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Fridays from the Frontline: From the Coast Guard to Stern MBA

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With Veterans Day coming up next week, we wanted to catch up with a military veteran turned MBA in this edition of Fridays from the Frontline. Read on for Kathleen Dillon’s fascinating journey from the Coast Guard to NYU Stern, and how the leading MBA program has supported her return to civilian b-school life.

From the Coast Guard to Stern MBA

By Kathleen Dillon, NYU Stern MBA ’21

Life in the Coast Guard

Although the Coast Guard is the smallest of the five military branches, its impacts are far-reaching. Each year, the Coast Guard saves over 3,000 lives, seizes over $4 billion worth of illegally trafficked drugs, and maintains the safety of over 25,000 miles of American shipping channels. As a senior in college, I was drawn to the Coast Guard’s lifesaving mission and joined shortly after graduating. Most of my time in the Coast Guard was focused in disaster response. I held the role of Response Officer, which meant that I lead teams of about 10 people during these emergency responses.

In 2016, a cruise ship traveling from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico experienced an engine fire and ran aground. I led a team that conducted shoreline assessments along the coast of San Juan, PR to identify and remove oil that had leaked from the ship.

From the Military to the Mets

Although I had an incredible experience in the Coast Guard, I began to want to explore life outside the military. I grew up as a big baseball fan and had always dreamed of working in sports. I eventually accepted a role with the New York Mets as the team’s Education Coordinator and worked mostly with Latin American players in the Mets minor league system. I gave them English classes, helped them open bank accounts, and found apartments for them to live in during the season.

At the end of my time with the Mets in June 2020, the players surprised me with a party. I’m in the center of the photo.

Bridging the Business Gap

While I loved my job with the Mets, I began to recognize that I was missing a fundamental business skillset. I applied to Stern’s Full-time MBA program because I knew that getting an MBA would allow me to fill some of the business gaps I was missing.

My first exposure to life at Stern was through the school’s Fertitta Veterans Program. The program is designed for US military veterans and active duty students to support their transition to business school. Through the program, all of the veterans take two classes together (accounting and statistics) during the summer before the first year of the MBA program. During the program, we also had the opportunity to visit the offices of companies such as JP Morgan, Boston Consulting Group, and Google. Students who are accepted into the program are eligible to receive the Fertitta Veterans Scholarship. I’m incredibly grateful to alumnus Lorenzo (MBA ’93) and his brother Frank J. Fertitta III for their generous gift which established the program, and their recognition of the value veterans bring to the workforce.

I’m now in my second year at Stern and have appreciated the many hands-on learning opportunities I’ve been able to participate in. Last semester, I was enrolled in an experiential learning course focused on impact investing. Throughout the semester, I worked with three other Stern students on a research project for Cambridge Associates. The firm was looking to understand more about the diversity of fund managers working in venture capital. We conducted a data analysis and qualitative assessment before presenting our final findings to Cambridge Associates executives at the conclusion of the semester.

A Strong Foundation to Embrace Change

COVID-19 has certainly changed the business school experience but being in the constantly changing environment of the military prepared me for the shifts we’ve experienced over the past few months.

Stern has done a great job at adapting to this new environment. We’re in a hybrid class model this semester which means that some classes are in person and others are all online. NYU has put safety protocols and social distancing precautions in place so anytime I enter our school building, I feel completely safe. I’ve also been getting together outdoors with my classmates in Central Park and at local coffee shops.

Serving in the Coast Guard gave me the foundation on which I will build the rest of my career. From the six years I spent in the military, I had the opportunity to grow and learn both personally and professionally. Regardless of what career path I pursue in the future, I will take with me the many lessons I learned during my time in the military and the skills and experiences I’m cultivating here at Stern with me.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.