The Global Executive MBA Experience for Participants with U.S. Military Background

Derek Burke
GEMBA Class of 2020
Current Role: Course Director and Instructor at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany

Please tell us a bit about your background prior to joining GEMBA and your career in the military before and after the program.
As a Seattle area native, I have served in the US Army for 21 years, both enlisted and officer. I had zero business world experience but a wealth of leadership experience. Prior to attending the UW GEMBA program, I was a senior Company Grade officer having just completed Company Command with a broadening assignment at the US Army National Training Center. Following GEMBA graduation, I was promoted to Major and currently serve as a course director and instructor at the NATO School in Oberammergau Germany where I direct and teach Joint Plans and Operations Courses. In the summer of 2023, I will transition to a Battalion Operations/Executive Officer role.

The military invested in you to be part of the UW GEMBA program for one year. How important was that experience in helping you to continue to grow and advance in your career?
An MBA from a top business school such as Foster is great for anyone’s career and that is no different in the military. It makes you extremely competitive for promotion and opens up other career options. I’ve since been contacted by other organizations within the Army (United States Military Academy at West Point, US Army Marketing Officer Functional Area) and encouraged to apply for their opportunities as a result of the UW GEMBA program. The leadership and ethics courses and the team-oriented assignments and presentations offered throughout the GEMBA program are directly applicable to military service. The operations management and quantitative modeling courses have been very useful in my current role teaching operations planning. I do plan to eventually retire from military service and to transition to the business world. Leveraging my GEMBA experience and network as well as the Foster School career services will aid that transition when the time comes.

Through your GEMBA experience, what has been one of the most important contributions you have made to the military? Or what part of your GEMBA education has been most applicable to your current position?
The daily interaction with the international cohort of students and cultural awareness courses has proved extremely valuable to my career. In my current role, I interact daily with students and staff from across the 30 countries of the NATO alliance. My experience in GEMBA not only gave me a better understanding of other cultures and how they communicate but also how I am perceived and communicate with people from different backgrounds.

I was in the GEMBA class of 2020 and in the program when COVID hit. I was very impressed with the GEMBA and Foster staff and faculty with their resilience and extreme flexibility with continuing to offer quality instruction. I’ve found myself on the faculty end of COVID here at the NATO school and have relied on my experience at the Foster School employing some of the same course delivery methods I first saw there.

What advice would you give to a fellow military officer who is considering applying to the UW GEMBA Program?

Give the UW GEMBA program serious consideration. The instructor quality and professionalism, smaller class size, international executive classmate cohorts, access to the UW Foster clubs and programs, and guest speakers from the second-to-none Seattle business community all make the GEMBA program a top choice for anyone considering an MBA.

As far as the military goes, I really liked that the program length is only one year. This gets you back to work sooner and you end up owing the military less time on the back end as a result. Having a smaller time commitment to the military gives you more options if transitioning from the military is in your plan. I also really liked that if sponsored by your organization then the GRE/GMAT requirement is waived for the application process. That makes life much easier if you don’t have to take those exams and still able to get into a top MBA program.

Any other comments/feedback you have about your GEMBA program experience?

Aside from the obvious benefits of a GEMBA education from a top business school such as Foster, the cohort nature of the course work and opportunity to learn from your classmates was just as valuable as the formal instruction. The GEMBA team does a great job bringing in professionals from a wide variety of fields and it makes for a wonderful classroom environment. Everyone will have an area of expertise (accounting is not mine) that is able to help out the group and bring the team projects to a successful result. I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know all my classmates so well throughout the course and value the relationships that I now have with them.

The one-year Global Executive MBA program is designed for individuals who have strong international experience. Learn more.