Ask More: Committed to Veterans

By Christine Cox | Spring 2015

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A fast-attack nuclear submarine is a world away from an MBA classroom. So are military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and Djibouti.

And after making the jump from these respective military worlds to b-school themselves, former Navy Lt. James Rapuzzi and Marine Corps Capt. Matt Bates wanted to assist other veterans making the transition. Through the Notre Dame MBA Veterans Club, Rapuzzi and Bates spearheaded a mentoring program at Mendoza College of Business for veterans entering the ND MBA program.

As mentors, military veterans in the second year of the two-year MBA reach out to incoming students before they even set foot on campus. The student veterans help with such things as learning about concentration tracks, preparing for job interviews and making the most of campus life.

“We match mentors with incoming students based on career aspirations as well as military background,” says Rapuzzi, a former submariner and president of the Veterans Club. “A helicopter pilot is going to understand the background that another helicopter pilot has been through; the same with a soldier or a submariner or anything else. And connecting with someone in the same career field they’re interested allows them to get a jumpstart on their career search in a very formulated sort of way. It really channels all their drive into an efficient and optimal direction.”

“It really means a lot to have someone reaching out to you as opposed to the veteran having to always reach out.” —Matt Bates

Bates, Veterans Club vice president and a former Marine officer who completed five tours of duty overseas, says it’s not uncommon for veterans to start the MBA program within a month or less of leaving military duty. “The change is quite a bit more drastic than our classmates who are coming from corporate America,” he says. “We want them to know about veteran opportunities over the summer and to help them prepare for orientation and the start of class. Then they can meet with mentors as much or as little as they like throughout the program.

“And, overall, it really means a lot to have someone reaching out to you as opposed to the veteran having to always reach out.”

Patrick Whitmore, a first-year MBA student and former Navy lieutenant, appreciates being mentored by Rapuzzi. “The program has been one of my best experiences at Notre Dame,” he says. “Having a mentor and friend like James, who understands our shared Navy background and has already started the transition into the finance industry, has been a major reason why I know I’ll do well in my summer banking internship and throughout my post-Navy career.

“The mentoring program also represents what Notre Dame is best known for: tradition. The way the Notre Dame family welcomes veterans with a source of mentoring and camaraderie exemplifies Notre Dame’s tradition of commitment to the military.”

This military commitment — famously reflected in the inscription “God, Country, Notre Dame,” which appears over the door of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart — has been recognized most recently by G.I. Jobs magazine, which named the University a 2015 Military Friendly School. The publication ranks Notre Dame among the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools “doing the most to embrace America’s veterans as students.”

Rapuzzi and Bates, both graduates of the United States Naval Academy, say that commitment means everything to veterans. “It’s really unique that the MBA program is so supportive of veterans transitioning to business school,” Bates says. “This is a natural resting place for us. There are veteran fellowships, which help make it a very easy decision to come back to graduate school. Plus, the administration could not do more to help us.”

In turn, MBA veterans do whatever they can to help other vets, even outside the mentoring program. “When veterans come to visit Mendoza MBA program, they have lunch with a veteran, they go to class with a veteran, and they might spend some time after the tour with a veteran,” says Rapuzzi. “We make an effort to get five or six people to lunch when these folks come in and give them the honest opinion of how we feel about Notre Dame. We make sure they don’t leave with any questions and that they fully understand what they’ll get when they come here. It’s a point of pride for us.”

All of this aligns with values and ethics that the military and the University share. “The Naval Academy taught us to hold certain values dear: honor, courage, commitment,” Rapuzzi says. “Here at Notre Dame, it’s God, Country, Notre Dame. This is an institution that has values at the highest degree and I’ve definitely experienced that.”




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