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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, May 25, 2024

Active military, veteran students share experiences with The Fletcher School’s online master’s program

Johnny Albani, Matthew DeWitt and Nathan Scopac (top to bottom) are pictured.

Education does not only exist in the classroom, as learning is a lifelong journey that extends far beyond. The Fletcher School’s Master of Global Business Administration is an online program that gives flexibility to mid-career professionals who wish to pursue a degree in business without physically coming to the Medford/Somerville campus. The Daily interviewed students in the program who are either active-duty military personnel or veterans to understand their journeys to and at Tufts.

Kristen Zecchi, director of Business Education at Fletcher, explained that students in the online master’s program typically come from an older age demographic and have more clearly defined career goals than those entering the residential program at Fletcher.

“The average age of people entering the GBA program is 37 years old, whereas people entering the residential programs [are] more like 25 years old,” Zecchi said. “So really, you’re talking about a much more mature demographic.”

It is not incidental then that most students at the GBA program are enrolled part-time, Zecchi added. 

“Many of them have families. They have children. They have external commitments that they’re not able to kind of step away from,” Zecchi said. “It’s an insanely busy group of people who are working in the GBA program. It’s different than an average residential student.”

Overall, the GBA program is popular for active military and veteran students as its pedagogical flexibility appeals to them. Nathan Scopac is a recently retired Air Force officer, and he shared how the GBA program has allowed him to take classes both at his home in the United States and in Afghanistan while he was still in the military. 

“I have been successful in taking classes from my office in the U.S. [and] I’ve been successful taking classes from my home,” Scopac said. “I was deployed to Afghanistan and was taking classes from Afghanistan. … I have taken classes from airport lounges [and] I’ve taken classes from the back of moving cars.”

For the veteran students who seek to transition into the civilian sectors, the GBA program can equip them with knowledge of the business world to which they might have had little exposure. Scopac recently transitioned out from the military while still being a student at the GBA program, and for him, this has been a significant career shift.

“Effectively, I’ve been in the military since I was 17. The transition has been an interesting one [and] I’m not going to say it’s been difficult,” Scopac said. “I’ve had amazing help from both military members who transition[ed] before me, as well as the people in the GBA program who are not in the military to just get me a lot smarter on business acumen.”

Even though the GBA is almost entirely online, students are still able to form meaningful bonds through conversations with each other even outside of the classroom. As a professional- and community-focused school, the GBA program provides students with an environment to make connections organically, Scopac added.

“Most of the students in the program are very comfortable interacting [online] and will go out of their way to set up social calls in the virtual space and I’ve done that a number of times,” Scopac said. “Where a classmate just seems interesting to me, so we’ll set up a 30 minute or an hour [call].” 

One of the strengths of the online component is the diverse backgrounds of students it attracts, many of whom might not be able to attend a residential program at the university otherwise. In this regard, the GBA program is truly global, for its modality helps bring together students across the globe. 

Matthew DeWitt, a current student in the GBA program, mentioned how he has still been able to make diverse connections through the program, despite its being online. DeWitt is a U.S. Army veteran and now works for a private contractor.

“Learning from folks from different walks of life, different cultures, different countries, I think, is probably the most valuable thing, right?”  DeWitt said. “I really do feel like I’m sitting in a classroom. Even though it is Zoom, It doesn’t feel like sitting at home. … It really does feel sort of in person because we can talk to the professor every week … and fellow students.”

Echoing DeWitt’s sentiment, Johnny Albani, a naval lieutenant officer and current student in the program, added that the GBA brings in students from a wide range of experiences. 

“We have a really, really unique and diverse set of people in our class, both in personalities and lived experiences and work experiences,” Albani said. 

Albani learned about the Fletcher program through one of his previous captains in the navy. As a surface warfare officer, Albani thinks highly of the Fletcher alumni, many of whom are prominent members of the surface warfare community, including Captain Joseph A. Gagliano and Commander John N. Christenson.

“Fletcher has a very unique and special place in the heart of a surface navy officer,” Albani said.

Many military students do not come from a strong business background, Albani added, but they bring a unique point of view to class discussions, especially when it comes to global security and the government.

“We each bring something different to the table. … Where my learning shortfalls might have been in terms of business, understanding the basics of it from undergrad, but [the learning shortfalls were in] the real nitty gritty of finance: all different types of markets, managerial, economics, corporate finance. That has been kind of an uphill climb, for me, whereas the strategy and the politics of the global economy and international security, those things for me kind of come second nature,” Albani said.

As a navy officer, Albani shared that while he has had to balance his career and academic commitments, Fletcher has offered him a flexible environment for his studies.

“It’s challenging, especially with the time difference. I have to ask work for some special accommodations sometimes, but I’m able to get through it and it’s worked out really well so far,” Albani said. 

Albani also reflected on his interactions with the greater Fletcher community. 

“[Fletcher students] are very flexible with us as far as our meeting times, and you know if something comes up, they are very understanding,” Albani said. “They just pretty much have a very, overall, understanding and respect for what we do, and it makes it much easier for us to kind of coexist with normal civilian students.”

The complication of different time zones can also add to the richness of the program, Zecchi explained, for it reflects the diversity of the students it attracts.

“[The program is] bringing together somebody who’s sitting in the Marshall Islands and focusing on marine sustainability, and somebody else who’s sitting in Ghana and thinking about fintech and Ghana, and then somebody else working in the defense sector in the U.S.,” Zecchi said. “All of those people are really able to help one another think about what the future of their work looks like.”