No Limits

How this veteran and business management major excelled in the Army, matured as a Rollins transfer student, and landed on a leadership track in the defense industry.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

Tamer Elkhouly ’19 had made it through boot camp, Patriot Missile training school, and 13 months of active duty in the Army. But as a fourth-year Rollins business management major, he had yet to write a cover letter—and one was due soon for his dream job.

Elkhouly hightailed it over to Rollins’ Center for Career & Life Planning (CLP), whose experts immediately helped him craft the letter and describe his skills in a sequence that stepped through his military, academic, and work history. He learned that a cover letter is more than restating a resume—that it should explain who you are and what you will bring to work on day one, enabling the interview to focus on the meatier questions. He was able to send that letter just in time.

While at Rollins, Elkhouly utilized CLP’s resources on a regular basis, getting help with internship application materials and advice on professional video interviews, which included never to conduct them in your dorm room. Elkhouly remembers one time that he had nowhere to do a Skype interview, so Denise Córdova, assistant director of employer engagement, vacated her office, where he changed into a suit, jumped on her Mac, and made the call.

Elkhouly landed that dream job—in Raytheon’s two-year Contracts Leadership Development Program—six months before graduation. Now a contract specialist on a two-year leadership track, Elkhouly is applying his military background, the skills and expertise he gained at Rollins, and the practical know-how he developed at CLP to provide life-saving solutions to U.S. allies around the world.

It was a turnaround story for Elkhouly, who years earlier had dropped out of high school and joined the Army—inspired by his best friend’s brother, who had just returned from a tour in Iraq. Elkhouly was deployed to the Middle East at age 17 and served as a Patriot Missile technician during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2013. It involved plenty of all-nighters—and time to think about his future. His Army service of three-plus years included a promotion to sergeant and a taste of leadership, like being responsible for up to 23 personnel and $28 million of equipment. It also sparked a desire to complete his education.

Elkhouly enrolled at Valencia College, where he became president of the Student Veterans of America and earned his associate degree. While working as a veterans financial aid specialist for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Elkhouly applied to Rollins. That’s when he says he began taking his dreams to the next level.

We had a chance recently to sit down with Elkhouly to learn more about how his unique path to and from Rollins has shaped him into a leader.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

What kinds of skills did you learn at Rollins that have enabled you to feel confident tackling this prestigious program at Raytheon? “There are a lot of unwritten rules in corporate America in the way you talk to folks. In any leadership development program, especially in the corporate world, they look at your public speaking and presentation abilities because they want leaders who can help share a vision. Rollins required me to engage and present to an audience or classmates more times than I could count. Those repeat experiences enabled me to interview for this position with the utmost confidence and subsequently present ideas that I firmly believe will drive innovation for the contracts team at Raytheon, which was what I was brought in to do.”

What has the experience been like at Raytheon thus far? “Joining the Raytheon team has been amazing. The company relocated me to Boston shortly after graduation, and I’ve been fully exposed to the business side of the aerospace and defense industry. As part of my first rotation in the Contracts Leadership Development Program, I’m responsible for managing current contract obligations and preparing future proposals for Raytheon’s international government customers. I’ve also found mentors in the company’s leaders and have learned from their vast wealth of knowledge. Above all, I truly enjoy what I do every day knowing that we’re providing life-saving solutions to our key allies around the world.”

How do you feel Rollins prepared you to hit the ground running? “My Rollins education really set me up for success in two key areas: project management and business law. I’m having to focus on multiple programs that have deliverables with completely different schedules. Luckily, it’s not overwhelming because I took an intensive project management course with [business professor] Mark Heileman that taught me how to manage my time and resources to meet tight deadlines. I’ve also found myself dealing with contracts, outline agreements, and government clauses that I must ensure our team abides by. [Social entrepreneurship professor] Josephine Balzac-Arroyo’s course on law and ethics prepared me to understand legal language such as acceptance, liability, disputes, and arbitration nearly a year before I would administer my first defense contract.”

How did your path lead to Rollins? “My deployment to the Middle East really pushed me in terms of the mental and physical ability of being up for 24 hours and working on missile cans and the operational readiness of the system itself, ultimately protecting the population we were put in place to protect. I’d spent a lot of time there thinking about what I wanted to do. That deployment really proved to me that I could do whatever I wanted because I could push myself to do what the Army needed. So I said that after I finished the deployment I would go to school—to start at Valencia and build up my skills, and maybe someday go to a really good college.”

Before coming to Rollins, Tamer Elkhouly ’19 served as a Patriot Missile technician in the U.S. Army during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2013. Photo by Scott Cook. Before coming to Rollins, Tamer Elkhouly ’19 served as a Patriot Missile technician in the U.S. Army during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2013. Photo by Scott Cook.

What was your experience like transferring to Rollins from Valencia? “At Valencia, I found out that I had a talent for school. I knew how amazing the business program at Rollins was, so I wanted to shoot for the stars. I was fortunate enough to get in—a dream come true for a high-school dropout. Rollins also had very small classes, so the transition was easy because it mimicked that environment at Valencia. But what really made me feel appreciated is the open-door policy at Rollins; anytime I wanted to talk to an administrator, a director, or a professor, they always made time. [Assistant registrar] Alexa Gordon was the transition coordinator at Rollins who answered all my questions—she was so much more attentive than people I’d talked to from other universities. Because of her I knew exactly what classes I would be taking, what I needed to graduate, and what classes they were accepting.”

What was the biggest challenge going from boot camp to hitting the books? “Boot camp is very difficult because you don’t know what’s gonna happen the next day, and it really pushes you to your limits physically and mentally, but the idea of starting school was difficult because I had to collaborate with people who didn’t have the same life or work experience. I grew a lot at Rollins. A lot of the veterans who are transitioning simply don’t have the academic skills that it takes to enter corporate America. It was difficult for me—learning how to tie a tie, be in a suit, have the correct resume. Those are not things that the military teaches you.”

How was your experience as a student veteran? “It was interesting because I had more life experience and professional experience compared to some of the other students, but it was good to share those experiences and my skills and abilities, and help other students prepare for the outside world. I was able to give people a glimpse into military life that civilians don’t usually see, which actually helped me transition better. When I was leading groups, a lot of people trusted me to get the job done, especially with reports. I felt very respected in that sense. It was a good experience in terms of collaborating with people who are fundamentally different from you. It really helped me grow.”

Would you recommend Rollins to other veterans? “I would 100 percent recommend Rollins to other veterans, and not only because they have the GI Bill’s Yellow Ribbon Scholarship, which pays all the tuition at any private school. But I think that Rollins’ particular brand of liberal arts education coupled with military experience really sets you apart in the job market.”

How did the relationships you developed contribute to your success at Rollins and prepare you for success after college? “[Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs] Lisa Gilliean-Crump was an amazing mentor. There was a program called Find Your Anchor during orientation where I was paired with her to talk about my life goals academically and professionally. I think I was the only one who followed up with her every semester. I was like, “Hey, you’re my mentor now.” I would visit her office and she’d give me a lot of tips, like pursuing my internship at ALDI and prepping for my interview at Raytheon. She was my champion. We’ll definitely be lifelong friends.”

Any professors who were particularly influential? “[Finance professor] Richard Lewin taught difficult material that made me grow academically, including Excel spreadsheets, which I now use every day. One day he talked about how ALDI utilized real estate space and how efficient they were. I would go into Dr. Lewin’s office, and we would have these really long conversations. He took almost two hours out of his personal time to explain how ALDI works. What was so funny is that ALDI was interviewing for its district manager internship that same week. Had it not been for Dr. Lewin, I would’ve never been prepared to get that internship a couple of weeks later.”

Tamer Elkhouly ’19’s district manager internship at ALDI helped land him a coveted spot in Raytheon’s Contracts Leadership Development Program. Photo by Scott Cook. Tamer Elkhouly ’19’s district manager internship at ALDI helped land him a coveted spot in Raytheon’s Contracts Leadership Development Program. Photo by Scott Cook.

How did the ALDI internship prepare you for Raytheon? “With the contract development program at Raytheon, they were looking at people who knew how to manage contracts and talk to people. As a district manager at ALDI, I was talking with the store leadership and with customers on the floor. The team at ALDI essentially said they needed me to provide a groundbreaking solution for the business that I was going to be exposed to in two months. It was very top-level. If I hadn’t known about organizational behavior and project management, and didn’t have real applicable skills from the internship at ALDI, I wouldn’t have been a very strong candidate even with my military background. It was definitely a mixture of the military, the curriculum at Rollins, and the internship at ALDI that I got chosen for the Raytheon program. I needed all three.”

What’s next for you? “Right now I’m focusing on contracts leadership with Raytheon and learning everything there is about this business. I want to become fluent in contracts, which is huge at Raytheon. And I’ve realized that a lot of my directors, a lot of leadership there, have MBAs or some type of graduate degree, so I plan to take advantage of Raytheon’s tuition assistance to pursue an MBA. I definitely want to stay with the company long-term, and new opportunities should open up as Raytheon and United Technologies are merging.”

What advice would you give to first-year Rollins students? “Be willing to use all the resources, staff expertise, and professional knowledge that’s available. Had it not been for the one-on-one meetings with my professors and all the people at the Career & Life Planning office, I guarantee I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

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