Servant Leadership: From Coast Guard to Education

By

Scott Kirkpatrick General Assembly President Veteran

While on active duty in 1997, GA President and COO Scott Kirkpatrick served as a military social aide to President Bill Clinton in the White House.

To honor our veterans, we’ve compiled a series of interviews with General Assembly staff, students, and alumni that celebrates their time in the service, explores how they found a new career in tech, and reflects on the life and leadership lessons they learned along the way.

Our first story is by Scott Kirkpatrick, General Assembly’s president and COO. If you are a veteran interested in boosting your career through General Assembly’s programs, learn about our discounts here and GI Bill® eligibility here.

Veterans Day is always a time of reflection and pride for me, and I always love to speak with other veterans about their military experiences. For me, my military career started when I chose to attend college at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. My father served as a soldier in the Vietnam War, and he always taught me to do things bigger than myself. That value was the inspiration for me to attend the Coast Guard Academy instead of “normal” college.

The mission of the Coast Guard is to save lives, and I was drawn to the humanitarian aspect of the service. I had no idea what I was getting into when I stepped onto campus for a summerlong bootcamp. It was a surreal experience in which the cadre shaved off my long hair, required me to square every corner and sleep with my rifle, and allowed only three responses: “Yes, sir/ma’am,” “No sir/ma’am,” or “No excuse sir/ma’am.” It was an intense summer, but I quickly learned the value of teamwork, respect, and perseverance. I relied on my classmates to get through extremely challenging and intimidating experiences — and those classmates are still close friends today.

The military throws you into real-life leadership experience at a very young age. I graduated from the Academy at 22 years old and, as an ensign, was immediately put in charge of 25 people on a Coast Guard cutter in Long Beach, California. You are put into situations where sound decision-making is the difference between life and death, whether you’re conducting immigration and drug-interdiction operations or taking care of everyday business.

Like a supervisor in a company, I was responsible for all aspects of the department, including managing and developing the staff. Unlike leadership roles later in life, I knew a lot less than everyone else, and I was overseeing people on a ship who had 20 years of experience. I quickly learned the value of servant leadership. I spent most of my time listening and asking questions; the result was a collaborative operational plan that the entire team aligned around. Once they trusted that I was there to serve them, they worked very hard for me.

Transitions: Finding a Path in Civilian Life

When I was medically discharged from the service for numerous knee injuries, I was super scared. It is very daunting to leave the armed services and enter the civilian world. There is a standard operating procedure (SOP) for most things in your life. There isn’t an SOP for civilians. The military takes care of everything for you, from housing, to food, to transportation. It is a nice protective bubble.

The civilian world has a lot of unknowns, and we get very little guidance in how to navigate transitioning out of the service. I felt like I didn’t have any real skills — I was a military officer who was good at driving a ship and introducing the president of the United States. How did I even go about getting a job? I didn’t understand how to translate my skills to what was relevant for employers.

The only real option I saw was graduate school because I had no idea what to do, and figured business school would teach me how to get a job. Then when I was accepted to MIT’s business school, I didn’t know how I was going to afford it. Thankfully, the Veterans Administration came to my rescue, and I was able to pay most of my education costs through the Veteran’s Assistance program because I was a disabled vet.

Scott Kirkpatrick General Assembly Veteran

Serving Through Education

After graduating from MIT, I knew I wanted to do something that gave me the same career satisfaction I had in the service. The first place I worked was at a consulting firm focused on education, where my first client was the nonprofit New American Schools. I fell in love with education, and haven’t worked in any field since.

The mission of the Coast Guard is to save lives. I believe the mission of education is to improve lives. Saving lives and improving lives defines my professional career. Like the military, working in education allows me to serve others. I’ve been in the sector for 16 years and I’ll never leave.

Education is the mechanism by which individuals can gain and apply knowledge throughout their lives. Learning never stops; it keeps us alive and makes us and those around us better. Skills acquired through learning is the ultimate currency for employers.

When I was transitioning out of the military, there was no General Assembly. The only options were multiyear higher-education; there weren’t accelerated learning programs that would give veterans the necessary technical expertise to complement their already-strong critical thinking and leadership skills.

At GA, we’ve already served a lot of veterans through our career-changing, full-time Immersive programs in coding, data, and design through our Opportunity Fund scholarship. We are also deeply proud to announce that veterans are now eligible to use their post-9/11 GI Bill® benefit for our Web Development and User Experience Design Immersives in New York, and we are in the process of securing approval in all of our eligible U.S. markets. GI Bill® eligibility means so much to me. I spend a lot of time working with Coasties who are transitioning out of the service. I know from my own experience how hard that transition is, and I believe the best way to succeed is through education. I would not be leading General Assembly without education, and the Veterans Administration helped me fund my education.

I now work at a company where I can influence the lives of so many veterans who went through that same scary feeling of transitioning out of the service. You build a lot of confidence in the military, but you can go out into the real world and lose it. It’s really hard coming out of such a structured environment, and this is an economical, quicker-impact way of taking your next step.

I am so humbled to be working for General Assembly; GA is a very special place where individuals who are lost and lonely can find the work they love. We do that through amazing support and expertise throughout the learning process. Everyone at General Assembly, our staff and instructors, feels the same way as I do about our mission. We are driven by the lives we change.

It has a been a true privilege to get to know to know so many passionate, smart veterans who are taking the next step in their lives and career at General Assembly. In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing more service member stories from our community, reflecting on the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

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Boost your career through leading-edge programs at General Assembly. Veterans can receive exclusive discounts on courses in coding, data, design, and more. Veterans are also now eligible to use their post-9/11 GI Bill® benefit for our full-time, career-changing Web Development and User Experience Design Immersives in New York (more U.S. markets will be secured soon).

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