connecting with current students is the best way to gain insights on the MBA program at Ross. 

“When I was looking at business schools, I got so much from actually reaching out and talking to the students,” said Ahrens. “Every member of the club is excited to answer your questions and help you out; we truly believe in ‘paying it forward.”

Learn more about the Armed Forces Association