Former Marine Corps Captain Michael Van Derwood shares his experiences transitioning from the military to student life at UC Davis. He is currently enrolled in his first year of business school after completing one year of law school.
- How has your background prepared you for current student life?
- It’s given me perspective regarding my current situation, understanding what’s critical versus what’s just important. The military helped me grasp how to manage myself in terms of time and efficiency. I think I have more experience than most when it comes to leading teams. Group work is a big part of business school and working in groups is not something I find difficult or frustrating.
- Can you describe your transition from the military to civilian life?
- The biggest transition challenge other vets and I have experienced is understanding that the military system we lived in, although efficient, is not directly translatable to the student environment. The established leadership structure we experienced in the military doesn’t necessarily apply to the classroom. You’re among your peers and no longer formally in charge of anything. It makes life easier in some ways because I’m allowed to experiment with different leadership styles. But not being in a true leadership position means I don’t have the same responsibility as I had before. On a lot of levels, I just have to worry about myself. This setting grants a much greater deal of autonomy than the military does.
- How has UC Davis welcomed its veterans?
- Both the law school and the GSM are very receptive to veterans. In today’s society, people value vet’s experiences and are more willing to listen to how we can contribute. Both schools are interested in my experience and have been very welcoming; I’m happy with the overall reception. But I also think universities are still in the process of determining how much value veterans add because people don’t necessarily understand the nature and type of experiences that we come from. For example, people know what it means when you say you’re a district manager in a retail chain. But that same understanding is lost when you say you’re a company commander in the Marines. It can be difficult to translate prior experiences and make people understand what it means. We’re not often looked at as belonging to the diversity pie but I really think we do. I don’t think the diversity definition should stop at socioeconomic status, gender, or race. Prior work experience plays a huge role as well. I think the military adds value because it contributes people with different types of reasoning skills and life experiences.
- How do you plan to leverage your education for future success?
- I think there are a lot of parallels between military and management instruction. The military taught me how to do a job and how to lead. Business school teaches a similar type of overall management skill. But vets need to realize that the civilian job market is very different from what we’ve experienced. The MBA is valuable because I’m leveraging my prior experience while filling out a skill set that’s translatable to the civilian world. I think that’s why so many vets decide to pursue business school after the military.
- Is there anything you miss about your time in the Marines?
- The intensity of the experience creates a different kind of bond among peers, coworkers and colleagues. It’s a tighter community in some ways by virtue of shared experience. Even though law and business school is strenuous and stressful, that kind of bond I experienced in the military is difficult to duplicate.
- Any last words why a veteran should consider graduate school at UC Davis?
- Because there aren’t a lot of veterans at the GSM or law school, we do have an opportunity to stand out. Other schools might have thirty vets per class. Veterans are valued here; faculty and staff want to include us in the community and see us succeed. I think that because there aren’t a lot of veterans at the GSM or law school, we do have an opportunity stand out. I’ve landed interviews at companies based solely on my military background. The GSM career staff is learning quickly how to leverage and take advantage of that.
Michael Van Derwood
Founder & President of Veteran’s Association at UC Davis Law School