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Mar 1, 2021

A Veteran Student Reflects On His Professional MBA Journey

Sponsored Content provided by Robert Burrus - Dean , Cameron School of Business - UNC-Wilmington

Contributed by Matt Mylott, Assistant Director of Client Management at UNCW’s Swain Center

20 years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be where I’m at today. Representing UNCW’s Swain Center for Executive Education in our regional marketplace hardly aligns with the bulk of my professional experience. Had you asked me then, I would’ve guessed I’d still be in the Marine Corps in 2020. But life happens, and in 2008 I permanently separated from the Corps. Over the subsequent 8 years, I worked as a Sheriff’s Deputy and spent several years in healthcare sales. Having siblings with master’s degrees and quite successful careers, I had an ever-present interest in pursuing a graduate degree that would equip and position me as a more desirable workforce candidate. What I was NOT interested in was preparing for and sitting through a GMAT exam. As I investigated the MBA programs at my alma mater, I was pleasantly surprised to learn the Cameron School of Business (CSB) waived the GMAT requirement. A short time later, I applied to CSB’s Professional MBA program. I was later accepted and was set to begin coursework in Fall of 2016.

Initially, it seemed a daunting task to accept. Having a full-time job and a family to provide for was more than enough to have on my plate. Coupled with the nearly 10 years that had passed since completing my bachelor’s degree, I was certain it would be a tough road to travel. But at the end of my orientation, I walked away from the cocktail hour with a more enlightened posture. Now bear in mind, my undergraduate is in political science, and until that point I had virtually no business-related education. Financial statements were intimidating, and amortization sounded like a type of torture. Furthermore, my assumption was I’d be amongst established Wilmington area businesspeople with little in common in regard to my professional experience. Little did I know that my assumptions were less than accurate.

I didn’t think my MBA experience would naturally lead to me becoming an unofficial ambassador, but it did. From day one through our graduation in Spring of 2018, I was met with enlightened experiences regarding the faculty, program format, subject matter, in-class conversations, and networking support. My cohort was comprised of working professionals in similar stages of their professional growth, so every conversation had a certain level of value for all. Not only did my class consist of a handful of veterans, several were still actively serving. The weekly Monday evening classes, with asynchronous online work throughout the week, afforded students like myself the flexibility and ease to continue managing our own workload and personal lives without hardship. Proving this point, I was nearly a year into the program before my brother, Ryan, came from California to visit. Though he never said it, he thought I’d be totally consumed every waking minute with coursework throughout the program, just as he was through his MBA. Ryan was blown away at how manageable the program structure actually was, and I was still able to enjoy time with him while he was here.

For those interested in pursuing a graduate degree in business, I simply suggest researching the opportunities that fit you best. Though the academic content is largely the same across many MBA programs, the pricing, class schedules, and experiences vary widely. Given the strong decline in college enrollment nationally throughout the last year, the exponential growth in CSB graduate program enrollments is a testament to the value and overall quality of experience the school is known to deliver.

My professional network and newfound business acumen further opened my eyes and provided greater clarity to previously unseen opportunities. It changed my way of thinking, my posture towards challenges, and grew in me practices of systems thinking. 2020 with all its volatility and madness, has surfaced a unique endeavor I’m currently embarking on. Through a strong partnership with two of my veteran brothers, Rob Rens and Evan Anderson, we will be launching Signal Fire Media (SFM) at the start of January in 2021. Signal Fire will be an aggregate of the things we’re most passionate about: veterans, community, business, and entertainment. Our vision is to serve the greater Wilmington region with information and entertainment designed to enrich the mind, body, spirit, and community, while also supporting regional veteran business owners in providing mass media, along with social and digital advertising services. Beginning in January, the Signal Fire Radio show will launch on 106.7 FM The Big Talker on Monday nights from 6p-7p Eastern Standard Time. The new enterprise also opened the door to a partnership with Cameron School of Business, and this spring semester, SFM will be offering 4-8 sales and marketing internships to CSB undergraduates studying the same. These positions will support SFM’s mission by growing brand awareness, aligning local business needs with SFM solutions, and generating advertisement contracts.

Robert T. Burrus, Jr., Ph.D., is the dean of the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, named in June 2015. Burrus joined the UNCW faculty in 1998. Prior to his current position, Burrus was interim dean, associate dean of undergraduate studies and the chair of the department of economics and finance. Burrus earned a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s degree in mathematical economics from Wake Forest University. The Cameron School of Business has approximately 90 full-time faculty members and 30 administrative and staff members. The AACSB-accredited business school currently enrolls approximately 2,600 undergraduate students in three degree programs and 750 graduate students in four degree programs. The school also houses the prestigious Cameron Executive Network, a group of more than 200 retired and practicing executives that provide one-on-one mentoring for Cameron students. To learn more about the Cameron School of Business, please visit Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected].

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