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Making the change from the Navy to Google

Meghan Wilkens

Meghan Wilkens (MBA ’20) was thrilled to find an MBA program that allowed her the flexibility to study at times that work best for her in an online format, while still granting her the ability to build meaningful relationships with her peers.

She enrolled in MBA@UNC while on active duty in the military, subject to transfers and extensive travel, while raising two young children with her husband, who is also a military officer.

“The structured schedule of an in-person program would have been difficult to manage, especially during my husband’s deployment – I was definitely looking for a more flexible class format,” says Wilkens.

MBA@UNC, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2021, enabled her to reach her professional goals without having to disrupt her job or her life. She dedicated herself to pursuing her education, attending class in the evenings after putting children to bed in Norfolk, Virginia.

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Like her peers, Wilkens is highly ambitious. The MBA was essentially a second job, but it was well worth the effort. The degree enabled a successful career transition to Google, where she continues to exercise the skills she gained while studying at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Like many students who choose MBA@UNC, she was looking to switch careers. After a decade of active duty service in the U.S. Navy as a supply officer, she was ready for a new challenge. Wilkens had a unique role in the military where she was part of the development and execution of a leading Navy innovation training program.

“I really feel like the MBA program opened the door for me. Google has a strong network of UNC alumni.”

Coming from a non-traditional background did not preclude her from an advanced business education and challenging coursework that developed her technical business acumen and leadership skills. “I was initially quite nervous about the high-level math classes as I hadn’t practiced calculus since my undergraduate days,” she says, “but the MBA program at UNC gave me everything I needed to be successful.”

Her professors were very approachable whenever she needed support. “I loved the faculty and I had easy access to them – they were always available and willing to help when I reached out for it,” says Wilkens.

And she learned just as much from her fellow MBA students. They are diverse and experienced professionals who live and work around the world in varied professions, whether teachers, pilots, athletes or musicians. They share real-world knowledge in the classroom, amplifying the course material and enriching the quality of discussions.

Meghan Wilkens“What set UNC Kenan-Flagler apart was the spirit of collaboration,” Wilkens says. “I applied to a few other schools but they had a more competitive culture – those who get the top grades get the best job offers – so the desire to help one another didn’t seem as prevalent as it did with UNC.”

She wanted an environment focused on team effort and collegial support, which would mirror her experience in the military. “It’s ‘One team, one fight’ in the Navy,” she says. “UNC Kenan-Flagler felt familiar to me in that way.”

Cutting-edge technology enabled high-touch interactions during weekly live classes with her classmates, with whom she built close bonds. What solidified those lifelong relationships for Wilkens was the STAR consulting program, which matches bright student teams with corporate partners to solve their complex business challenges.

She developed recommendations for United Healthcare, an eye-opening experience that broadened her expertise in a new industry and provided access to senior executives for learning and networking opportunities.

“I was the team leader for our project and it gave me real-world experience that was completely different from the military,” Wilkens says. “The STAR project gave me the opportunity to interact with an actual client and pitch our recommendations. It was a unique and valuable experience.”

She also found great benefit from the immersion events which she attended on campus in Chapel Hill – a highlight of her MBA experience. MBA@UNC students attend at least two Summits during the program, which are immersive, in-person experiences hosted quarterly.

She spent time getting to know the Tar Heel community on these Summits, along with taking coursework on leadership and advanced management techniques. “There are options to attend immersions in different global locations, but I chose to come to UNC Kenan-Flagler to build a connection with the School,” says Wilkens. “I was able to meet many of my fellow classmates in person, and that was really valuable.”

During the MBA@UNC program, she landed an internship at tech giant Google. After completing her summer internship, she was offered a full-time position.

Meghan Wilkens“I really feel like the MBA program opened the door for me at Google,” she says. “Plus, it was really nice meeting other UNC Kenan-Flagler students at the internship – Google has a strong network of UNC alumni.”

Wilkens is clear that the STAR program was pivotal to her continued success at Google. “It prepared me for a lot of what I deal with today,” she says. “During my MBA program, I gained a lot of practical experience in making recommendations and communicating them effectively to build support for my ideas. That is a big part of my role today.”

At Google, she is a senior program manager, working remotely from the Netherlands, where her husband is stationed with the military.

“Coming from a mission-centric and service-driven role in the military, it is awesome to be at a company where I feel like my work is still in service to others,” she says in a Google interview. “Being part of such a great team of people who are all working towards that same mission is really wonderful, and it creates an aspect of camaraderie that I felt during my time in the Navy.”

Even while based in Europe, she still feels a sense of close connection to UNC Kenan-Flagler and she has maintained her links to the Business School, volunteering her time on occasion to talk to new students and share her lessons learned.

“Transitioning out of the military can be difficult and stressful,” says Wilkens, “but UNC Kenan-Flagler really helped prepare me for the next chapter of my life.”

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