Despite not planning on following in his dad’s footsteps, Lance Gonzalez, Class of 2023, couldn’t help but fall in love with the time he spent visiting the Naval Academy. After serving eight years in the US Navy, Lance shares more about his background, the diversity that those who served bring to an MBA cohort, and why he thinks Booth is the best MBA program for veterans
Tell us a little bit about your background.
My name is Lance Gonzalez. I’m 30 years old and a proud member of Chicago Booth’s Class of 2023!
Why was it important to serve your country?
If you had asked me during my first three years of high school if I was going to be in the military at any point in my life, the answer would have been a resounding “No.” My dad was in the Navy as I had been growing up, and I honestly didn’t see that as a future for myself. Then, the summer between my Junior and Senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to go back to Annapolis for a week and live like a Midshipman. As much as I tried not to, I absolutely fell in love with the school. It provided everything I was looking for in a college: brilliant professors, fun people, and an environment that stressed both hard work and hard play. After that week, it was an easy decision and I knew the Naval Academy was the only college where I would be happy.
During the next four years (and the eight years that followed), I grew a tremendous appreciation for Naval Service and the aspects it brought to my life: the opportunity to serve my country and give back to a place that has given so much to me, a tremendous amount of leadership experience and responsibility at a very young age, and the ability to do things (like flying a fighter jet) that I couldn’t do anywhere else. Ultimately, I knew all these factors would help me grow and develop as a person, and that is why I joined the Navy.
What did you do in the military?
I graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2013 and spent the next eight years in the U.S. Navy. My official last day was this past September and I got out as a Lieutenant (O-3).
I was a Weapon Systems Officer on F/A-18 Super Hornets (Goose from Top Gun). I sat behind the pilot, and it was my job to make sure that the bombs or missiles on board the jet got to where they were supposed to go.
During my service, I executed two deployments, led a division of 40 sailors, and visited 8 different countries. I spent my last two years in China Lake, California, where I flew for VX-9, the Navy’s Test and Operational Development Squadron. Every new upgrade to the fighter jet first came to our squadron, where we worked with a team of engineers to optimize and test fly the upgrade before we sent it out to deployed squadrons.
Why did you want to pursue an MBA?
I very much enjoyed my time in the Navy. I got to see and do things that I literally couldn’t do anywhere else, all while I was around some of the best people in the world. That being said, I had life goals I wanted to accomplish that I didn’t think I could achieve if I stayed in the military. As my initial service commitment was ending, I started looking at the various opportunities outside of service.
I knew I wanted to enter into the business world, and an MBA provided a natural on-ramp to that final destination. Beyond that, I knew I would be coming into the MBA with a lot of military-specific leadership. I wanted to learn how to translate this leadership to a more civilian workforce, while at the same time building up quantitative skills I knew I lacked. An MBA seemed like a perfect opportunity to accomplish both of those.
Why do veterans make good business students?
Almost all Veterans come into business school with a background in leadership and experience in quickly adapting to new situations. Beyond this, we have had to routinely perform difficult tasks under immense amounts of pressure, in some cases where failure could be fatal. These unique experiences allow veterans to bring a perspective to the classroom that otherwise would not be there. When you combine this with the willingness to learn from others and the level of humility I have seen from many of my Veteran peers, I believe we help create a synergistic culture in the classroom. Ultimately, a good business student is one who helps your classmates learn, and as Veterans, we utilize our distinctive background to accomplish this goal while at the same time learning from those around us.
Why did you choose Booth?
It’s my (probably biased) opinion that Booth is the best MBA program out there for veterans. Beyond the financial and transition support, the program at Booth is designed around helping students move from one industry to another. Especially for some of the more niche industries, like Investment Management, Private Equity, or Entrepreneurship, Booth expends the resources to ensure its students are successfully able to make the jump. These include experiential Lab Classes, in-semester internships, and a startup accelerator at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. As a Veteran, access to these resources and the confidence that I would be successful in my career switch were imperative to me when I was looking at MBA programs.
More important than the resources for making my career switch were the people who brought me to Booth. When I was applying to different programs, I made an effort to talk to as many current students as I could. Unequivocally, every time I talked to a Boothie I got off the phone call thinking, “I want to grab a drink with that person.” During my short time here on campus, I’ve found my classmates to be interesting and accomplished, as well as willing to grab that drink.
What kind of support/financial aid/programs does Booth offer to veterans?
So something I did not realize when I was applying to MBA programs was that just because I had 100% GI Bill didn’t mean every school would be completely paid for. In fact, Booth is one of the few private schools where the GI Bill plus the Yellow Ribbon will actually cover the entire cost of attendance. Beyond this, a few of Booth’s notable alumni and donors have prior military experience, which means even for students without the full GI Bill, the financial burden for Veterans tends to be minimized.
Additionally, the Office for Military-Affiliated Communities (OMAC), which works more broadly with the entire University of Chicago, does an amazing job of integrating the veteran community across the campus. From providing resources for transitioning veterans to coordinating with non-profits that work with Chicago’s homeless Veteran population, OMAC ensures Veterans at Booth will be successful in their transition and can continue giving back to the military community.
Why do you believe veteran representation matters in MBA cohorts?
I believe that diversity of experience is one of the most important factors in any MBA cohort. In the classroom environment, you learn just as much from your fellow students as you do from the professor. As a Veteran, our path to the MBA is vastly different from many of our classmates, and because of this, the experiences we’re able to share differ widely as well. Veterans make up an important aspect of the diversity that is necessary for learning in a top MBA program.
What are your post-graduation plans?
I’ve been fortunate enough to secure an internship in Investment Management at PIMCO for next summer. Over these past few years, I believe we’ve begun to learn that if we want to create a better world, we must change more than our actions. Where we choose to spend and invest our money creates an impact on the society that we live in together. In both the short and long term, I’m looking forward to helping companies and institutions make socially responsible investment decisions and helping to create a better world.
Finally, I wouldn’t be where I am today if there weren’t numerous people, many from the Veteran community, who helped me along the way. Now, and as I continue to progress in my career, I look forward to reaching back and helping other Veterans succeed in any endeavor they may pursue.