Into Open Water
Overcoming multiple obstacles—and thousands of miles away from home—Michael Speciale earns his MBA during active-duty service
By Ashley Rabinovitch
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Speciale was only two weeks into his online MBA program at Baylor University when he was deployed to East Africa. He was just starting to get into the rhythm of lectures and assignments when he found himself nearly 9,000 miles from Waco.
No one would have blamed him if he had chosen to defer his studies, but he resolved to make it work. Before traveling to more remote areas with poor connectivity, he would print out reading assignments for days or weeks at a time, requesting flexibility from his professors as needed.
“Thanks to an incredible level of support from the staff and faculty at Baylor, I was able to graduate on time while still meeting my obligations to the U.S. Navy,” he said. “I’ll always be grateful for the ways everyone at Baylor went above and beyond to help me overcome the obstacles I faced.”
Michael Speciale, MBA ’16
Finance Manager; DaVita Kidney Care
The Texas native had already spent four years in active duty before deciding to pursue an MBA.
“Having an MBA in the U.S. Navy is a major asset,” he said. “I was ready to add new tools to my toolbox in terms of solving problems and leading people.”
In his years serving aboard ships and smaller patrol boats, Speciale supervised up to 25 people at a time.
“Before enrolling in the MBA program, I would recognize the need to do more with the resources I had, but I didn’t know how to go about making an actual change,” he said. According to Speciale, the MBA program imparted the tools he needed to maximize efficiency in staffing and management processes. Surprisingly, though, it was a class in negotiations that most informed his day-to-day work.
“There is not a lot of negotiating within the military, especially at junior ranks, so that class opened my eyes to the possibility of win-win situations,” he said.
During his deployment in East Africa, he put his newly-honed negotiation skills to work as a public information officer. It was a “trial by fire” as he collaborated with the African Union, private sector and foreign governments to provide humanitarian services near the border of Kenya and Somalia.
After graduation, Speciale transitioned out of the Navy and into civilian life with a facilities manager position at DaVita Kidney Care, a healthcare provider that provides life-saving kidney care for more than 200,000 patients across the U.S. annually. Adjusting from the breakneck speed of military operations to the gentler world of patient care has presented its own set of challenges, but Speciale has adapted well in part because of his MBA experience. Now, as a finance manager at DaVita, he constantly thinks back to root cause analyses and process improvement exercises from his classes as he works to improve patient care.
One of Speciale’s only regrets is that he never had the chance to visit campus during his time as a student at Baylor. But even though he didn’t meet his fellow students in person until graduation day, he has made friends that stay in touch to this day.
“Baylor understands what it is to be a family,” he said. “I never felt like a tuition check or a number even though I completed the entire degree virtually. I had a powerful experience from start to finish.”