Serving and Studying Abroad

photos of Miranda Petti at Al Udeied Air Base in Doha, Qatar

University of Delaware student Miranda Petti’s sophomore year looked a little different from that of her peers. A senior airman of the U.S. Air Force Reserve Command, Petti spent three semesters stationed at the Al Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar, over 6,000 miles away from her home in Whiting, New Jersey, while enrolled in classes at UD.

“Even though I was working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, in a different time zone, I still found the time to do a full course load in the fall, winter and spring,” Petti, a management information systems major in UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, said. “Even though it was a full-time job, I believe that if there’s something else you want to pursue, there’s always going to be time for it as long as you make it a priority.”

Petti learned that she would be deployed in August 2020 and arrived in Qatar that October. She began her work as an aerial porter at one of Al Udeid’s airport passenger terminals. As part of her career in air transportation, Petti’s responsibilities included everything from airport security to planning and organizing transportation for passengers and cargo. After each 12-hour workday, Petti made time for her classes.

Despite an eight-hour time difference between Newark, Delaware and Qatar, Petti’s commitments with the Air Force did not entirely interfere with her ability to attend live online class meetings. Most of her classes were scheduled after 3 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, and an average evening for Petti might have included starting classes at 11 p.m. and finishing as late as 2 a.m. in Arabian Standard Time.

During these late night hours, Petti attended her business classes, like social entrepreneurship with Stephanie Raible, assistant professor of social entrepreneurship, or entrepreneurial leadership with Tony Middlebrooks, associate professor and director of the Siegfried Leadership Initiative.

“A lot of my professors were really helpful,” Petti said. “And being online helped. If COVID-19 had never happened, I wouldn’t have been able to take as many classes as I did.”

Aside from the time zone difference, the stark contrast in environment also took some getting used to. With Qatar’s hot and arid desert climate, the airbase was sparse with vegetation, and wild dogs and cats could occasionally be seen wandering the grounds of Al Udeid, Petti described.

“The change of scenery was definitely drastic,” Petti said. “I went from crisp, fall weather in New Jersey to hot, dry days in Qatar. When I first arrived, the temperatures approached 105 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, cooling off in the 90s at night. I think I was in Qatar for two months before it rained. It was just a quick sun shower that everyone gathered outside for.”

In many ways, Petti’s military journey unfolded alongside her academic one. Although she was initially accepted into UD out of high school, Petti described how she was hesitant to commit to any specific career path but still wanted to begin meaningful work that had an impact on others. It wasn’t until she spoke with an Air Force recruiter that a possible opportunity with the military seemed like a viable alternative.

“I came home and said, ‘Hey, mom, dad, I think I’m going to join the Air Force,’” Petti said. “No one in my family had served in the military so they were like, ‘Do you know what you’re signing up for?’”

After enlisting in the Air Force Reserve and completing a year’s worth of training with the 46th Aerial Port Squadron reserve unit in Dover, Delaware, Petti returned to UD in 2019.

While looking through other opportunities at UD, Petti stumbled upon Delaware Innovations Fellows (DIF), an entrepreneurship and leadership program offered through Horn Entrepreneurship. Intrigued by the program, Petti’s subsequent enrollment in DIF would further lead her to declaring an entrepreneurship minor.

“It’s a lot less curriculum-based than other classes,” Petti said of the program. “So, instead of just learning from professors, you’re learning from successful entrepreneurs and people in the field who can provide you with real life experiences.”

Since returning home this past April after six months of service, Petti has had her hands full with finals and her training with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at UD. Although the hard work hasn’t stopped, Petti described how the past year’s experiences have propelled her ambitions for both her military and academic careers. Ultimately, her long-term vision includes becoming a pilot and branching out with her own business project.

“Some people measure success by the amount of money they make but I feel like I measure success in how many people I can have an impact on along the way,” Petti said. “When I get out of the military I want to be able to start my own business, so I can work for myself and provide jobs for others and the economy.”

This story was written by staff at Horn Entrepreneurship and originally published on the Horn Entrepreneurship blog.

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