Berkeley-Haas: The Best-Kept Secret for Vets Who Mean Business

Jose Fierro, MBA 15, flew F-18s for the Marines for 16 years, and now he’s serving the military in a different way. A student in the Full-time Berkeley MBA Program, Fierro is helping veterans in California become more aware of the services, funds, and other benefits available to them. As the team lead for a student project in the Haas School’s Social Sector Solutions course, he’s coordinating a marketing plan that will allow a government agency called the California Department of Veteran Affairs (CalVets) to reach more former members of the Armed Forces.

Fierro represents one of nearly 50 U.S. military veterans attending the Haas School’s MBA and undergraduate programs–a number that climbs even higher when including students from the military in South Korea, Israel, Germany, and Turkey. Over the last few years, the Full-time MBA Program has seen a nearly fourfold increase in the number of students with military backgrounds. Why? It’s the combination of educational excellence, cultural values, career opportunities, and financial support, vets say.

“If you want a business education, there’s really no reason to go anyplace else than Haas," says Fierro. ”The education is world class and the values are highly compatible with what we learn in the military. It's a great place to make the transition back to civilian life."

The image of a campus waging a war on war has transformed with the times, and these days veterans are finding a home at Berkeley. “When I started looking on the school’s website, it was definitely the Defining Principles that attracted me because they’re similar to the values you find in the military–and basically encapsulate who I am,” says Hugo Chacon-Acosta, BS 14, who served in the U.S. Air Force for nine years.

Indeed, numerous vets at Haas say the school's Defining Principles–Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself– resonate with those in the armed forces, such as the Air Force’s “Integrity First,” “Service Before Self,” and “Excellence in All We Do.”

“Coming from the U.S. Navy, an institution rich in tradition and values, I sought a similarly ethical and value-centric entity in a business school, ” says U.S. Navy Ensign Brandon Doll, MBA 14. “Just as the Navy emphasizes ‘Honor, Courage, and Commitment,’ Haas truly embodies its Defining Principles through faculty, curriculum, and culture.”

Financial support is another reason vets are choosing Berkeley-Haas, where up to 100 percent of all costs could be covered by the GI Bill and Veterans Administration’s Yellow Ribbon Program.

“The Berkeley MBA is a tremendous value for military students—no out-of-pocket costs plus a generous housing stipend each month,” says Steve Weddle, MBA 15, who served as a captain in the Air Force. “I don't think many prospective military applicants realize how good of a deal the Berkeley MBA is; I certainly didn't when I applied.”

The San Francisco Bay Area also offers a diversity of career options for vets, with several firms targeting candidates with military experience or hiring for leadership rotation programs. Veterans benefit from one-on-one career management assistance to help them target their job search and translate their experience.

“We don't all want to be managers just because we were officers in the military,” says Emma Cuevas, MBA 14, a former member of the U.S. Army Reserves. “Haas is great at not pigeonholing us to one track but giving us tools and support to explore many industries and roles.”

Tanya Chavez, MBA 16, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, has already started applying her business learnings on the job. A student in the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Program, she focused a project in her marketing class on research to help her wine industry employer, G3 Enterprises, establish a new line of business on more solid footing.

“Being a student here, I feel I have a very good path before me,” says Chavez. “It was a great choice."

Still, the transition to business school and civilian life can be challenging at times for vets.

“But our Defining Principles resonate with military officers. By coming to Berkeley-Haas, they join a community that shares the same values and a community that pushes them outside their comfort zone, challenging them to grow in new ways,” says Stephanie Fujii, executive director of Full-time Berkeley MBA Admissions. 

Fierro echoes that sentiment, while also noting that Berkeley’s long-held reputation for social impact dovetails well with the military’s emphasis on making a difference. Fierro’s own project in the Social Sector Solutions course will help more vets in California not only navigate government bureaucracy in getting their services, but also partake of other offerings such as bond-sponsored home loans and special housing arrangements.

“By coming here, we continue to have an impact even once we hang the uniform up,” Fierro says.

Watch a video saluting Haas veterans.

Jose Fierro, MBA 15