UCLA Anderson EMBA Bridges the Military and Civilian Worlds

UCLA Anderson EMBA Bridges the Military and Civilian Worlds


U.S. Naval Flight Officer Lt. Stephanie Koehler (’22) is diversifying her experience

November 28, 2022

Stephanie Koehler (’22) and her crew accepted a thank you gift from the Royal Navy on behalf of their U.S. Navy squadron (VP-10) at the Yeovilton Air Show in England
  • Lt. Stephanie Koehler earned her Executive MBA at UCLA Anderson while serving in the U.S. Navy
  • The Navy offered her full financial support to pursue her degree in exchange for three years’ service back
  • A specialist in theater anti-submarine warfare, Koehler thrived at Anderson, calling her EMBA experience one of the best she’s ever had

It began with a clarinet.

In 2004, Stephanie Koehler (’22), who played the instrument in her high school band, was approached by a recruiter from the Marine Corps. Would the Phoenix, Arizona, native be interested in playing for the Marine Band while serving her country? The question, she says, “got me,” and led her to enlist.

“It was the excitement of the challenge, getting out of my comfort zone and doing something greater than myself that resonated with me.” The then 19-year-old Koehler was stationed at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, where she played her clarinet at weekly graduation ceremonies. What Koehler didn’t know at the time: Her journey would include P-8 aircraft, submarines and, ultimately, UCLA Anderson’s Executive MBA program.

Koehler’s stint with the Marine Band led to other opportunities, such as serving as a drill instructor in South Carolina for the Marine Corps. In 2009, she was selected for a commissioning program, through which she earned a degree in engineering from San Diego State. While at SDSU, Koehler participated in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program and she caught wind of an opening in the Navy. This led her in 2013 to flight school in Pensacola, Florida, where she trained to become a naval flight officer. Her focus: the tactics or weapons systems of P8 aircraft.

“Our primary mission was anti-submarine warfare,” Koehler says.

After a flying tour, Koehler transferred back to San Diego to work with the Undersea War Fighting Development Center in TASW, or Theater Anti-Submarine Warfare. From a command center, she managed ships, planes and submarines on missions to protect against undersea threats. Her current position is with Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) TWELVE. As a tactical air control watch officer, she deploys sailors to oversee air control of aircraft flying on and off ships.

So how did Koehler find herself at Anderson earning her MBA? “I was interested in diversifying my experience and gaining an understanding of the business world beyond the military,” she says.

The Navy places a high value on furthering education and encourages officers of Koehler’s rank to pursue an MBA by offering a fully paid program in exchange for participants’ serving back time. In Koehler’s case, this equates to three years. “I think a big reason for the Navy’s putting so much focus on higher education in our ranks, among our officers especially, is that it brings with it an outside perspective and a different way of looking at things.”

Newly minted Naval Flight Officer Koehler in front of a P-8A after completion of flight school and earning her “wings of gold”

The Navy’s program fit with Koehler’s goals. Plus, “They’d partnered with some impressive schools around the country, among them UCLA Anderson, which topped my list. Not only was it close to where I was stationed, but the EMBA program provided the type of immersion into the business world I was seeking.” Anderson typically enrolls 30 or so veterans and active military in each year’s EMBA class.

Koehler entered Anderson’s EMBA program in the summer of 2020 while she was on a shore tour, a slower-paced tour that accommodates pairing work with school. For Koehler, this meant Anderson’s bi-weekly blended program that includes Zoom classwork and monthly on-campus meetings.

Because of the pandemic, Koehler’s first year at Anderson was completely remote. In 2021, students began working in teams of five over two quarters. “Anderson did a good job of diversifying the teams, bringing together people with different backgrounds, abilities and strengths,” Koehler says. “There were plenty of people from the military in our cohort, but I was the only one in my study group.”

Careers of Koehler’s team members included finance, technology, entertainment and consulting. Koehler found herself questioning what she brought to the table. “Initially, I felt overwhelmed by the coursework, as I hadn’t majored in business,” she recalls. “Here I was in grad school classes with all these impressive peers. I felt a bit of imposter syndrome.”

When a veteran pointed out how Anderson strategically spread the military folks across the teams, Koehler’s perspective changed. “While some students might have expertise in finance or statistics, we naturally gravitated into leadership roles, rallying the teams and keeping everyone on track and meeting deadlines,” she says. “I thought, ‘I do have something to contribute.’”

There were still things to learn about leadership while at Anderson. “The military has a certain leadership style,” Koehler says. “The outside world values that leadership experience, but it doesn’t always fit perfectly, and it requires adjustments.” Through Anderson, she gained insight into how business operates in civilian culture.

Koehler was able to bring new leadership skills from her time in the EMBA program back to the Navy as well. “It influenced my leadership style, which has shifted,” she says. “And it opened my eyes to how to relate to people in easier ways.”

Anderson’s program also had Koehler looking to the future. She’ll soon be eligible for retirement if she so chooses. “There are still some career milestones I have to navigate through in the Navy to see where those go,” she says. “The EMBA degree looks good on my Navy record and has set me well for staying competitive and pursuing certain career paths.”

The likelihood of applying some of the specialized skills she’s attained in the Navy to the civilian world is uncertain. Her leadership skills, though, will be invaluable. Koehler explains, “Because of the Navy’s frequent rotation of positions and responsibilities, you’re constantly trained in something new and you develop an adaptability to quickly become an expert.” Having a degree from Anderson ups the job search ante. “It’s definitely something I can leverage,” Koehler says of the degree. “The experience I’ve gained will translate in the civilian world.”

Even so, her time at Anderson brought with it a reality everyone encounters in the job market. “If you’re in the military and unfamiliar with the civilian world, learning about the hiring process of different industries is eye-opening,” she says. “Anderson made me aware of potential challenges and prepared me for facing them.” Knowledge from UCLA she’s putting into practice includes “the importance of maintaining the network and relationships I built at Anderson for opportunities and potential business ventures in the future.” Should she decide to make that leap at some point, Koehler says, “I feel confident that I’m hirable.”

When asked by others in the military if she’d recommend pursuing higher education, Koehler replies with an emphatic yes. “Getting my EMBA from Anderson was one of the best experiences I’ve had, and I’d go back and do it again a thousand percent,” Koehler says. “I learned so much, not just things on the syllabus, but how the world works.” Even more precious, perhaps? “The people that you meet. I feel like that alone is worth it.”

Read about UCLA’s many resources for veterans who wish to pursue higher education