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From a U.S. Navy uniform to a business suit

By Christopher Millen, MBA Class of 2024
Monday, October 24, 2022
Christopher Millen headshot

Christopher Millen, MBA Class of 2024

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” —Nelson Mandela

I am the last person who expected to find myself at Michigan State University. I was born and raised a Wolverines fan (sorry!) and never once thought of defecting. And yet, despite how I expected everything to go, here I am in the best supply chain management program in the country and I’m having the time of my life! You never know where life will take you.

I had originally planned to go to school for engineering and get a job somewhere close to home in the auto sector. I had it all figured out. The economy unfortunately went south, and my parents lost their livelihoods. We were going to be OK but college wasn’t really in the budget anymore. I found another opportunity in the United States Navy, but I was scared about joining up. My teachers offered some words of encouragement and support. I signed up for the naval nuclear power program. It was still engineering and still basically college, right?

I’ll spare you the finer details, but boot camp and nuclear power school weren’t exactly the most pleasant of experiences. The pipeline was about 18 months to take an average high school senior and teach them everything they need to know about electricity, thermodynamics, nuclear physics, material science and nuclear chemistry to run a naval nuclear reactor and support systems, and then have them go and run them. Oh, and by the way, you’re still in the military so you better have a sharp uniform on after your 5 a.m. physical training. It was a miserable crucible filled to the brim with anxiety and energy drinks, and attrition was high. I relied a lot on my friends and their motivating spirit to help me study, and in the end, we all pulled through. Next up, the fleet. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to be underway soon, and it’s difficult to put into words how nervous I was about it.

After training, I was assigned to a submarine based in Washington state, and I spent four years putting that submarine back together, training like crazy and finally going out to sea, sometimes for months at a time. I also spent the vast majority of those four years constantly worrying if I really knew what I was doing, wondering if I might take the wrong action in an emergency or give the wrong order. My chief believed in me and guided me through extensive study.

I was eventually trusted to both run the engineering training department and lead the team running the engine room and reactor, an incredible and awesome responsibility. We faced many challenges at sea, and I learned a great deal about teamwork, leadership and trust. In times of trouble, you do not normally rise to the occasion — you fall back on your training. In times of trouble, we were an exceptional team.

My sea time was eventually up, and I rotated to shore duty to teach and mentor the very students whose shoes I was in just a few years previously. Later, I got my degree, got out of the Navy, and worked in solar power for a time. I decided that I wanted to do something different and apply for an MBA program. I figured it was a long shot since I didn’t have any business or finance background, but my wonderful wife encouraged me to go for it. Just like my mom always said, “Might as well ask — the worst they can do is say no.” So, I decided to ask (this strategy works for all sorts of things as well). I didn’t really think it was going to happen, but they said yes! Here I am, finally, a Spartan in the Broad College of Business’ Full-Time MBA program.

I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have someone believing in me almost every step of the way. I have always wondered how on earth I was capable of doing some of the crazy (and some of the mundane) things I have done in my life, but I’m finally coming around to the idea of believing in myself. I am so very fortunate to have people in my life believing in me. Not everyone has a supportive person in their life. Believe in yourself. And while you’re working on that, find someone who could use some kind words of encouragement and be that supportive person in their life, too. Be to them the boost that you wish you had for yourself when times were tough.

You’ll be amazed at what people can achieve if they have someone in their corner, cheering them on as they walk across the stage, apply for that program or finally stick the landing. Let us be the change we wish to see, building a world where we raise each other up. It will make some difference to all, but it will make all the difference to some.

In Other News:

The front vestibule of the Minskoff Pavilion, part of the Business College Complex at Michigan State University and home to the Broad College of Business.
First-year MBA student Kwame Brifo encourages fellow MBA students to look for little victories.
An aerial view of the Business College Complex situated on Michigan State University's East Lansing campus.
MBA student Christopher Millen writes about the power of teamwork in this blog.
Close up of woman taking notes
Kaylee Stevenson, a Class of 2025 MBA candidate, provides five ways to mentally prepare for an MBA program.