A few weeks ago, I attended graduation week for my MBA from Norwich University. It is a bit out of sequence, because I don't actually finish my last seminar until August. However, I am in the distance learning program, and actually completed a quarter of the degree while I was in Iraq, so the Pulp Fiction-style timeline isn't too much of an upset.
For the past two years, I have been staying up late many nights, poring over my laptop and completing business case studies with my classmates, who are as far flung as Canada, Idaho, and Afghanistan. Many times I ask myself, "Why am I doing this?" It is a question my friends and family ask as well. I don't have a good answer. Maybe because I'm a glutton for punishment?
I started out thinking that the degree would help me lay the groundwork to start a new practice. After a little research and having been a solo practitioner for four years I have definitively determined I do not want that fate! I'd prefer to spent the majority of my time taking care of children, not keeping a business alive. Still, it may help me understand the mechanics of keeping a practice going a little better.
Earlier in my military career I had contributed into a fund for my Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits. I paid only a small amount each month for a year. I was repaid many times over because my G.I. Bill benefits paid for two thirds of my tuition. it was just another of many benefits I receive, just because I happen to get my paycheck from the U.S.D.O.D. So, I have to say thank you to all of you for your tax dollars, which in part helped me to pay my tuition.
My studies were actually a good way to keep my mind occupied while I was deployed. I can remember one night when I was on a conference call with my small student group. I was using my satellite phone out behind my hooch. I sat on a pile of gravel piled up against one wall of a bunker. We discussed the marketing strategy we would suggest to a granite company attempting to stay afloat in the face of competition from cheap imported Chinese stone. I had to bow out of the conversation early when an alarm red announced the threat of mortar fire. My, what a different war I had.
Graduation was very enjoyable. It was a blast to finally meet all of my classmates in person. We hit it off like we had been friends since childhood. Maybe it was something about being housed in a dorm room, but I found that I reverted to my behavior in college. I don't think I got to bed before 0200 any of the nights. With no where to drive and thousands of miles out of beeper range, it was a good break to be able to suck down a cold beer or two.
There are a number of online MBA programs available, but I knew I had found the right one when I researched Norwich. Founded in 1819, it is the oldest military college in the U.S. and is the birthplace of the R.O.T.C. One of my closest friends from the neighborhood back home went as an undergraduate, and I loved hearing his stories about his training as a "rook". I got a brief taste of those traditions when we did morning PT in the mud and took a run through the Dog River. The water is a heck of a lot colder in Vermont than it is in Texas!
I needed to visit Norwich to complete my Residence Week. It is a requirement for graduation. In addition to meeting classmates and professors in person, we attended lectures and competed in debates. We visited Rock of Ages, the quarry business we had been studying. It was a wonderful academic experience. It made me certain I had made a good decision to return to the classroom, and to make Norwich my Alma mater.
(thanks to A.S. for some great pictures)