Mission Accomplished: An Army Veteran’s Path to Commencement at Georgia Tech
While that phrase may have taken on new meaning since his days as an active-duty member of the U.S. armed forces, Patrick Benitez’s mindset remained the same as he pursued an M.S. in analytics from Georgia Tech — a three-year journey that culminates Friday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Balancing a full-time career, continued service in the U.S. Army Reserves, and becoming a new dad, Benitez completed his degree online from his home in Virginia, and despite the challenges, he was able to maintain a unique perspective.
“Flexibility during adversity is one of the key traits I was able to integrate into this program, because the Army taught me extremely well to ‘adapt and overcome.’ As a result, you hardly ever see me get stressed out because I just draw on my foundational skills,” Benitez said before sharing the one thing that always gets him back on track. “I think, ‘I’m just lucky that I'm not back in Afghanistan’ — and then my outlook on life does a complete 180.”
Benitez called this degree a team effort, and every team needs a leader. With a new baby boy at home, he credits his wife for stepping up to fill that role.
“She serves as a foundation that holds everything together. This degree would not have happened if it wasn't for her, because the diaper changes, the long nights, and the weekends when I needed to play catch-up can all be attributed to her being ‘super mom’ on the days that I needed to be a good student,” he said.
Preparing to graduate from Cal State Fullerton in 2006, Benitez — the son of a 20-year Navy veteran — knew his dreams of entering the tech field would have to wait. After deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Benitez became a civil affairs officer with the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade before transitioning into the reserves while earning his MBA from LSU. But his Silicon Valley dream never left him. Knowing the prestige that Georgia Tech carries as an institution and hearing of its glowing reputation within the veteran community during his service, Benitez’s decision was a no-brainer when it came time to get back in the classroom.
“Every single peer or even mentor that I've had was affiliated with Georgia Tech in one way or another, either alumni or professors, and I looked up to them,” he said. “I felt that, based on those interactions and how well Georgia Tech took care of its veterans, it was an easy choice.”
Praising the Institute for setting veterans up for success, Benitez noted how seamlessly he was able to settle in and focus on his coursework. With a plethora of resources at the ready, Benitez hopes to see other members of a community with so much to offer follow in his footsteps.
“To me, the veteran community continues to be underutilized, and I think Georgia Tech hits it out of the park when it comes to trying to recruit the best students and the best leaders,” he said.
Currently working in federal consulting, Benitez intends to tap into his entrepreneurial spirit to launch a startup hedge fund using the models and algorithms he learned at Georgia Tech.
With three under his belt, Benitez has told his wife that this will be his last degree, so Friday will be a special day on the Flats. “I think it's going to be a lot of overwhelming emotions because it took me three years to knock this degree out. That was a lot of time and effort,” he said.
With the mindset instilled in him by his parents and by the Army, coupled with his wife’s support, failure was never an option.
“Once you have that foundation set right, all that matters is achieving the mission,” he said. “Having Georgia Tech on my resume and having that pedigree attached to it was a mission that I wasn't going to fail in.”