Olin Veterans Association provides connection and support to student veterans

  • November 10, 2023
  • By Suzanne Koziatek
  • 4 minute read

From military veterans in the first stages of their business school search to current classes and alumni, the Olin Veterans Association has served as a powerful force for recruitment and support of veteran students for nearly 20 years.

For many of Olin’s military veterans, the OVA was a deciding factor in their choice to seek a degree here.

“I got brought into WashU by OVA, my twin brother got brought into WashU by OVA—we definitely play a big role in recruiting our own,” said Colin Barry, the organization’s current president.

Barry, MBA 2024, calls the OVA “a support network like no other.”

“It’s not based on where you’re born, or your affinities. It’s based on a calling that you felt. We’re all joined together because we felt a significant calling.”

Veterans.jpgThe student organization is a small one with about 30 current members, most of them MBA students. “What that breeds is a sense of really getting to know your classmates well,” Barry said. “You spend a lot of time together, you work with each other, there’s just more interaction.”

The OVA connects this current cohort with hundreds of alumni who regularly meet with them and provide a valuable network of support and advice.

“We have a really tight and powerful network,” said Jack Senneff, MBA 2008, an active OVA alum. “If you reach out to any OVA member, you get an immediate response: ‘Yeah, I’d love to help.’”

‘A common background’

Barry and Senneff both credited the OVA with helping them decide to come to Olin.

After Senneff left the US Army in 2004, he worked for a large company for a couple of years then began his search for a business school to obtain his MBA. When he contacted Olin, he was immediately put in touch with the OVA, and he and his wife attended a weekend event where he met other members.

“I immediately felt like we had a common background, and I could see this as feasible and less daunting,” Senneff said. “My wife met other military spouses. When we finished the weekend, my wife asked, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘I think this is the place, don’t you?’ and she immediately said, ‘Oh yeah, of course!’”

Barry, who is from the St. Louis area, left the US Marine Corps in 2022 and told family and friends he was interested in pursuing an MBA. “Within a few days, I had some alumni calling me, saying ‘What do you need to know?’ That’s the OVA network.”

Once at Olin, veterans said OVA provided an important source of support and understanding of their unique journeys.

“As you’re making these big adjustments in your life and you’re in a new environment, it’s been really good to have like-minded people you can talk to, professionally and personally, who have experienced things the same way,” said Dan Sullivan, MBA 2025.

Senneff, a managing director at Thompson Street Capital Partners, said he emphasizes to OVA student veterans how much their skills are sought in the business world.

“I’ve told many OVA students that the business community wants somebody with leadership, with discipline, somebody with experience making important decisions with limited information,” he said. “From someone else, that sort of encouragement might sound hollow, but they can look at me and know that I speak from experience.”

The OVA holds two main events each year—a fall Dining-In that brings together current students and alumni to hear from speakers, and a Dining-Out, a larger social gathering that includes spouses and members of the Gateway Battalion, the St. Louis-area ROTC program.

At the 2023 Dining-In, OVA members met new Olin Dean Mike Mazzeo and heard from former US Sen. Jim Talent. The next Dining-Out is scheduled for February 8, 2024.

Strengthening the network

In recent years, OVA alumni have been working to strengthen the veterans’ network, Senneff said. They’ve formed an advisory board to help provide continuity to the organization.

“It lets us think about other ways we can expand, not just in St. Louis, but outside of St. Louis as well,” Senneff said. “We have alumni everywhere.”

They hope to enrich the OVA network’s usefulness to Olin prospects and alumni.  

“When we hear about a prospective student who is thinking about Olin, it would be great to look at an individual’s profile—branch of service, industry interest—and be able to check a database and say, ‘Here are the eight people in the OVA community that would be awesome for this candidate to talk to,’” Senneff said.

Similarly, it could connect students interested in an industry with alumni looking for talent. “That process is organic now, but it could be more formalized,” he said. “That will be a powerful tool.”

Photo credit: Carol Green/Washington University

About the Author

Suzanne Koziatek

Suzanne Koziatek

As communications and content writer for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to seek out the people and programs making an impact on the Olin community and the world. Before coming to Olin, I worked in corporate communications, healthcare education and as a journalist at newspapers in Georgia, South Carolina and Michigan.

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