Members of the second cohort of the USC Marshall School of Business’ Master of Business for Veterans program gathered at Popovich Hall over the summer. The MBV program channels skills learned in the armed forces for use in the corporate arena.
While the 51 students represented a broad range of ages (from 25 to 53), geographic origins (from Boston to San Antonio to San Diego) and academic credentials (from recent college graduates to master’s degree recipients), they shared one essential attribute: distinguished service in the U.S. military, rooted in both reserve and active duty for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
After the students introduced themselves, MBV program director and retired Army Lt. Col. James Bogle commented on their collective achievements: “Now you see what we saw when we admitted you. This is truly an exceptional group of people.”
Ramandeep Randhawa, associate professor of data sciences and operations, added: “You possess remarkable discipline. You also have excellent leadership and execution skills. We will leverage — and build on — those things here.”
Meet some members of the cohort
During his second tour in Afghanistan, Matthew Blain, a former Army staff sergeant, saved the lives of four people by jumping into swirling waters after a 30,000-pound Humvee overturned into a rain-swollen river. Awarded the Soldier’s Medal for heroism in 2011, Blain reminds anyone who inquires that it was a team effort.
He was finishing up a bachelor’s in business management at Azusa Pacific University when a peer told him of the MBV program.
“I was so impressed that a university with the prestige of USC was doing so much to support those of us who have served in the military, it inspired me to pursue an advanced degree in business with a culture in service,” he said.
Jengi Martinez, a 19-year-member of the Air Force, has flown more than 600 C-17 combat sorties.
“My dream was to be a pilot,” she said, “and I’ve done that.
“The business background this program will give me will allow me to figure out what’s next,” she added. “The main thing is I’d like to keep serving others in whatever I do.”
Martinez’s nonprofit, the March Aviation Society, supports the March Air Reserve Base Community in Riverside, including the 452nd Air Mobility Wing and the 163rd Air Reconnaissance Wing.
From NCIS to MBV
Ed Jones, an Air Force veteran and special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), came to the MBV program to gain a solid foundation in business fundamentals and to understand what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur.
“I want to contribute to society,” said Jones, who led the team of NCIS agents first on the scene in Mombasa, Kenya, after Somali pirates hijacked the container ship Maersk Alabama, an incident later dramatized in the Academy Award-nominated film Captain Phillips.
“When I found the MBV program, I knew it was my destiny to come to USC,” he said.
Finding their calling
After graduating from high school in Laguna Niguel, Kaman Forghani enlisted in the Navy to maintain his ties to the ocean. He worked as a firefighter and Farsi interpreter for four years before taking an honorable discharge and enrolling in a local community college where, with the help of an assistant dean, he co-founded a veterans’ club that is now a resource for more than 500 students.
Forghani then transferred to the undergraduate business program at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, but found his true fit in USC’s MBV program.
“The common denominator,” he said, “is that we all want to do something more than just for ourselves. Yes, we’re mission-driven and action-oriented, and we want to be successful, but we’ll help each other in the process.”
Jennifer Baker, who spent six years as an Army staff sergeant and paratrooper in the storied 82nd Airborne Division and has two deployments under her belt, does not scare easily. But finishing up her undergraduate degree at Southern Methodist University in Dallas on a Tuesday and driving to Los Angeles two days later to dive into her MBV studies did give her pause.
Baker jumped anyway and has not looked back. Today, she balances a heavy course load with a busy search for employment. She has yet to settle on a field, but said, “That’s the beauty of coming here. There are so many people from so many different backgrounds.”