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9/11 Survivor and Iraq Vet Enters Eller MBA on GI Bill
Mark Finelli, Eller MBA ’11

By Liz Warren-Pederson

Mark Finelli in Iraq

Mark Finelli takes a moment to give
an Iraqi child a lollipop on his post-
9/11 tour of duty.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Mark Finelli was halfway down the 61 flights of stairs in the World Trade Center South Tower when he felt the building shake with the impact of the second plane. “Outside, I ran west toward the Hudson,” he says, “And when the towers came down, I was clinging to a fence overlooking the river, cringing against the immense dust cloud that came roaring at me.”

Finelli, then a six-figure Wall Street exec, made a life-changing decision: he enlisted in the U.S. Marines Corps. He was deployed to Iraq and spent six and a half months in Fallujah. “While I was in Iraq, I kept thinking about what I would do when I got back home,” he says. “People kept telling me, ‘Finelli, after what you did, you’ll be able to get any job you want.’”

Finelli returned to the U.S. in March 2006 and began his job search. “I was confident that the dedication I’d shown to my country, coupled with my four years of experience in the world of finance, would make me an appealing candidate,” he says. Instead, he spent two years looking for work. “The low point came last summer when, out of money and options, I spent a few weeks in Phoenix sleeping in my car,” he says. “I had become a homeless vet.”

He became an advocate for veteran’s affairs and the war, even appearing as a talking head on cable news programs. “I couldn’t believe that I was appearing on CNN and sleeping in my car,” he says.

Finelli had good experience, great contacts, and an undergraduate degree with honors from a top liberal arts college, and still couldn’t find employment, even before the market crashed. “I wondered how hard it must be for all the 20-year-old kids who’d done nothing but two or three tours to Iraq,” he says.

He credits the new $160 billion GI Bill with turning the tide. “Thanks to the GI Bill, this fall I’m enrolled in the Eller MBA Program to earn my MBA with nearly zero out-of-pocket expense,” he says. “The old bill wouldn’t have even covered a third of the tuition.”