16 May 2013

A Compelling Case for an MBA

It's transition time. I keep meaning to write, but then life gets in the way. Transition gets in the way. Or my excuses get in the way. One day I was an Air Force officer struggling to find the support I thought I needed to help me work through PTSD. A few days after my last post, I received orders to retire from the Air Force, and a warning that I had three weeks to get my belongings packed and my life in order. By the middle of March, with those three weeks of warning, I was expected to know "what I want to do when I grow up."

What I wanted to do was go remodel a home (it looks gorgeous), sleep a lot (and then some more), and completely fall off the grid for about eight weeks. Last week, I plugged back in, ready to give true consideration to what it means to pick a new career.

I reached out for advice from my Personal Board of Directors, and they delivered...as always. When I did a little research on my own, I also delivered. Turns out the new Post 9/11 G.I. Bill gives me 4 years of educational benefits in an educational endeavor of my choosing, and I choose a Georgetown MBA. I like to aim high.

As a part of the application process, I'm required to submit a personal statement answering the specific question of what unique abilities you would bring to the Georgetown Executive MBA Program and how obtaining this degree will contribute to the attainment of your personal and professional goals. (maximum 2 pages). So it's written, and it's here, and I value your very frank and honest feedback. You can post it here, or email it directly to me at eabarber at gmail.com.

Read on:

I am a Major in the United States Air Force, a Human Resources Professional with over ten years of leadership experience, and a passionate believer in the value of creating change through micro-investments paid either in person-to-person interaction or in small sums of local currency.  With a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Masters of Public Administration, I aspire to continue my professional education by strengthening my ability to monetize human resources accomplishments and to foster a culture of passion in order to build stronger leadership networks within organizations.  With my particular focus on achieving results by investing in high potential employees, I believe the Executive Masters in Business Administration program at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University will provide me an opportunity to expand my existing professional skills.  In this unique learning environment, I also strive to continue to build my awareness of the global business dynamics while preparing myself to achieve continued success as I transition from the military into a leadership role in a service-oriented organization.

Growing up in a Navy family, I unknowingly embraced the closeness of the military community, and upon my arrival at Syracuse University for my undergraduate studies, I quickly felt a loss of that camaraderie.  Entering college with no aspiration to be the third generation in our family to serve our country, I was naturally drawn to military service.  The Air Force immediately recognized my potential for success, and granted me a three year scholarship to study English at a time when only engineering and scientific degrees received military funding.  Glowing with patriotism and naturally driven to lead and inspire others, I quickly earned recognition as one of the top cadets in our organization.  The personal interest my supervisor paid me as I applied to what everyone else assumed was an impossible scholarship opportunity was my first professional experience of a micro-investment in a high potential employee.  I remember our conversations of 16 years ago like they were yesterday. 

I excelled academically, and gravitated toward Women’s Studies courses in conjunction with my English degree.  Because of military rules, I was required to wear my Air Force uniform to these classes without exception.  The experience of being asked to speak on behalf of all military women when I considered myself a mere student studying to become a commissioned officer opened my eyes to society’s lack of understanding of our nation’s men and women in uniform.  At first hesitant to share my thoughts about the plight of transgendered populations or the history of the American feminist movement in class, I quickly found common ground with my fellow students.  I helped them humanize the military, and they helped me appreciate diversity of opinion.  The women in my Women’s Studies classes ultimately reinforced my belief that as a leader, a significant portion of my responsibility was to leverage my voice to help key decision makers hear the diverse voices of their many often unheard followers.  Moreover, my role was to make micro-investments in causes and in people who I believed possessed both the capacity and willingness to facilitate meaningful change.  I graduated in three years, eager for the next opportunity.

Determined to best prepare myself for a career in public service, I proceeded directly to George Washington University to earn a Masters of Public Administration.  One year into the program, Al Qaeda challenged my belief that the America for whom I proudly wore a uniform was almighty and all powerful.  I watched smoke pour out of the Pentagon during my walk to work at the Office of Personnel Management on the morning of September 11th, 2001.   My father, at the time a senior Navy officer, worked somewhere in the Pentagon, as did the fathers of a majority of my childhood friends.  Living in Crystal City in an apartment facing the west side of the burning building, the smell of jet fuel and steady stream of smoke spewing from the crash site was a constant reminder to me that my service would be distinctly different than that of my grandfather or even my own father.

My grandfather served in England during World War II as a Logistics Officer in the Army Air Corps, where he prepared the troops and their aircraft to engage the enemy from the air.  His war stories, which he dutifully recounted over and over at my request, inspired my own service while I was deployed as an American Airman leading convoys through the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan almost 70 years later.  Over the course of six months, I led my team of nine on more than 120 convoys, traveling 7 miles each direction to our “office,” across unsecured roads in Afghanistan’s capital city, outside “the wire” of the safety of our own military compound, terminating at the headquarters of the Afghan National Army’s Logistics Command.  We each carried two loaded weapons, wore 50 pounds or more of protective gear, and pretended, as had my grandfather’s generation, to be fearless. 

Together we were so passionate in our desire for Afghans to experience the true American spirit that we organized and led more than a dozen humanitarian and military outreach events, micro-investments, where we donated food, clothing, school supplies from our families back home.  We fostered mentorship and incredible memories at local homes, schools and military outposts across the Kabul Region, and we left Afghanistan prouder than ever to be Americans.  Achieving success in Afghanistan from my leadership perspective meant building lasting personal relationships between Afghans and Americans, and encouraging other Americans to do the same, and as a team, we outperformed everyone in our unit, achieving what I still consider the highest level of success. 

The United States sent me to Afghanistan with orders to focus on gender integration issues in the Afghan National Army.  Of the 4,500 soldiers at our location, a mere 38 were female, most of whom did not come to work on a regular basis, none of whom wore a military uniform, and many of whom were themselves war widows after decades of ongoing conflict in their country.  Working in close harmony with my interpreter Sonia, then a 22 year old woman who had been married, delivered a baby and was later abandoned by her husband by age 16, I slowly learned the personal stories of each of the women at our location.  I visited women’s work sites, spoke with their supervisors, and broke American military tradition by wearing a head scarf during each of my more than 300 strategic meetings with the Afghan women, their male military leaders, and senior NATO officials in the region.  Through this gesture simple gesture of cultural appreciation, I earned the trust and respect of my Afghan colleagues.  Together, we advocated for and later started construction of the first on-site childcare facility at our location.  As single parents, the women told me they were more likely to come to work if they knew their children were safe.  Sonia and I listened, partnered with the Afghan military women, championed the idea to Afghan male leadership, eventually leading the women to create a safe space for 50 children under the age of five.

Midway through my tour, and with no background in grass-roots fundraising, I sent an email to my friends and family asking them to make donations of $25 or $50 to help me buy a computer and make a down-payment on advanced English language education for Sonia.  She’d never owned a computer, had no routine access to the internet, and taught herself English through American music and television.  In addition to their small donations, I asked my friends and family to send a picture of their families, especially their daughters, and a letter telling Sonia about their dreams for her future with her daughter.  I raised over $400 in $25 donations within the first 24 hours of my effort, collecting letters, pictures and personal stories from around the world.  I achieved success in Afghanistan because I intuitively knew that micro-donations of support from people who were passionate about my work there were far more powerful than me writing a check for a computer and an education.  I grew a network of person-to-person relationships across cultural and even language barriers, and I know I made a lasting, positive impression on each Afghan person with whom I interacted.  Passionate leadership is compelling, regardless of the language, the culture or even the context.  In Afghanistan, and throughout my Air Force career, I have delivered passionate leadership and inspired teams of professionals to do the same.     

My unique contributions to the diversity of the Executive MBA program are a devotion to international service, a dedication to mentoring and developing the next generation of leaders, and more than 10 years of professional experience as a recognized human resources leader in roles based in the United States, South Korea, Germany and Afghanistan.  Through my military service and extensive domestic and international travel, I have built a tremendous support network, upon whom I have relied heavily through my career transition.  My professional desire is to leverage my more than 30 years of dedicated to service to the United States as a military child, U.S. Air Force officer and Afghanistan war veteran into future opportunities in non-profit organizations advocating for leadership opportunities for women and children.  

Through participation in the Executive Masters of Business Administration at the McDonough School of Business, I desire to continue to grow my business acumen and expand my horizons outside of the human resources space, therefore opening the door of opportunity for future growth roles.  Most importantly, I look forward to the opportunity to share my passion for leadership and my experience of success in international micro-investments with like-minded peers and classmates in the program.