Unique student group works to increase number of veterans in Rice’s MBA programs


The Next Mission

By Michael Hardy ’06
Photos by Tommy LaVergne

Four days after his 30th birthday in 2010, Maj. William E. Lyles was leading a team of Army Green Berets on a mission to meet with tribal leaders in the village of Garmab in Afghanistan’s remote, mountainous Urozgan Province, when their Humvees began taking small-arms fire. Lyles directed his driver to take up a position on a hilltop to the north of the village, where he jumped out to assess the situation. He was in the process of radioing back to base to request air support when he stepped on a buried IED (improvised explosive device).

Veterans“At first I thought it was a mortar round,” Lyles remembered. “All my teeth were loose. My legs felt heavy, but there was this cloud of dust so I couldn’t see what had happened. I was trying to get up and get back in the fight, and I just couldn’t.”

When the dust finally cleared, Lyles saw that his right leg had been severed above the knee and his left leg was gone below the shin. “I didn’t think I was going to make it,” he said. “I tried to take deep breaths, because if you freak out you go into shock, and I knew I wouldn’t have a chance.”

Today after four years of grueling rehab at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Lyles is a first-year MBA student at the Jones Graduate School of Business. He’s adjusted to life without his legs — he uses a wheelchair and two prosthetic legs to get around now — but the adjustment to civilian life, which included the breakup of his marriage, has been rocky at times. “I miss the Army more than anything,” he said. “I wish I was still able to do what I did, but this is good, too. I’m going to get a chance to lead again, in a different capacity.”

Lyles is part of a large and growing veteran presence at the Jones School — 10 percent of students enrolled across the school’s three MBA programs (full time, professional and executive) have served in the armed forces. In 2009, Rice was one of the first schools to join the Yellow Ribbon Program, which provides federal matching funds to help veterans attend private schools where the post-9/11 GI Bill often doesn’t cover the full cost of tuition.

VeteransFormer Navy SEAL James Battista enrolled in the Jones School in 2011 after a decade in the military. “I realized that oil and gas companies operate in similar places to where I was operating — Iraq, Yemen, hard places to operate,” Battista said. Along with his fellow military classmates, Battista founded the Veterans in Business Administration (VIBA) to provide mentoring for students making the transition from the military to academia. Support soon coalesced around the idea to create an annual scholarship to cover tuition, fees and living expenses for one veteran to earn a graduate business degree. Jones Graduate School of Business Dean Bill Glick, along with Rice trustees and members of Jones’ leadership team, inaugurated the scholarship in 2012. (Lyles is this year’s recipient.)

“Here veterans get a two-year window after they come out of the military to figure out what they want to do,” Glick said. “And in the process, they figure out which parts of their military leadership training actually translate into the business world. They come in with advanced leadership skills in some dimensions, and we give them opportunities to grow and develop. And vets are very good at doing that. They’ve got a great sense of mission.”

This story is featured in the winter 2016 issue of Rice Magazine. To read the rest of the story and others, visit https://issuu.com/riceuniversity/docs/rice_university_winter_2016/24-25.

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