Taking on a theme similar to that of TED talks was this weekend’s third annual VETx event, a program where several Ross veterans spoke about their experiences after having served in either the U.S. or other nations’ armed forces. Over a hundred veterans and family members gathered in the Ross Colloquium for the event, which was hosted by the Armed Forces Association at Ross.
As a part of the 2017 Veteran’s Week on campus, VETx aimed to offer veterans a platform to share their experiences with their peers and give the University community an opportunity to learn from their stories. This year’s celebration also had the unique distinction of honoring the largest class of veterans at Ross in the University’s history.
Molly Hope, a graduate student and the president of the AFA at Ross, said the organization aims to support veterans to succeed in business and socially.
Hope considers VETx an extension of the social aspect of AFA, which began three years ago to increase awareness of student veterans’ experiences within the larger Ross community.
“It started from MBAs who wanted to share their unique stories with their classmates and they thought this would be the perfect setting,” Hope said. “It kind of evolved around wondering how we as veterans share our stories because we have a lot of lessons that we want to tell people about and that we think would help people in their careers.”
Hope also commented on how students at the University of Michigan may not normally hear stories like the ones presented at VETx, and noted the importance of having a program that give veterans a chance to share their stories.
“Most students, at least in our program, may not find these stories that are so intense and so full of emotion, and experiences that they can’t even fathom in some regard-they might not feel like these stories are accessible in any other forum,” Hope said. “Having a safe space where it’s understood that you’re going to engage with these stories, and it provides a space for the speakers to share their stories.”
The event began with an introduction from Business School Dean Scott DeRue and then launched into talks given by three Business graduate students: Andrew Davis, Pratyush Singh and Philip Matousek. Each speech included a personal anecdote from each of the veteran’s times in service that both brought forth questions of ethics and values and that could relate to possible situations in the business world. Afterwards, the audience had an opportunity to ask questions to the panel of student veterans.
During his panel introduction, DeRue spoke about the University’s dedication to helping student veterans adjust and succeed on campus.
“One of the things that we are incredibly proud of is our commitment to veterans in our community,” DeRue said. “When we set our goals for the year in terms of admissions and building a stellar class, one point of emphasis was our veteran community. The fact that we were able to bump up that percent — roughly 40 percent — to achieve that seven percent mark is something we are extremely proud of in our MBA class.”
DeRue also discussed the contribution the veteran community makes to the University.
“Having the perspective of our veterans who have served in all sorts of different roles contribute to the conversation in class around what leadership means, how to lead in ambiguous and high risk environments, and so forth, bring that to life much better than I could,” DeRue said.
Later, Davis outlined the dilemma middle-ranking individuals face during a time of crisis in regards to whether or not they should take initiative.
Davis told a story about the different ways that he and his friend Mike responded to an explosion on August 28, 2013 during their time in Afghanistan. Davis explained that while he remained with a higher ranking officer and waited for orders, Mike took off towards the chaos, and lost his life while saving one of his comrades. He tied this experiences back to the policies at various companies, and explained that there are times when it is necessary to wait for instructions, but also times when one must take action.
“Are we ready to recognize the moment of truth, when action could change everything for the course of the better, but it may cost us dearly, and when nobody is going to blame you for inaction because you weren’t in charge?” Davis posited. “As I go forward in my professional career I’m always going to have Mike’s example in the back of my mind, helping me figure out the right thing to do.”
Matousek presented on ethical leadership and the importance of remaining moral even in situations where acting immorally seems easier.
During his time in Baghdad, Matousek and his team faced attacks from a seemingly faceless enemy. This enemy was pervasive and not only sought to harm the U.S army, but also innocent Iraqi civilians and law enforcement. One night, Matousek said he and his men caught a man they believed to be a potential insurgent, and while some wanted to administer justice themselves, Matousek made sure the man was brought to the Iraqi law enforcement. He explained one immoral decision causes others to lose respect and that one way people can avoid unethical decisions is by talking through various dilemmas as a group.
“As you develop your own teams and you work to become a better leader, present your team and yourself with ethical dilemmas. Talk through what the right thing is to do, talk through what was actually done … I promise you if you prepare yourselves and you prepare your team, when you’re faced with a dilemma you will do what is right.”
David Bald, Business graduate student and the head coordinator for VETx, brought up the value in having a setting for veterans and students to come together and listen to the experiences of their peers.
“I think this event is really special because it gives our veterans in the MBA program the opportunity to share stories that their classmates would not normally come across,” Bald said. “This event provides an open space where they can interact with those stories on a human to human level.”
Business graduate student Sarah Schmidt, a classmate of many of the speakers at the VETx event, explained she attended both to learn from the speeches and to show her support for her fellow classmates.
“I have a lot of classmates who are veterans, and I went to this event last year, and I really enjoyed hearing their stories,” Schmidt said. “I think often it’s pretty unknown what people learn in the military and what value they can bring as peers and as future colleges. This chance to listen to their stories, give that attention and bring a greater understanding is really important.”
Both Hope and Bald emphasized how they wanted to continue creating spaces for veterans to communicate with their peers in a less formal setting.
Moving forward, the AFA at Ross will be hosting smaller group conversations in more casual areas to allow for exactly that.
“A lot of the stories we have don’t fit neatly into a presentation, and it seemed necessary that we continue this conversation, instead of just once a year. There are so many stories and experiences that our veterans want to talk about, and maybe they’re still trying to make sense of these stories themselves,” Bald said. “We’re hoping we can engage further with others in Ross and in the larger Michigan community.”
Bald also explained that the overall goal through all these events is to ensure that student veterans feel comfortable on campus, and are able to truly feel a part of the Michigan community.
“We want to break down the barrier of student veteran and that sense of other that may be present, so that people see these stories as accessible and by proxy the veterans themselves as more accessible.”