Military personnel transition easily to Smeal MBA program

Andy Elder
February 24, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- During a speech to Penn State Smeal MBA students in late January, retired Marine Brig. Gen. Thomas V. Draude emphasized that being a good leader doesn’t depend on a uniform or rank.

“Leadership is uniformly the same,” he said. “It’s taking care of people and getting the job done.”

Draude’s message resonated with special clarity for the many students in the audience who served in the military prior to returning to the Smeal College of Business for their master of business administration (MBA) degrees. Each year, about 10 percent of entering Smeal MBAs come into the program with military experience.

“The Penn State Smeal MBA program is a great place for military talent looking to move to the next step in their careers. Our culture of teamwork and collaboration as well as our focus on integrity and ethics is a natural fit,” said Stacey Dorang Peeler, Smeal’s MBA admissions director.

Prior to enrolling as an MBA student at Smeal, Steve Letts spent his last years in the Coast Guard conducting inspections and security checks, including boarding cargo ships, in the Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware, ports. That sparked an interest in exploring a career in maritime shipping, which he knew would require a foundation in supply chain principles.

“The Coast Guard and the supply chain management concentration, I think, are a fantastic combination,” he said.

Letts said Draude’s speech on leadership resonated with him as have other leadership aspects of the Smeal MBA experience.

“Management and teams classes at the beginning of Module 1 tied in a lot of leadership stuff,” he said. “Leadership is one of the most important parts of running a business. If you don’t have vision, if your people don’t see what you’re seeing, if everyone’s not working toward the same goal and is happy to work there, you’re not going to achieve your goals.”

Additional Smeal leadership programming with military connections include an immersion trip last spring to the U.S. Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia, home of the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School, and a trip for MBAs later this spring to the battlefields of Gettysburg, exploring leadership and decision-making.

“Much of the military is built on discipline, sound decision-making and leadership skills. Many of those same traits are things we instill in our MBA students,” said Smeal Student Services Director Erik Orient, a former Marine. “I think some military scenarios and settings are natural training grounds for our MBA students.”

For more information on Penn State Smeal military applicants, click here:

About the Penn State Smeal MBA Program

The internationally ranked residential Penn State Smeal MBA Program positions students from around the world for their future careers. The two-year program, based on the University Park campus, begins with a focus on business fundamentals. Through summer internships with top companies and concentration opportunities in areas such as finance, marketing and supply chain management, students then personalize their Smeal MBA experiences to align with their career aspirations. Learn more at

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Last Updated February 25, 2015