University of Southern California

Ready for Business
Veterans, active military build business acumen with graduate degrees
November 11, 2013 • by News at Marshall

This fall the USC Marshall School of Business launched the Master of Business for Veterans (MBV), a one-year, intensive degree program designed to help veterans and active military personnel translate their skills and expertise to the business environment. The veteran and active military duty students in this master’s program join an active military community that exists on campus from our traditional MBA Program and the student-run Marshall Military Veterans Association. In observance of Veterans Day, we salute our students who have served and continue to serve our country, and introduce you to a few of them.

Yvette Lega

Yvette Lega traveled a long road from Baldwin Park to USC’s University Park Campus, from a high school graduate who had never heard of the SAT to a student in USC Marshall’s Master of Business for Veterans program.

As a teenager, she worked at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles and remembers walking through the bookstacks and thinking, “I’m going to be a successful businesswoman some day.”

Looking back, Lega says she had no idea how that was going to happen. “I didn’t have any direction,” she said.

While working two or three jobs, she looked into the U.S. Air Force and was intrigued by the notion of traveling the world. She enlisted in 1996. “I volunteered to go overseas,” she said. “I just wanted to get out of my situation.”

Lega found a thrilling career as an intelligence analyst, deploying to Saudia Arabia, Turkey, Iraq and Europe. Then she went into government contracting in Washington, D.C., a turning point that brought her back to her dream.

“I learned a great deal about the business world, particularly with project and program management and working with different departments of a firm,” Lega said. “That helped me couple my military experience with business and develop a serious interest in business.”

When Lega was on orders a couple of years ago as a reservist, she had an idea for a business venture of her own, and last summer she took action on it.

“I am developing a company and designing quality leather handbags for military women,” Lega said. “The military has very strict standards as far as what we can and can’t wear in uniform. These handbags meet the specs across three military services, while having some flair and personality.”

When she learned about the MBV program, she thought it was the natural next step.

“What a blessing to be accepted to the program and get a great education at USC with top-notch professors,” Lega said. “The program is catered to veterans, so it’s going to really teach us how to translate our military experience to the corporate business world. Because the program has an entrepreneurial focus, it’s been a huge help every step of the way with my business.”

Despite all of the opportunities that have opened up, Lega has not forgotten her early struggles.

“It really breaks my heart to know that there are so many kids in the same situation I was in,” she said. “I would like to create something or be a part of a charity or non-profit to help educate children who do not have access to resources in their communities. I want to give them high standards to reach for and goals to accomplish.”

Mike Dailey

Mike Dailey began his career in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft mechanic and finished as a Squadron Commander. After 22 years, including assignments on 10 bases and two deployments, he was ready to retire from the military and start his second career—in business. When he read about USC Marshall’s Master of Business for Veterans program in GI Jobs magazine, he found his launching point.

“I have a graduate degree in aeronautical science and could have entered the workforce without another degree, but I wanted to get some momentum and fill in some business knowledge I felt I was lacking,” said Dailey.

Dailey has found that the program is indeed helping him in quantitative areas like statistics and finance. He was also surprised to discover a unique benefit of the MBV.

“There has been an intangible benefit for me in the program in that I’m around fellow military people,” Dailey said. “It has made my military-to-civilian transition smoother, I think.”

Given his experience in the Air Force and education in aviation, Dailey is pursuing opportunities in the aerospace industry. But he said what’s most important is not the industry, but finding a good fit with a company and in a position where he can utilize his leadership, management and technical abilities.

“I think my experience in the MBV program will make me more capable, more competitive and, ultimately, more successful in my career,” Dailey said.

For Dailey, the university’s reputation as a top-ranked institution was a major draw, along with the networking opportunities. “Having a lifetime affiliation with USC and the Trojan Network is important to me, and has already given me new perspective.”

Stephanie Soltis

Stephanie Soltis managed thousands of long-haul flights supporting military, medical and humanitarian operations in more than 60 countries as a major and C-17 pilot in the U.S. Air Force. She also commanded more than 260 combat flights in Iraq and Afghanistan during her 11 years of active duty. After she retained a reserve position, she thought that going back to school was the best way to make the transition to a new career. She is expecting to graduate with an MBA from the USC Marshall School of Business in May 2014.

“In the military, we get a great deal of exposure to operations around the world, but what that doesn’t include is exposure to the business world,” Soltis said. “I thought that I needed a foundational business education if I were going to make a positive impact.”

A Southern California native, Soltis was familiar with USC’s reputation for academic excellence and its active and tight-knit Trojan Network. A visit to campus confirmed her choice.

“What really sealed the deal was I immediately found the environment on campus and in the business school to be very cooperative,” she said. “The idea is that we all succeed together as a team, so that was a collaborative, team-driven and mission-oriented environment that was familiar to me from the military.”

Soltis said she has been most impressed by the opportunities Marshall provides for learning beyond the classroom. “I had a lot of experience overseas in the Air Force, but the opportunity to go to the Pacific Rim and interact with top-notch business leaders was phenomenal,” she said.

Her summer internship with Pacific Investment Management Company not only helped her choose a career path, it also ended with an offer for a full-time job when she graduates.

“I think this is true of a lot of veterans, when we get out, we want to find meaningful, lifelong work that is going to be of a positive value to society,” Soltis said. “I think that stewarding people’s retirement assets, especially having watched what happened to a lot of people in the aftermath of the financial crisis, would be a good way to contribute.”

Soltis, who serves as president of the Marshall Military Veterans Association, said the business school and the university are clearly devoted to assisting veterans in the transition from their military lives to leadership roles in the civilian business world.

“USC has a definite commitment to being supportive of veterans,” she said. “We feel so welcome, and we appreciate that so much. Words are probably inadequate to express how much the veterans group feels grateful for everything USC has done to support us.”

Juan Aragon

As leading chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy Seabees, Juan Aragon provides management, technical and logistics support for a $230 million inventory of power plants, substations and steam plants used to support worldwide Department of Defense utility shortfalls. After a 17-year career in the Navy, Aragon wanted to diversify and gain experience in business administration. He enrolled in USC Marshall’s Master of Business for Veterans program.

“I opted for the MBV degree because it provides an executive level education, where all students have a strong military background and leadership exposure,” Aragon said. “All students have something to bring to the table, and we are all learning from each other.”

Though he was also accepted in an MBA program at another top university, Aragon found many reasons to choose the MBV, including the thematic curriculum and an emphasis on group projects and developing communication skills.

“I also want to be part of the Trojan Network and build everlasting relationships with classmates, staff and faculty,” Aragon said.

Aragon intends to apply what he learns in the MBV program to his current work with the Navy. In the future, he hopes to establish his own electrical service and maintenance business and to grow La Esperanza Soccer Club, a non-profit youth soccer club he started three years ago, by aligning it with a professional soccer team in the United States or Mexico.

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.