Nathan Needham- From the Air Force to Amherst College to University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business!

Full Name: Nathan Needham

Anticipated graduation year? MBA, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business 2020; BA, Amherst College 2018

Hometown: Sequim, WA (2 hours west of Seattle)

Fun Fact About Yourself: Jeffrey Wright (the star of HBO’s Westworld) once sought me out at a gala to introduce himself to me. The reason: He wanted to connect with a veteran who attended his alma mater, Amherst College. It was a very humbling experience to have a hollywood star come say hello to me just because I was a vet.

Intended Major: Spanish

What did you do in the military? Spanish/Portuguese Linguist with Air Force Special Operations

What was your proudest accomplishment in the military? Saving a mentorship program for kids without fathers that was cancelled due to a government shutdown

How did you hear about S2S? Through Lexi Hurd, an admissions officer at Amherst. As a strong supporter of veterans at Amherst, she was the driving force for bringing Warrior Scholar Project to campus. It was through her and WSP that I first heard about S2S and the positive impact that it was having on veterans transitioning to college.

What was the best part of S2S for you? Every Step in my transition from the military to civilian life was facilitated by mentorship. I am very impressed by the stories of support and mentorship that other veterans have received from S2S leading to their successful transition.

Why did you decide to pursue college? It was a tough decision. I loved my job in the military. I had responsibilities that were light-years ahead of my peers from high school. But I am obsessed with personal growth and development and I knew that as enlisted I wouldn’t realize my potential while in the Air Force. I realized that leaving the safe career path of the military for the unstructured civilian world would push me to grow in new and challenging ways.

How has the transition been from the military to civilian life? It’s a journey. There are high points and low points. The high points will make you wonder why you even doubted leaving the military while the low points will make you wish that you never got your DD-214. However, it is from those low points that you grow in so many different and unexpected ways that really make the transition out of the service such a worthwhile experience.

An example of this came last summer during an internship. I loved the projects that I worked on, my intern cohort, and the company culture but, it was a competitive program and I didn’t receive the return offer. As cliche as it is, that painful experience ended up being one of the best things to happen to me. It showed me areas that I could grow into and ended up accelerating my personal and professional growth in ways that I wasn’t expecting.

What are you most excited about in regards to starting college/ the school you are going to attend? What’s your favorite part about the school you chose to matriculate at? Going to a school like Amherst College and being trained in the liberal arts is the academic equivalent of being a tight end in football. Your education trains you to be adaptable and able to fit multiple roles quickly and effectively. And like football, you’ll also probably get beaten up (intellectually) by the rigors of the program. But along the way, you learn how to approach problems from a logical quantitative perspective while being able to connect the dots through a broader qualitative perspective. These are life skills that are vital to excelling in any environment and I am very thankful that I received them.

When I think about my experience at Michigan’s Ross School of Business, I am most thankful about my experience working on an independent study with Jane Dutton, an academic heavyweight in the world of organizational psychology. It was a moment where I was empowered to explore a specific question about what makes organizations successful and something that not only was fun, but challenged in a way that made me mature both professionally and personally.

What advice would you give to future applicants? You’re about to go into an environment that is designed to answer some of the most challenging questions out there. Whether it is delving into philosophy to answer the meaning of life, conducting studies to discern patterns in lower socioeconomic spheres to address inequalities, to diving with sharks off of Cape Town to learn about the impact that climate change is having on marine life, the opportunities to learn while in school are endless. However, to take advantage of these opportunities you need to know what the question is that you want to answer. Even before getting to school you can read widely, take classes and keep an open mind and the question will come to you. Knowing what that question is will transform your academic experience from merely being a stopping point on your life’s journey to a launchpad toward a successful and flourishing life.

Oh and one more thing to add: Don’t be afraid to get help. If you are doing the college experience right, it will be tough and it will push you. You will encounter moments where you can’t succeed on your own. Raise your hand, go to office hours, or if necessary, get counseling. There are so many resources out there such as through your school, other veterans, and the VA too. Whatever your environment is, people (like me) are cheering you on, but we need to know how to help.

What are your goals post-graduation? I am planning to work at the intersection of data science and design thinking. This career path perfectly blends the intellectual challenge of discovering quantitative insights from data while qualitatively addressing the needs that customers have to drive value for organizations.

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