After graduating from Nashoba Regional High School as a star cross-country and track athlete, Brendon Aylaian tried a couple of different colleges, first in Colorado and then closer to home in Massachusetts.
He soon realized that he was burnt out on school and competitive running, so he took on a different challenge: the U.S. Army, which he’d wanted to join for a long time.
He served as an infantryman in the elite Army Rangers for four-and-a-half years, deploying to Afghanistan and earning the rank of specialist.
During his final year in the Rangers, he was promoted to security manager for an 800-person unit. He also returned to school and earned an associate degree in business, studying online through a community college in Washington state.
Then, he returned to Massachusetts and applied to UMass Lowell as a business administration
major, with plans to go on for an MBA.
“What really interested me in business was you can do so many things with it,” he says of his choice. “A lot of majors will pigeon-hole you … but with an MBA, you can do a lot of different things.”
This time, college proved to be a better experience. Aylaian joined the Honors College
, and an honors seminar in renewable energy taught by Physics Prof. Robert Giles
led to a research position with UML’s Haiti Development Studies Center
. Aylaian did market research for a nonprofit that planned to bring a small solar grid to a tiny village in southern Haiti. The research became his honors thesis.
“There are a lot of people in the world who don’t have access to even the most basic levels of electricity, or if they do, it’s extremely erratic,” he says. “Being part of a team that (was) focused on delivering energy to people who don’t have it just seemed like a really good thing to do.”
Aylaian also took graduate classes as a senior that counted toward both his B.S. in business and his MBA, through the university’s bachelor’s-to-master’s
program. And, at the recommendation of Assoc. Teaching Prof. Ashwin Mehta
, one of his honors thesis advisors, he got an internship in business development for a software start-up.
The internship turned into a full-time job leading a team of five people, while Aylaian completed his MBA online. UMass Lowell’s online MBA
program is consistently ranked among the best in the country for veterans by U.S. News & World Report
, and Aylaian was able to use his GI Bill benefits to complete both degrees.
A month before graduating, Aylaian got a job that brings together his military, research and business experience. He is now a financial specialist for the U.S. Air Force’s Life Cycle Development Center at Hanscom Air Force Base. The center helps to develop and procure all the equipment and non-nuclear weapons used by Air Force fighters.
Aylaian says the job is going well.
“The culture is unlike anyplace else I’ve worked. It’s very positive and very supportive,” he says. “I can’t say enough good things about working for the Air Force.”