Wharton EMBA Students Use Independent Study to Help Veterans Transition to Civilian Life

When Lisa Nagorny separated from the U.S. Navy in 2008, she was juggling a move from Afghanistan to Washington, D.C., a job search, her wedding, and the purchase of a home. While all of those were big transitions, the job search was particularly challenging.

She explains that as a ROTC student in college, she didn’t need to do an internship or job search or write a resume because she already had a set career path in the military. “But after I separated from the Navy, I soon realized that finding a job and transitioning to the workplace was going to mean a big commitment. I needed to find veterans who could mentor me through the process of translating my military experience into a more understandable resume and help me explore career options,” says Lisa, who is now an associate at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Dan Pick shared a similar experience. After serving as a U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer with two Iraq deployments, he separated from the U.S. Navy in 2010 to transition into the private sector. “Many resume reviewers had no idea what the military acronyms meant or what my positions entailed. Fortunately, I knew other veterans who could review my resume and help me create a more understandable product,” he says. Dan is now a senior consultant at Deloitte & Touche in Washington, DC.

When Lisa and Dan met as first-year students in Wharton’s MBA for Executives program last year in Philadelphia, they got to talking about their experiences and the high unemployment rate among veterans. They decided to pursue an independent study to explore the challenges and opportunities for veterans transitioning into civilian life, and find a way to directly assist veterans. “Prof. Ian MacMillan and Prof. Peter Cappelli became faculty sponsors of our project, guiding us as we researched topics like why veterans have such a high unemployment rate, gathered data, and developed a business plan,” says Dan.

As for their findings from the project, Dan observes that there are so many resources out there for veterans that it’s overwhelming. “Veterans don’t have time to research all of the resources while going through the process of separating from the military, so we decided to consolidate the information we found and post it on a blog.”

Lisa explains that the blog is an extension of their independent study project. “We believe that every vet has the ability to reach his or her career aspirations. We created our blog, Switch!, to support them in their transition to civilian life and new careers by sharing relevant resources and our experiences.”

She adds, “Being able to leverage the resources at Wharton as well as the faculty’s thought leadership makes this independent study a very unique experience. We came to Wharton’s Executive MBA program to learn new skills, be exposed to new subject matter, and to take that knowledge and put it into action to make a difference. This project is an exciting way for us to do that.”

Click here to read an additional blog on the value of independent study projects in Wharton’s EMBA Program.