Army captain’s path to The Portland MBA opens door to entrepreneurship, military innovation

 When highly decorated Army Capt. Robert “Allen” Wallace was selected by the military to pursue any program in the nation to earn a master’s degree in business administration, he chose Portland State University. 

“The military has invested in my education so I can become a better leader from time spent with other professionals,” says Wallace, a former soldier of the year who is concentrating his studies on supply chain management. “I will help institute new programs and processes based on my knowledge gained in The Portland MBA program.”

This month, America honors its veterans, and PSU is the education home for more than 800 veterans. Portland State was founded as a two-year college in 1946 primarily for returning veterans of World War II. The university continues to support former and active-duty military service members with the Veterans Resource Center, the VetsSuccess program and a wide array of other programs and resources open to all undergraduates and graduates.   

“At PSU, educating and working with those who served our country is an important part of our history and fundamental to our mission and future,” says PSU Interim President Stephen Percy. 

Wallace chose The Portland MBA from hundreds of business programs because he was drawn to its focus on innovation and sustainability. After traveling across the world and 40 states in his military career, Wallace was ready for a change and finding new ways to help others. He and his wife, Josie, moved to Portland and ultimately to PSU.

Wallace found a mentor is MBA Academic Director Tichelle Sorensen early on. 

“Tichelle’s professionalism, enthusiasm and welcoming demeanor made the decision simple. I knew if she was even a fraction of a representation of the faculty at PSU, I was all in,” Wallace says.

From alcoholic to soldier to student

Wallace describes growing up on a farm in Louisiana as traumatic and painful — yet those years helped forge him into the person he is today.

 He recounts memories of being neglected and abused. His early years were marked by alcohol addiction, both personally and among family members.
Wallace has attended alcohol recovery classes for the last 17 years and credits that support and daily meditation for his recovery.  

“Every Tuesday, I meet a friend also in recovery at the coffee shop down the street and we talk for an hour, sharing our stories of overcoming addiction,” he says. “It helps me stay in recovery and also helps me help others.”

Wallace has built a room tucked alongside a small creek running behind his house as a home office sanctuary. As he leans back in his chair, surrounded by walls of awards, trophies and a desk inlaid with 10 years of tokens from his recovery program, it’s clear he knows the value of hard work, dedication and most notably, struggle.

“I used to keep all of these awards and trophies in boxes,” he says, gazing up toward the walls of memories. “It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable embracing my awards.”

Finding his place in The Portland MBA

Now Wallace is focused on his next chapter. 

“I plan to absorb as much knowledge as possible in the next year, while reinforcing relationships with my peers,” Wallace says. “There’s a saying, ‘you become the company you keep.’ The Portland MBA program is full of incredible people with numerous talents.”

Wallace is inspired by people who, like him, refuse to give up.     

His military training has given him a strong skill set, but The Portland MBA has opened his eyes to a new world of operations that require a host of new skills to thrive as a business owner. The Pioneering Innovation course has already sparked a business idea for Wallace that he hopes to pursue after graduation.

“I never imagined myself as a business owner, but now I think my choice is clear,” he adds.

Story and top image by Crista Tappan, video by Bruce Bradbury and Peter Simon
Homepage image courtesy of Allen Wallace. Wallace participates in an African medical readiness training exercise while giving a local TV interview in 2017.