On this Veterans Day, Ivy Chamness (MMM 2021) shares how she used lessons learned as a US Marine Corps Officer to pivot during COVID-19.

Kellogg MMM Uses Veteran Experience to be Resilient During COVID-19

By Ivy Chamness (MMM 2021)

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the U.S. and abroad in the spring of 2020, I became one of the many MBA students who was suddenly bereft of a summer internship. Despite toiling through innumerable drafts of resumes and cover letters, diligent casing and hours of interview prep, internship offers were rescinded for many MBA candidates and previously available opportunities quickly dissipated. In-person classes transitioned to completely remote and the entire full-time MBA experience was entirely upended.

Like many of my peers, I was devastated to lose an internship I had worked so long to obtain—especially just a few weeks before the start date. Though these types of situations are impossible to plan for, two lessons deeply ingrained in Veterans are that misery loves company and that plans change. The notion that plans, by their very nature, go awry and that situations can, and often do, rapidly deteriorate is as ubiquitous among Veteran experiences as the camaraderie forged through a shared crucible moment.

Adopting a Veteran mindset

“No plan survives first contact” is a common refrain taught to every US Marine Corps Officer throughout entry-level training, and it is reinforced throughout our experiences. The mantra reverberated around my head when, as a young Second Lieutenant, eager at my opportunity to have a leadership role at RIMPAC, the largest international maritime warfare exercise in the world, was cancelled within days of my deployment date. After all my planning and preparations, my dreams of growing as an officer, gaining new skills and proving myself in a new role evaporated in an instant—not unlike my hopes of landing a PM internship at a tech company last summer.

But, US Marines live by the slogan, “improvise, adapt, and overcome.” Dwelling for too long on setbacks rather than identifying and seizing future opportunities can mean the difference between mission success and failure. This mindset was critical later in my Marine Corps career, when inopportune soil conditions and other unexpected factors jeopardized and nearly derailed a high-profile construction project I was responsible for completing. Thankfully, we overcame the challenge through innovation, collaboration and a comical dose of optimism. Though it was perhaps one of the most stressful moments in my career, years later, our team still checks in with each other and laughs at things we could never have laughed at in the moments when we were sure the project was doomed.

Fortunately, thanks to the outpouring of support from fellow Kellogg students and the innovation among the Kellogg Careers Management Center staff to source new job opportunities, I landed an internship as a PM at a tech startup last summer in the 11th hour. Ironically, I never would have had an opportunity at such a lean tech startup without the pandemic, and the company and experience I had there far surpassed my expectations.

Kellogg’s collaborative community attracted me—and I’m sure many of my fellow Veterans here—because of its close resemblance to the mission-driven, team-first environments we cherished during our time in the military. Because of these common characteristics, I’m encouraged that when plans unravel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our Kellogg community will continue to view changes in circumstances as opportunities to grow, challenges as opportunities to innovate and these trying times as opportunities to come together. While the MBA experiences of the classes of 2020-22 may not be quite as we imagined, our shared experience during this time is something we will never forget. Maybe someday we’ll laugh about it together at reunions. Afterall, misery loves company, even if it is socially distant.