From the military to academics and beyond

Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Beare, ‘21 MBA, volunteers with a program on campus that supports current and future veteran students.

Mark Beare, ‘21 MBA, is a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces, where he has served for 23 years. He decided to pursue a part-time MBA in order to gain a network of peers and learn from their experiences and develop skills useful in his current — and future — career.

Beare volunteers with Veteran-Friendly Campus, a two-year pilot project at the University of Alberta that provides support and resources to students who are veterans on campus. In the conversation that follows, he speaks about his time at the U of A, his experience with failure and his involvement with the program. 

*Responses edited for clarity and brevity.

Can you tell me about your current occupation?

I'm the commanding officer for the Canadian Armed Forces Transition Unit Alberta and Northern Canada. Our unit is a highly specialized unit that provides support to ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members and their families. We're headquartered out of Edmonton, and we have Transition Centers in Edmonton, Calgary, Cold Lake and Wainwright. We also provide support to the North through a joint task force in Yellowknife. 

As you can imagine, we have a lot of injured CAF members — whether it's physical or psychosocial injuries or illnesses — who might need a period of rehabilitation. They could come and get posted to us to get the specialist support they need and work on a return-to-duty program where they're still connected to their peers. The goal is retention, getting them better and back to service, and if that happens, great. If it doesn't, then we help them transition out of the CAF. 

What is something you learned or did that helped ease the transition to student life at the U of A?

There were a couple things. The first one was the MBA open house less than a year before the program started. In addition to guest lectures, I met professors, deans and students, toured the facilities and networked with other prospective students. 

Another was the orientation for the MBA program prior to the full- and part-time fall intake. There were lectures, team building activities, and a Myers-Briggs personality test. I got to meet other people with personalities similar to mine and it was a great way to meet the other students. 

The class sizes were small (I had a class with ten people in the first and second semesters) so we became close friends. And the majority of my classmates were also working, so we really got to lean on one another for support, and learn about what each of us did and what we were hoping to achieve from the MBA.

What was the most challenging part of the transition from the military to the academic community?

There were a lot of challenging parts, like creating boundaries around family, work and academics. I tried to do it all — I volunteered for many things and had a hard time saying no to anything at work or in the family. I took on too much, and for me, the biggest challenge was learning how to compartmentalize my efforts.

What did you learn throughout your MBA that has helped you in your career?

There were some technical courses that helped me right away in my previous role as Chief of Staff for our division support group. Things like accounting and organizational strategy helped with decisions around business planning, and I was able to implement those tools right away.  

When I reflect on the things that had the most impact on me as a leader and as a person, it was the work we did on leadership and identifying your values. My values of family, service and perseverance are what make up who I am and what drives me. It was really powerful to be able to put into words what’s important to me and why.

The other course that ignited a passion in me was corporate sustainability. I know when it comes time to transition I want to do a job that is in line with my core values — a job that makes our world a better place. Ideally, that would be in some type of sustainability. 

Leadership is embedded in military training, yet leadership skills are something you took away from your MBA. Can you expand on that? 

Leadership is at the core of what it is to be a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, but at the same time, it's not a one-size-fits-all leadership. You're exposed to different perceptions, perspectives, viewpoints and examples of how to use leadership. So for me, some of the theory behind it and meeting some of my classmates and learning about their experiences was really eye-opening. I also think that as a veteran in an advanced education environment, one of the things we bring is leadership experience. I was able to share a lot of that with my professors and classmates.

I think a benefit to having veterans in the classroom is to share that life experience that could potentially be limited to theory in some cases. That’s one of the big reasons I'm quite passionate about Veteran-Friendly Campus — not only does it benefit the veterans, it benefits the other students and the rest of the university as well.

How do you hope a program like Veteran-Friendly Campus will help future and prospective veteran students?

From my own and other soldiers’ experience, I have witnessed first-hand how empowering it is and the confidence that someone gets from learning new skills, making new connections, and opening new doors. By rolling this out to campus, in Alberta and all across Canada, more of these experiences can be shared by a broader veteran community who need to find confidence in themselves. There is so much opportunity afforded through advanced education, and it opens doors for veterans.

What advice would you give a prospective veteran student thinking of applying to the U of A?

Just do it. The things I learned and the people I met are invaluable. The application was a lot of work in a short amount of time (the GMAT, references, statement of intent, interviews) but remember that if the application is not strong enough, there are people to help you with that.

Can you tell me about your recent experience with failure?

Throughout my 23 years of service, I’ve been promoted several times. I have a really strong work ethic, and I’ve learned the lesson that if you buckle down and put the work in, you're going to get the result. Professionally, and in previous academic settings, that has been a proven recipe for success.

But during my statistics course, I fell behind early. We were learning concepts I wasn’t overly comfortable in. I didn't reach out for help until it was too late. By the time I got connected with some of my peers and some tutors, I had dug myself such a hole that I needed to really just ace the final, and it didn't go that way for me. 

This happened right before Christmas, so during the holidays, I was miserable and sulking. It really put a wet blanket on what should have been a happy time with my family. I took it very personally because I felt like I had let them down. All of the sacrifices of skipping family events, the additional burden that my wife had to carry and not to mention having to repay for that course — that’s money coming straight from our family’s pocket.

But then someone told me that by sulking around, I was also showing my family how to deal with failure. It opened my eyes because I was essentially giving them permission to be miserable and act out if things didn’t go their way. So for me, one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that you may fail at something, but what you do in response is just as important. 

The second time I took that statistics course, I connected with the Academic Success Centre. After an assessment, I was able to get additional time on the midterm and the final and ended up finishing with a B+ in the course. To bring it back to the Veteran-Friendly Campus, the success centre was a tool I didn't even know existed. Now, as we're doing orientation for veteran students, we’re making sure they know of all the available support and can direct them to programs that already exist at the U of A. 

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