Former Enlisted Navy Sailor and Power Generation Professional Harnesses the Power of A First-Class Education

Meet Joe Best, first-year Online MBA student at the SMU Cox School of Business.

Joe Best, an SMU Cox online MBA student smiles in his car with his dog

This blog was originally published in July 2020, and was revised in May 2023.

Meet Joe Best, first-year Online MBA student at the SMU Cox School of Business. Prior to coming to SMU Cox, Joe served in the Navy for four years, where he trained extensively to run a nuclear reactor. In 2007, Joe returned to his Texas roots and transitioned back into civilian life. He leveraged his energy expertise from the Navy into a career at a power plant in Glen Rose, Texas. Since then, he’s worked his way up the ranks, becoming a senior reactor operator, and more recently in 2018, he moved on to work at a combined cycle nuclear power plant. Thanks to a renewed passion for education and a desire to increase his knowledge of finance and the nuanced mechanisms that allow certain businesses to flourish, Joe started his Online MBA at SMU Cox.

What brought you to the SMU Online MBA program?

I’m from North Texas, so SMU is locally one of the top business schools. When I heard about the Online MBA program, I really thought through what the degree could mean for me: If I could combine my experience in technological fields with a better understanding of the business side of things, it could really help me grow my career. I didn’t think I’d get accepted, but I’m also big into ‘shoot your shot,’ what’s the worst that’s going to happen? So I went ahead and leveraged my service experience and applied. Thanks to the sterling reputation of SMU Cox and the high caliber individuals I know who have gone there, I really believed there was no better place for me to pursue my MBA than SMU Cox.

What sort of skills or skill set are you hoping to develop by earning your MBA?

The financial data analytics that are necessary for running a business are something that escaped me. I might have a really strong technical background; you and I can sit here and talk for hours about how a nuclear reactor works or how we generate power or how we get oil and gas, but I have no idea how to turn that into running a business. I really am hoping to gain that deeper comprehension of the financial and analytical side of things so that I can pair the two together.

Joe Best on the job as a power generation professional

OMBA Student and Power Generation professional Joe Best, on the job

What is it like earning a master’s degree through an online program?

So far, I love it. I’ve taken online programs before: I took a college at sea program when I was in the Navy, so I’ve taken some form of online program for years. And this program is set up with the Zoom meetings and what they call ‘live sessions.’ Once a week, you can actually get in touch with your fellow students and your professor. The Intro to Data Analytics professor uses videos that he’s recorded on every topic. You can actually watch and rewatch these videos as you study or complete the homework. After class, students go in and review ‘post homework’ topics. Our professor sets Weekend Hours, which allows students to set a private zoom meeting with the professor and his TA before the homework is due to help students.

Joe Best is back at sea on a boat following a career in the Navy

Joe Best, formerly enlisted in the Navy, back at sea

It sounds like courses are structured and fine-tuned to work in an online format. Is that accurate?

Absolutely. The Management and Leadership class I’m in has a live session on Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday. Before the class meets, you are sent any pre-class materials you might need to prepare for the session. Then, after class, you have your post classwork or learning that happens after the session. The setup and how well it works is just really amazing. It’s a very well done program.

As an Online student, how would you describe the sense of community fostered in the program?

  • I started a group study for the Data Analytics Class and the response to that has been overwhelming. We meet twice a week. Over time, I’ve started to get to know the other students in the study group. During class, our professor frequently holds breakout sessions where students literally “break off” from the larger class and transition to working in smaller groups of three or four students, trying to solve a problem. In that time, you start to get to know your classmates. Even as a student enrolled in the Online MBA program, I really feel like a Mustang. I really feel like I’m at SMU. And I know I’m getting a top notch education because the professors that are teaching the regular, residential MBA program are teaching me as well.

Even as a student enrolled in the Online MBA program, I really feel like a Mustang. I really feel like I’m at SMU. And I know I’m getting top notch education because the professors that are teaching the regular, residential MBA program are teaching me as well.

How have the skills you fostered during your time serving helped you while earning your MBA?

In the Navy, you have to be able to look at information and quickly disseminate the right answer, especially when working with a nuclear reactor or you’re a serviceperson navigating a situation that could have life or death consequences. Here at SMU Cox, I’ve found the same need to be able to take bits of information and digest them rapidly. One phrase that is often used in graduate school regarding the quantity of information you’re required to take in is “drinking from a firehose.” Well, I look back and think: I’ve already done that. I’ve already been through programs where you get 1000 bits of information in one week and you’ve got to figure out which bits are the most important in the Navy.

Joe Best in his uniform as a new Naval officer

OMBA student and Navy veteran Joe Best

What advice do you have for other service men or women, past or present, who may be thinking about earning an MBA or some other graduate degree?

I believe the key to being successful and setting yourself up for future success is diversification. And what I mean by that is, you can be very happy in the role that you’re in. There’s nothing wrong with that. But for someone like myself, working in power generation, I’m convinced that how we generate power today is not going to be how we’re doing it in 15 years. My skill set could quickly become obsolete. The only way to prepare for that is to be diversified in your education and your skillset. I’m passionate about getting my Online MBA because I want that diversification of skills that will set me up for the next 40 years no matter what changes, a skill set that can be adapted to whatever comes next.

An Online MBA from the SMU Cox School of Business can help you become more of an asset in your current role or enable you to pivot your career and professional trajectory. If you’re thinking about earning your Online MBA, contact SMU Cox Admissions or get straight to it and apply here today.