When Rusty Sloane retired as a Commander from his 22-year military career in 2011, he remained a pilot for nearly two years before he transitioned into his current managerial role. However, the Navy and Coast Guard veteran soon discovered he would need additional higher education to help him soar to new heights in his civilian career.
"I had plenty of leadership experience and all that goes along with it," Sloane said. "However, as I got out, I realized that no matter how much leadership experience — or really just experience — that you bring to the table, there are certain doors that are going to remain closed unless you have an MBA. For that reason, I decided to go ahead and do what I could to leverage my way into some of those doors."
Sloane is less than a week from completing the online Master of Business Administration program at Baylor. The last time he walked the graduation stage was with a Bachelor of Arts in History from Virginia Military Institute in 1988.
"I'm 51, so I was 48 when I started the MBA program," he said. "A lot of my friends were like, 'Man, that's an old dog.' Since I've been going through it, the same people have come back and said, 'You know, I really think I can do this' or 'I should have done this.'"
Sloane is manager of new helicopter deliveries for Airbus Helicopters in Grand Prairie, Texas. He lives in Maypearl, about 40 miles south of his office.
"I got out of the military at the lowest point of the economy," he said. "I flew very briefly for a medical company. Then, I went on to a pilot position with Airbus in 2012. I was an instructor pilot for two years before transitioning out of the cockpit into a managerial role. I've been doing that for three-and-a-half years."
Once Sloane decided to return to school for an MBA, he had already been accepted to both Alabama and USC when he first contacted Baylor University.
"They contacted me within a half-hour of me sending the inquiry," he said. "The reason I chose Baylor was their faith-based statement. I really liked their unapologetic faith-based mission, right there for everyone to see. That really fits in with my lifestyle."
Sloane quickly found out he had made the right decision.
"Within two weeks into this program, it was already paying dividends in business," he said. "There was one communications course where they taught you to talk in front of the camera, which I didn't really need. Some people did. In the military, we briefed a lot of people every day. Then again, there were things I struggled with that other people didn't. I couldn't believe how quickly it started paying dividends."
Sloane's favorite course in the online MBA curriculum was Managing Information Technology in the Business Enterprise [MIS 5450], which was taught by Dr. Tim Kayworth.
"It's amazing how much of that information can be leveraged to assist you in your marketing, sales and finance," Sloane said. "It can touch every part of your department, if you're savvy enough to know how to use your IT department. I went in thinking that all IT did was set up your computers, solve problems and put up firewalls. It was the only course I took that I was sad when it was over with. I also enjoyed statistics because the professor [Jeremy McElroy] was outstanding."
Sloane was also impressed with assistant director of graduate student services Mary Reinhardt.
"Mary is critical to any success I have enjoyed and that of many other MBA students," he said. "She is the absolute glue that bonds each student to Baylor and to each other. She is a great mentor, cheerleader and educator, sometimes all three within the same conversation."
In addition to the benefits Sloane will reap from holding an MBA, there were a couple of other very strong reasons for him to enroll. First, the majority of his tuition was covered by the GI Bill.
"Baylor has a Veterans Affairs department representative named Jessica Alford," he said. "She's outstanding, very forward-leaning. One or two times, my pay was messed up on the government side. She just stepped right in and straightened it right out. I think 30 percent of our class is military."
Sloane and his wife, Luckie, have also seen their four daughters -- Savannah (22), Laredo (12), Brenham (9) and Abilene (7) -- pay even more attention to their own grades since he returned to school. Savannah will graduate from Randolph-Macon College with a communications degree in February 2018.
"All of my children have upped their game academically," he said. "When they see me not watching college football on Saturdays to study for 8-10 hours, it has really taken a lot of the excuses away. They've really embraced it. They go down to Baylor quite a bit; they're excited about going to Baylor. The benefit to them seeing daddy walk across the stage has planted a seed that I could not have accomplished without this."
The support of his family has been a big key to Sloane's success in the Baylor online MBA program.
"With my family being from the military, I just kind of explained it like, 'Daddy is going on deployment again.' I said, 'I'm going to be this shadowy figure.' For the first year, that was about right. I took all of my math courses the first year-and-a-half. I was just a guy they saw driving down the driveway. They were excited, but I'll be honest, it is a wear on the family. I couldn't have done it without them."
Now that Sloane is close to graduation day, he is looking forward to spending more time with his family and participating in other activities he enjoys.
"We have horses and cows, so raising cattle and working there is enjoyable," he said. "It takes up a lot of my free time. I also do a lot of reclaiming old wood."
Sloane, who grew up in a small town outside of Greensboro, North Carolina, is the first person in his immediate family to earn a college degree. He is very excited to walk the graduation stage again, this time with his family cheering him on.
"The MBA was a challenge," he said. "It remains a challenge. In a recent comment I posted at Baylor, I said, 'I've seen a lot of people a lot smarter than me fail out of the program because of the family.' They did not correctly align their family's expectations. I would say, 'Pursue it, but also prepare your family for it.' I got more value out of it than I expected. I never would have imagined it would have been this deep."
Learn more about the Baylor online MBA program.
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