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Washington State University
Carson College of Business Fall 2017 - Dividend

Rucksacks to Backpacks to Boardroom

Transition Program Supports Students Beyond the Uniform
Story by Sue McMurray, photos by Bob Hubner

Preparing to transition from the military to a civilian career is not always seamless when veterans, used to strict regimes and tight-knit comradery, are faced with the ambiguity of a flexible schedule and unfamiliar peer networks. Normal campus experiences, such as walking into an unsecured classroom, seeing an unaccompanied backpack, or being exposed to noisy hallways may trigger stress for an active duty or veteran student. Even choosing an appropriate major that aligns with their career of choice can be a difficult process.

Out of nearly 900 active service members and veterans enrolled at WSU Pullman and online, over 150 (and growing) are enrolled in the Carson College of Business. One of the services offered to help Carson College and other WSU military students transition to a four-year college experience is Rucksacks to Backpacks, a two-credit elective course taught by WSU Veterans Affairs Coordinator Blaine Golden.


Many veterans and service members tend to have a lot of military acronyms and leadership skills that don’t transfer well to a corporate résumé, says Golden. His course has three sections with specific focus areas that help students gain confidence and build networks. The first section focuses on successful note taking, textbook reading, and interaction with freshmen. In the second section, students must choose three majors, talk to three professors, attend student club meetings, and create a presentation on each of the majors. In the third section, students engage in résumé writing, professional dress, and career preparation workshops.

“Blaine not only provides high level customer service but helps students understand how WSU is the right school for them and connects with them on a professional level,” says Cheryl Oliver, Carson College assistant dean for online and graduate programs.

“While taking this class, I learned about the resources provided by the veteran center and the University to help me in obtaining my degree in human development,” says Michael Solomon (’17), a U.S. Army veteran. “The class itself was well developed and truly helped me navigate through my higher education.”


The Carson College appreciates the service of our nation’s military men and women and is committed to active duty military personnel and veterans. Business is a popular degree for veterans, and many military members pursue the WSU online MBA or Executive MBA to increase their rank or to transition out of the military. “A rank of major requires a master’s degree,” Golden explains. “A lot of officers and senior enlisted service members seek an online MBA as a next step.”

Because Rucksacks to Backpacks is only offered to campus-based students, Golden and Oliver are collaborating to add a boardroom course in 2018 for online MBA and Executive MBA military and veteran students to support their successful transition into military leadership roles or the civilian workforce.

A five-year plan is being developed for the boardroom curriculum, with the ultimate goal of creating engaged alumni who are able to give back to succeeding generations through mentorship and philanthropy. Year one will include a speaker series featuring guests who will speak from their own experiences to inspire students. Year two will focus on investment in tools and material towards job and entrepreneurship coaching and the design of extracurricular programming. In year three, students will enroll in extracurricular programs and be supported by a fully equipped staff and alumni mentors. Year four will include reporting on program success, tracking transitions, and placement measures. By year five, the program will be on a sustainable path through increased enrollments and alumni engagement.

“We expect to improve students’ transition, attain higher retention and graduation rates, and engage alumni in mentorship and other efforts to support current students,” says Oliver. “Building upon the University’s military- friendly status ultimately puts the American Dream in reach of more students.”

The class itself was well developed and truly helped me navigate through my higher education.
– Michael Solomon (’17), U.S. Army Veteran