Army Veteran finds new career opportunities

The Penn State Smeal Executive MBA program is helping Steven Cummings transition from a career as a commissioned U.S. Army officer to his new career as a corporate professional at Johnson & Johnson.
Steven Cummings standing on an outcropping of rocks.
Penn State Smeal EMBA student Steven Cummings graduated from West Point and was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army, where he served in the 101st Airborne and 10th Mountain Divisions.

Posted December 2020

Throughout his 10 years serving in the military, Steven Cummings said it was the people around him who got him through complex and challenging situations.

Now, as a student in the Executive MBA program, he said the same goes for the Penn State Smeal College of Business — adding that although it takes personal commitment, it’s the college’s faculty, staff, and overall team that help lead everyone to success.

Cummings began his military journey at West Point in 2006 when he was 18. The 9/11 terrorist attacks had been the influencing factor that compelled him and his older brothers to pursue military service.

Upon graduation, Cummings was commissioned as an infantry officer, serving in the 101st Airborne and 10th Mountain Divisions, which he described as being “some of the most prestigious and accomplished light infantry units in the U.S. army.” He said he had the pleasure of leading soldiers into Afghanistan and Iraq and “proudly was able to bring them all home.”

A New Career

After 10 years in the service, Cummings decided to leave the military behind due to family considerations and his desire to start a new career. He said he was fortunate in his military transition because of the highly supportive group of mentors, family members, and colleagues he had to guide him.

“My biggest challenge was switching my mindset from an accomplished military leader to an inexperienced corporate professional,” Cummings said. “Just like when I commissioned as a new Army officer, I knew I needed to gain knowledge and experience.”

Cummings found a corporate mentor through American Corporate Partners and began researching regional companies and networking through the FourBlock Career Readiness program, while looking for an MBA program that would allow him to work immediately upon his transition. While his peers enrolled in two-year resident programs, Cummings searched for a family-friendly program that wouldn’t require him to take two years off from earning an income.

He had heard about the Smeal Executive MBA, which is based in the Philadelphia area, through another veteran who had recently transitioned from the Army and was living in the greater Philadelphia area. After learning more and attending an in-person class, Cummings said the decision to apply was an easy one.

Steven Cummings with his family at the Nittany Lion Shrine.
Penn State Smeal EMBA student Steven Cummings poses at the Nittany Lion Shrine with his wife and two children. Cummings has transitioned from life as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army to a full-time position in Johnson & Johnson's Military Veteran Leadership Development Program, as well as a Smeal EMBA student.

“The location, schedule and team nature of the program all were factors that led to me choosing Smeal over other executive programs,” Cummings said. “With my 10 years of military experience, Smeal’s EMBA program fit perfectly into my needs as a transitioning officer. It gave me the flexibility to begin a new career, take care of my family, and attend a top 30 MBA program.”

Cummings started the EMBA program in August of 2019 when he was 31 years old and in his last year of active duty, which he said wouldn’t have been possible without “an extremely supportive commander and an even more understanding wife.” He also emphasized how Smeal supported him with his time management.

“The balance was difficult, but I was committed to preparing for a new career,” Cummings said. “My high-performing teammates and staff within the Smeal EMBA program made the balance even easier. Without my fellow classmates, I would not have been successful.”

Smeal EMBA Managing Director Teresa Avery said Cummings made sure he "hit the ground running" after his military experience so that he would be able to provide for his family and be successful in his new civilian career.

“During his EMBA journey, he has been a real leader in his cohort, both in an academic sense and beyond,” Avery said. “He brought his significant military experience into the program, added the broad business and strategy skills learned in the EMBA, and made great connections with those in his cohort. Steven is an incredible example of a professional who leveraged the opportunities of the EMBA and is now truly set up for success in his new career.”  

A Strategic Leader

Cummings is now at the 15-month mark of the 17-month experience and has fully immersed himself in the corporate world. He is currently part of Johnson & Johnson’s Military Veteran Leadership Development Program, an 18-month rotational program giving veterans experience across the company’s business units at a managerial level.

Cummings is currently in the first rotation of the program operating as the project management and strategy leader of the Tuberculosis Access Strategy Team within Johnson & Johnson’s Global Public Health Organization. He said this experience has been amazing thus far and that the role gives him “a great sense of purpose, helping bring life-changing health care to low and middle-income communities.”

Cummings said his main goal is to provide a happy and healthy environment for his family, adding that although he has some entrepreneurial desires, playing baseball in his backyard with his children is a bigger priority right now.

In the short to mid-term, he said he’s committed to learning and growing professionally by expanding his corporate experience and knowledge, adding that Smeal has allowed him to find where his business passions exist.

“The Smeal EMBA is a great opportunity for accomplished and driven professionals to take their career to the next level,” Cummings said.

“As a transitioning Army officer beginning a new career, it allowed me to increase my business acumen and professional knowledge, while still balancing commitments to a new career and my family. The collaboration and teamwork that exists between the small cohort of experienced professionals from a wide range of industry has been invaluable to my personal development.”

The Penn State Smeal Executive MBA in Philadelphia can help military applicants understand how GI Bill educational benefits can be applied to the program. A dedicated Office of Veterans Programs at Penn State supports students' application, transition and tenure here at the University. Application fees are waived for active and retired military personnel. Learn more about the Penn State Smeal EMBA online.