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MALS student Milton Mariani visits Apple’s Campus in Silicon Valley

MALS student Milton Mariani (pictured center, red shirt) pauses for a photo with the Entrepreneurship Initiative group while visiting Silicon Valley in California

Tell us about yourself! Where are you from? What brought you to NC State?

My father served in the United States Army and like many military families, my childhood was filled with various relocations. I was born in the Northern Rockies, but following my birth, my parents soon returned to their homeland of Puerto Rico.  A few years later, the Army would relocate us to Germany. This move occurred during the declining years of the Cold War, but as a child, I knew nothing of the tensions nor the inevitable down fall of the Soviet Union and the Wall. However, during the five years spent in Europe, my parents took every opportunity to take us traveling around the continent to learn various histories and cultures.

MALS student Milton Mariani (pictured center, red shirt) pauses for a photo with the Entrepreneurship Initiative group while visiting Silicon Valley in California

The 90’s brought my family back stateside, and my parents continued to take every opportunity to travel and learn, just as we did in Germany.  We soon discovered North Carolina’s unmatched geographical diversity, witnessing the crashing waves of sea to the Smokies and beyond. My elementary years were spent mostly in Sandhills of North Carolina before moving to Texas. Finally, after moving every 4-5 years since birth, I lived the next fourteen years in the heart of Central Texas. Texas culture had a tremendous impact on my life and to this day, I call Texas home.

What is your academic and/or professional background?

After graduating college with a bachelors in design, I obtained my first professional job working for the military at Fort Hood. This position would provide me with some great opportunities. Two years into my government job, I moved with my organization from Texas to Colorado. I viewed this move as a fresh start…my new adventure in a new place without any friends or family in the area. To fill the void of my social life, I immersed myself in soccer playing six days a week on different fields across town. I loved how beautiful it was living in Colorado Springs and I often took weekend drives into the mountains.

In 2010, I volunteered to deploy with the unit I was working with to Iraq for a year. These days would fly by faster than imagined.  Unfortunately, Congress was tightening federal budgets which left my position in jeopardy and my deployment was cut short by nearly six months. I started searching for a new line of work, but more importantly I felt the need to reward myself for all my hard work. I decided to go backpacking and so, on April 4th, 2011, I began my greatest adventure yet…three months solo backpacking through Europe. I started in the tourist capital of Madrid and traveled via rail, occasionally taking a flight when necessary to conserve time. Lodging consisted of only hostels because they were cheap, but I also wanted to take in the sense of community and comradery which hostels tend to provide travelers. I stayed in 24 major cities overall, making a conscious effort to connect with people from different backgrounds, and quickly discovered the best way to do this was through food and beverages. My passion for cooking and the culinary arts made preparing meals for others easy, and regardless of what language people speak, a good meal is universal. Eventually, my travels led me to Munich, Germany where my life would change forever. On my first night, I participated in an event hosted by the hostel and I met a beautiful woman named Anne.  However, seven months would pass before our paths would cross again.

My trip culminated with a return to Interlaken for a three-day rock fest and final three days in British capital. After nearly three months of backpacking through fifteen different countries, I was exhausted. I took an eight-hour flight home to Dallas and soon the reality of being unemployed quickly sank in. I had perpetual free time without any agenda of how to occupy myself beyond spending every waking hour applying for work. Success would finally find me in late summer as I obtained a new job in North Carolina. Once again, I was on the move across the country for a new adventure, except this time it was a return to a familiar place. Shortly after my arrival, I began to consider schools around the area to attain a Masters in something that would complement my design undergrad and my six years of professional work in technology. I was intrigued by a new program offered by NC State, the Masters of Global Innovation Management (MGIM), and I signed up for an information session.  I quickly became excited by the year-long program’s curriculum, which featured one semester in Raleigh and another semester in France. Unfortunately, I did not have the money nor the time to take off for an entire year from the job I just acquired. My decision to not pursue this program would also be compounded by the fact that I was in the process of trying to bring Anne, the woman I met during traveling in Munich, here to live with me.

Why did you decide to apply to the MALS program? How do you feel MALS is a good fit for you?

In the summer of 2016, after acquiring a project management certificate from Fayetteville State, I decided to attend a knowledge management workshop.  The instructor took the time to speak with me about my goals and informed me that some of the highest paid knowledge mangers in the corporate world had master’s degrees in liberal studies due to the research-intensive programs. Following this conversation, I immediately started searching for liberal study programs within North Carolina. I was pleased to discover that NC State had one of the best liberal studies programs available. The flexibility of pace and class diversification were the biggest selling points which attracted me to the Masters of Arts Liberal Studies (MALS) program.

June was ending, and if I would have any hope of starting in the fall, I would need to speak with the Program Director, Dr. Garval. Our phone conversations centered on Innovation, which is a topic I have wanted to study for the last few years, and how I would build a curriculum around it within departmental guidelines. I searched for courses and drafted multiple course plans while filling out my application and requirements documentation. Thanks to key advice given by Dr. Garval, I was accepted into the MALS program with a concentration in Innovation Management and Communication. My concentration can be broken down into it three segments for greater detail and understanding:

Innovation focuses on my desires to design new products and services as solutions to problems people and organizations face today. I have always enjoyed being creative and devising solutions to complex issues, but I knew I need more education to get going in the right direction.

The management portion of my concentration is comprised of courses taken in project management; many new products begin life as projects and mature into actual products or even product lines. Projects often fail due to poor management or lack thereof.

Communication is a subject which is regularly labeled a “necessity” in the formulation of relationships and to better understand the problems we face. However, it was not until my first semester at NC State that I came to understand how essential communication is our everyday lives. It is the core of everything we do, not only as a skill, but also as a discipline that can require one or multiple sensory organs.

When/Why did you become interested in your area of study/research? How will be applying interdisciplinarity in your academic and professional work?

During my first semester as part of the Wolfpack, I discovered two of my planned innovation courses were part of a graduate certificate, High Technology Entrepreneurship Certificate (HiTEC), offered here at State. Wondering if I could simply take the final course and add a valuable new certificate to my masters, I reached out to Dr. Garval and Jeff Leonard. They worked with the Graduate School and the Poole College of Management to provide me the most accurate response, and I was enthused to receive the notification of approval.

In my research of available entrepreneurship courses, I stumbled upon the Entrepreneurship Initiative (EI), which is the umbrella organization for all entrepreneurship activities and organizations across NC State. I discovered that the EI hosts annual field trips each spring to the Silicon Valley and fall trips to New York to visit startup companies and other organizations in the entrepreneurship realm. The information session was hosted by the EI’s incredible communication specialist, Macy Thomas, and I knew instantly I had to take advantage of such a unique opportunity. Three weeks after submitting my application, I received word of my acceptance. The trip to California was amazing, as it provided a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet and speak with startup companies about their struggles and achievements.  Additionally, I was able to visit some of the most innovative giants in the world such as Google, Facebook, and Apple. At almost every company we visited, the people we spoke with were NC State alumni. We felt a sense of pride in the Wolfpack, but also a sense of confirmation that the education we are seeking will give us the tools needed to succeed.

While visiting these companies was unbelievable, the personalities encountered on this trip were most memorable. The visits featured hosts who focused on relating with us.  They shared advice and stories about transitioning from students to professionals and how we could achieve success. For me, certainly one of the most amazing things I noticed from the beginning was the hunger and drive of each host. Instead of sitting around watching movies, Netflix, or play video games, they filled their time reading books, creating school projects and some even worked on their own startup company or technology. Following this trip, I promised to continue to find new opportunities to learn and be part of organizations or events that can improve my education and knowledge. I must also acknowledge the importance of relationships built as a student providing a great network, which can ultimately open doors (especially after finishing my degree). It is imperative to develop your network to not just include like-minded people, but with many from various backgrounds, life experiences, and ideologies. The MALS program, in less than two complete semesters, has already expanded my aperture and scope of understanding of where innovation happens and how to achieve it. The interdisciplinary nature of this program gives me a more solid foundation versus those studying innovation solely through the teachings of business courses. I would recommend that all program directors incorporate some interdisciplinary studies into their curriculum for the betterment of the students and their futures, not just as professional, but also as a person.

You can read more about Milton’s visit to Silicon Valley via this blog:

You can view many of Milton’s photos from his journeys here: