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Real Humans of MIT Sloan’s MBA Class of 2021

Adam Swartzbaugh, MIT Sloan MBA Class of 2021

Adam Swartzbaugh, MIT Sloan MBA Class of 2021

Age: 34
Hometown: Camden, ME
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Brown University, Concurrent BA in International Relations – MA in Development Studies
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 9 years, Infantry Officer and Special Forces Commander in Europe, Middle East, and Pacific; 12 years, The GENESIS Network. Founder of nonprofit creating education opportunities for children in unstable and underdeveloped regions of the world.

Why business school? Why now?
In 2005 I met a young girl in Thailand who had recently been rescued from a brothel where she had been a sex slave for two years. My decision in that moment was to end child prostitution and create an organization managing counter-human trafficking and child rescue activities. I also joined the military and learned to combat criminal organizations and networks.

However, realizing I was only having small downstream effects without achieving long-term solutions, my efforts evolved into a prevention focus – building schools through my NGO to support education and vocational training for families in areas with historically high rates of recruitment into black market economies.

As a result, I have seen how social and economic strengthening of communities can counterbalance criminal activity. Now taking this a step further, I am working to facilitate broader entrepreneurial programs unifying efforts of groups vulnerable to exploitation due to conflict and instability.  Sloan School of Management will enable my next step down the original path.

Why Sloan? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Culture sets Sloan apart. In addition to being innovative and principled leaders in advancing management practices, a student at Sloan is expected to do one thing well: improve the world – not only in theory, but in practice.  The institution is designed to transform ideas into reality. Sloan students reflect this.

They are there not simply to get an MBA but to have a positive impact. Sloan provides the space and support to imagine wildly and think critically, fail and start again, break and create, invent rather than just reinvent, and to both solve and redefine problems. Bloviated validations of yourself and your work seem unnecessary. Nobody cares. Sloan is a place where you spend less time attempting to appear perfect and more time in the pursuit of things that matter.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2021?
Versatility. Years of bouncing back and forth between the nonprofit/nongovernmental and military/government worlds has required working with, and often leading, a wide range of teams to accomplish wildly different tasks. One day I’m facilitating an agreement between conflicting ethnic groups to collectively build a school for their kids and the next working with an embassy staff to develop a foreign nation’s counterterrorism plan.

Collaboration across a diversity of personalities, interests, and capabilities has always been a requirement in solving complex problems. Learning how to bring people together under a range of conditions comes with the job. There are some amazing, difficult initiatives my peers will be undertaking at Sloan. I look forward to utilizing my skills and experiences in support of the Class of 2021.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application?
The fact that the MIT’s sailing pavilion is directly across the street from Sloan is a big selling point! I totally intend to spend my lunches messing about the Charles River in one of their tech dinghies.

Post-MBA Career Interests:
Searching out the most impactful and sustainable approaches to ending child exploitation is something I will continually pursue. In the coming years this includes addressing root causes within conflict regions and facilitating solutions through entrepreneurship and economic development.

Advice to current prospective applicants:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
Reach out to members of the MIT community. I was surprised how responsive all have been.  Everyone seemed committed to helping me succeed regardless of whether I ended up as a student at Sloan or elsewhere. Admissions staff, students, professors, department faculty – all were helpful. You won’t find this easily at other schools.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
Jump on more webinars and online information sessions – even those for departments with which you don’t expect to be involved. Many of us get video-conferenced and PowerPointed to death at work, so the idea of a webinar isn’t too enticing. However, the two I joined allowed me to listen in on other people’s questions, providing information I may not otherwise have received.

–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
GMAT. I would have happily skipped it, but glad I couldn’t. It had been ten years since my last math class. Calculating sniper ballistics or guesstimating how much less water to use in a concrete mixture for a school foundation being built in a monsoon doesn’t really suffice.

Studying for the GMAT was a good, albeit painful refresher. Highly caffeinated studying got me through wherever and whenever I could spare a bit of attention. It was not an option to allow something over which I had complete control be a deciding factor.

What is your initial impression of Sloan’s students/culture/community?
The students seem like a bunch of clever, well-intentioned rebels. So many of those I’ve met are attempting something that hasn’t been done, assumed impossible, or at least seen as preposterous until proven otherwise, sticking it to the man in their own unique way – and making the world a better place as a result.

One thing you have learned about Sloan that has surprised you?
MIT has an official Pirate Certificate program in which Sloan students can participate provided they have time to fulfill its swashbuckling requirements, which is probably highly unlikely – but I like the mentality nonetheless.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
Chasing around good idea fairies. There are so many intriguing projects underway at MIT that finding enough time – and prioritizing it, will be a challenge.

Thing you are most excited about in your first year?
Sponging knowledge from very smart people.

Posted in: Feature Main, Military, Real Humans of MBA Class of 2021, Real Humans of MBA Students

Schools: MIT Sloan

About the Author


Jonathan Pfeffer

Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.

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