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Veterans at MIT Sloan on How Their Service Prepared Them for Business School

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What does a Navy fast-attack submarine officer who spent months at a time at the bottom of the ocean have to contribute to class conversation at an elite business school? Plenty, it turns out.

Brian Kirk, 28, graduated from Penn State with a degree in mechanical engineering before attending Officer Training School in Rhode Island to earn his commission in the U.S. Navy. After a year and half in the Navy’s nuclear training pipeline, he served on board the USS Louisville as part of a western Pacific deployment and in its home port of Pearl Harbor. There was not a single GMAT prep course in his path. And yet, today, he is a member of the MBA Class of 2016 at MIT Sloan School of Management—where he fits right in.

Several factors led Kirk to service in the Navy. “It was something I felt compelled to do,” he says. “I felt like I needed to serve in some regard to support this country and the Constitution that I believed in so much.” But he also wanted to see the world, and there was a degree of sexiness and bravado that appealed to him, too.

So how did he get from there to MIT Sloan? The military life wasn’t right for his family for the long term, he says. “My wife is incredibly intelligent and definitely deserves a rewarding career of her own, which was not likely to happen if I were to stay in the military.” He knew he could lead—he’d been in charge of 150 people when he was driving the ship—but he needed to “bridge the gap to reality,” he says. “An MBA called to me as a way to learn the hard business skills I would need to go out and run an organization or be my own boss one day.”

veterans at MIT Sloan
Veterans Association Co-President Brian Kirk, MBA Class of 2016

He and his wife set to work applying to school—business schools for him and physical therapy programs for her—hoping to both get into top programs in the same city. It came down to a decision between Boston and Chicago and between MBA programs at Sloan and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

To hear him tell it, he settled on Sloan somewhat reluctantly. “It was at the bottom of my list and I chose it just for the convenience of being in the same town as my wife and being high in the rankings,” he confesses, with apologies to the admissions office. “Submariners are notoriously geeky, somewhat introverted, odd personalities,” he says. “We don’t see the sun very much,” he adds with a laugh.

For business school, he wanted something different. He wanted to be around outspoken, outgoing people and be forced to use the other side of his brain. Surely, Sloan wasn’t this place. Or so he thought.

“The first time I got here for admit weekend I could tell that everything I thought about MIT as being a tech house was wrong,” he says. Instead of a bunch of geeky introverts, he found a community of outgoing, extroverted high achievers that enjoys being around each other and learning from each other. “In the end it all just landed perfectly—I wound up in exactly the place I was supposed to be and that was just sheer good luck.”