Rutgers Mini-MBA Program Reaching out to Veterans, by Gary M. Stern

To strengthen and improve the business careers of veterans, Rutgers Business School introduced a mini-MBA program, Business Management for Military and Veterans, in fall 2015.   Veterans who participate in this Executive Education program earn a non-credit certificate.  The hope is if they like the program and demonstrate the right aptitude and skills, they’ll enroll in a full MBA program.

In its first year, it attracted 11 participants. Most of its Executive Education programs attract from 10 to 30 students, which ensure close interaction between students and faculty. 

The mini-MBA program lasts one week, starting on Monday and ending Friday.  Keeping it at one week’s duration enhances its appeal, explained Margaret O’Donnell, program director for Rutgers’ Executive Education.  “We find the accelerated form works well; some are offered online (though the mini-MBA isn’t),” she said.

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“When we went to veterans on campus and asked what they needed, they asked for executive education,” explained O’Donnell.  Rutgers Business School has been committed to helping military veterans transition into business careers, she added.

The program attracts two separate audiences:  (1) active military personnel, veterans and reservists in any of the armed forces but also appeals to (2) HR directors, recruiters and hiring managers at corporations.  O’Donnell said that at Rutgers Business School, “We feel very strongly that the burden of career transition doesn’t lie solely with veterans but also resides with civilian employers.” Examples of students who participated in the initial mini-MBA  program include one student on active duty who was grappling with the decision to opt out of the military or re-up and continue and another student who had requested a military discharge and was exploring career options.

To be accepted, students must possess an undergraduate degree and demonstrate several years of work experience or equivalent military experience.  “We look at each application on an individual basis,” O’Donnell cited.  The program costs under $5,000 and is often financed by the GI Bill.  

The program doesn’t target minorities specifically, but O’Donnell said that African American and Latino military personnel that earn the certificate can ignite career prospects. It also doesn’t track the ethnicity of students involved in it.  Moreover, she said that heads of veteran’s affairs offices are often helpful in working with minority veterans.

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Modules taught in the program include: Business Strategy, Supply Chain Management, Business Law and Ethics, Managing Employees and Leadership in Business. The modules mimic the classes taken during a full MBA program but are given in abbreviated formats.  “It gives a sampling of the business topics that are most contemporary these days,” O’Donnell noted.

As the military personnel, veterans and other students become acquainted with the Rutgers’ staff and get to know administrators, it builds a community of veterans at the college.  It also strengthens their ties to the campus and eases the transition into pursuing an MBA.  

Many of the professors teaching the program are military veterans and therefore can see issues from the student’s vantage point.  Students in the program learn to “take their military strategy and use it as business strategy,” O’Donnell observed.

After the students complete the mini-MBA, they are encouraged to work with a mentor to continue their development and pave the way for them to obtain their career goals.  For example, when one graduate had a job interview lined up, the program matched him with a mentor who was familiar with that industry.  Other students have asked faculty members to serve as mentors, so finding a mentor is flexible and operates both ways.

Ben Downing, who is 35-year-old and is stationed at Fort Dix, participated in Rutgers’ initial mini-MBA program.  He’s a vice president specializing in Capital Markets at Drexel Hamilton, a New York-based financial services firm.  

Downing spent 2012 and 2013 stationed in Afghanistan.  He applied to the program because he was interested in the exposure it offered and thought it would prepare him to take a full MBA program.  Currently, he’s starting the full MBA program at Rutgers.

In the mini-MBA program, Downing who is African American and was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., said it “takes our military experience and shows us how to leverage what we did and translate the military background into a business skill set.”

For example, in the leadership module, he learned how to take some of the skills mastered in the armed forces and transfer it to business.  He also saw how the supply chain savvy he learned in the Army can be transferred over to business.

He found the curriculum challenging, thought-provoking and well-structured.  “We had to participate in team-building exercises and take exams.  It prepares you for the vigor of business school,” he said.

Meeting with his macroeconomics instructor Professor Lagdana whom he chose as a mentor also proved useful.  “I was able to see how macroeconomics fits into my business model,” Downing said.

Downing recommends the mini-MBA program to anyone involved in the Armed Forces who want to pursue a business career.  “The modules are designed to make you think.  You’re exposed to new areas and really learn the subject matter,” he said.  Despite everything being streamlined into a week, he calls it a “rigorous course.”

Though it’s only been operating for one year and starts up again in May 2016, O’Donnell said it “has been met with such a positive response from active duty, reservists, veterans and civilian employees — all of whom are seeking to make the transition from military to civilian careers easier.”

O’Donnell acknowledges that earning a certificate isn’t a magic bullet to success.  “It’s a door opener.  People want to know more about it and what they learned,” she said.

Though it offers a certificate, it mimics the MBA program, said O’Donnell.  “It helps participants decide if they would like to pursue an MBA because they experience the master’s level individual and team work and meet faculty.”  If admitted into the Rutgers MBA program, there’s even a bonus:  a three-credit elective is waived.