After 30 years of service, Sergeant Major Fenton Reese retired from the United States Marine Corps in 2011 with expertise in operations management, team leadership, needs assessment, and global logistics. Wanting to explore new career paths, he then earned an MBA from NYU Stern, as well as an MS in Executive Coaching and Organizational Consulting (ECOC) from NYU SPS.

So when Reese noticed an alarming “gap” in the ability of fellow veterans to transition into civilian work roles, he was about as well prepared to find a solution as anyone could be.

“The gap was in the preparation phase of transition” says Reese, who is now the deputy security manager for the New York Metro Campus at Bloomberg LP. “So I envisioned a program that would enable veterans to change their mindset and behavior to overcome the challenges they would inevitably face, and to prepare themselves to compete in society.”

With that goal in place, Reese took the work being done through Veterans in Pursuit of Prosperity, a non-profit he founded, and partnered with NYU SPS and the Jersey City Department of Health and Human Services to create the Veterans Coaching Project (VCP). The program, which included 11 veteran client participants and 11 coaches during its launch in Summer 2021, offers coaching and consulting guidance from NYU SPS students and alumni who help veterans develop and hone their career focus and skills.

“The ECOC program was a perfect way to facilitate this service to the veteran population and to offer an opportunity for students to gain valuable coaching experience,” says Reese.  

Anna Tavis, professor and academic director of Human Capital Management at NYU SPS, worked with professor Michael Woodward to help launch the project, and already sees the reciprocal value it has created. “Our students learn from the veterans as much as they support them,” says Tavis, who believes the success of the pilot will lead to expanded NYU SPS support for the program moving forward. 

NYU News recently spoke to Reese about the unique challenges veterans face and how the Veterans Coaching Project is working to solve them.

Fenton Reese

Fenton Reese

How much time do student coaches commit to the program?

Program cycles generally last three to four months, during which coaches are expected to attend a training and a kick-off meeting. They then conduct at least eight individual coaching sessions with their veteran coaching client, attend group coaching supervision sessions (or schedule individual coaching supervisions as needed), and provide program feedback.

What kind of challenges do veterans typically face when trying to enter the workforce?

It is important to understand that transitioning back to society and entering the workforce is a culture shock for a veteran. They have to regain their identity. And veterans often lack a professional network, academic credentials, or work experience because they have been in service. Most of  the time, veterans have not figured out what they want to do and where they belong. They may also lack a strong support structure. 

What activities and services does the program provide to help address those obstacles? 

We are developing a library of resources specifically geared towards coaching veterans and are scheduling Lunch & Learns and additional training to supplement the coaching supervision sessions. 

For clients, we are compiling valuable career resources such as veterans focused job boards, and identifying organizations who offer free services for qualified veterans. In addition, we are looking to create a community of VCP Client Alumni for networking purposes.

Overall, the program helps veterans envision their future by helping them set attainable goals, change behavior, and be held accountable. 

What unique qualities do veterans bring to civilian roles?

They understand structure, are mission oriented, and loyal. They’ve developed resiliency, recognize the value of teamwork, and have been exposed to leadership opportunities. Moreover, they have demonstrated a propensity to serve others. 

What sort of outcomes have you seen for those who have completed the program so far?

We surveyed our participants for the first Veterans Coaching Program cohort and received excellent results. One hundred percent of veterans said they felt supported by their coach; 97.5 percent believe they were helped to attain their goals; and  97.5 percent said they would recommend VCP to others. Respondents added that the program challenged them to "think outside the box," created “tangible solutions to achieve their goals," offered ways to "create a more balanced life,” and helped “increase confidence and determination."