Over the last nine years, U.S. Army Capt. Sarah A. Martin has served in Afghanistan, at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, at the Presidio of Monterey in California, and for the last two years at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Her current mission: to earn a Master of Business Administration degree.
“Through my experience in the Army, I saw how so many factors — operations decisions, policy, logistics, leadership, balancing a training budget — came to bear on the outcome of important real-life decisions,” Martin says. “Business school is a great opportunity for me to delve beyond all my big-picture observations and really learn more about the ingredients it takes to make an organization work well.”
Martin’s journey to Stanford GSB began at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in economics. Martin, who was commissioned as a logistics officer, served in Afghanistan in 2010–11, where she led truck convoys delivering supplies to combat outposts.
When Martin returned to her unit, the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, she managed the logistics — budget planning, and the coordination of services and supplies — required to train and operate a special troops battalion of more than 400 soldiers.
Her next place of duty was the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, where she served as associate dean of the Persian Farsi School and led 130 instructors and staff that provided culturally based foreign-language education and training to military linguists.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
Martin says one of the highlights of her Stanford experience was working on a team with two orthopedic surgeons, a mechanical engineer, and two bioengineers for Biodesign Innovation, a project-based course for students interested in inventing new medical devices and technologies to improve health care for patients around the world.
Martin’s team looked at ways to reduce ankle swelling for patients who need ankle fracture surgery. Reducing inflammation would allow patients to get surgery faster, which could reduce complications caused by surgical delays, she said.
By the end of the two-quarter course, the team unveiled “SwellStop,” a pressure-based treatment to reduce swelling — an idea that won “Best Solution” at the Health Technology Showcase of Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign. Although the course has ended, Martin and four members of the team continue working on their prototype.
“We filed our provisional patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last May and look forward to filing our utility patent soon,” she says. “Now we’re in the Student-In-Residence program at StartX, which provides scholarships, mentorship, coaching, and expert advice to student entrepreneurs. I’m working with my team to take the project as far as possible, so they can carry the torch when I go back to the Army.”
Learning the Lingo
Martin, who grew up in Santa Clara, California, says she was attracted to the Stanford MBA Program for its entrepreneurial mindset.
“I really like how Stanford students think,” she says. “They’re very big-picture thinkers. No problem is too big to think about solving. Coming from a large organization like the Army, which has 450,000 active duty members and is not known for being lean and agile, I thought I could learn a lot by studying the entrepreneurial side of business.”
As an MBA student, Martin says, one of her first tasks was mastering a new vocabulary.
“I was impressed with how flawlessly my peers seemed to integrate their previous work experience with the terminology flying around in my classes,” she says. “I had to coach myself not to be intimidated by the new terms, soak up as much as possible from my classmates, and attend every lunchtime guest speaker presentation possible.”
Martin also got help from an unexpected source — Silicon Valley, a television comedy about a start-up company in the Bay Area’s high-tech hub.
“As soon as I starting watching that show, everything made sense to me — cap tables, term sheets, SaaS, B2B, consumer space, verticals,” she says. “It was all jargon before, but Silicon Valley helped me get it down.”
At the business school, Martin has taken a variety of classes, including Ethics in Management, Strategy Beyond Markets, Alphanomics: Informational Arbitrage in Equity Markets and Real Estate Development. She also roamed beyond Stanford GSB, studying The Neurobiology of Sleep in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Regulating Artificial Intelligence at Stanford Law School.
Hard-Wired for Successful Teamwork
In addition to her studies, Martin serves as co-president of the Stanford GSB Veterans Club, which supports prospective military MBA candidates, provides career information and alumni support, and fosters camaraderie and esprit de corps among veterans.
Military Veterans at Stanford GSB
Last year, Martin and two classmates — a former fighter pilot and a former military intelligence officer — talked to prospective students during the webcast Military Veterans at Stanford GSB. They discussed financial aid, fellowships, and campus life, and encouraged veterans to apply, saying their leadership skills would be considered an invaluable asset.
Martin says veterans have many qualities that make them excellent students. In addition to the wisdom and maturity gained from years of military service, veterans bring grit, determination, and a strong work ethic to their studies, she says.
“We have a hard-wired drive to see our groups and teams succeed,” she says. “I’ve found that veterans make great group-project partners. We’re positive, reliable, show up on time, and run our projects efficiently. Vets also show a great amount of patience and kindness in groups, because we run off the idea that we all need to get to the finish line together.”
Martin, who was recently selected for promotion to Major, will graduate in June. Her next mission: teach economics to cadets at West Point.
“As I head back to the Army,” she says, “I look forward to bringing a set of real-world examples to my classroom and using my Stanford GSB experiences to think more broadly about how to achieve security and peace in a tough, complex world.”
— Kathleen J. Sullivan