Ed Aponte MS ’13 (left) and Benjamin Norris MS ’13, who graduated from Mines’ ETM program in December, are both officers and pilots in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Going inland to a landlocked state to earn a graduate degree seems like an odd choice for members of the U.S. Coast Guard, but the program’s alumni report they take valuable skills back into the service.

For Tony Hahn MS ’04, the idea of heading to the mountains for a graduate degree dates back 10 years. He was moving through the ranks of the Coast Guard, had graduated from its flight school and was an aeronautical engineering officer. To continue his professional ascent, he applied and was selected for the Coast Guard’s avionics/project management advanced education program, and began researching master’s degrees that the Coast Guard would approve.

His search led him to the Engineering and Technology Management program in Mines’ Division of Economics and Business. Hahn had spent his freshman year at Mines (1985-1986), but joined the Coast Guard in 1986 to pursue his passion for flying helicopters.

“I pitched ETM to my program manager and he was puzzled. ‘Where? Colorado School of what?’ he said. But after he read more, he approved it,” says Hahn. “He was impressed by the quality and reputation, and it certainly didn’t hurt that active-duty military pay in-state tuition rates.”

Hahn fell in love with ETM. “I can easily say Mines was the best intellectual experience of my life. I still use the analysis tools and decision framework I learned,” he says. “The ETM program taught me how to be successful. It wasn’t easy, but from day one, my professors made the material relevant to real-world examples that captured my intellectual curiosity.”

Not long after Hahn left Mines, he became deputy chief of aeronautical engineering for the Coast Guard, managing graduate school requests. “After my experience, I encouraged grad school applicants to consider applying there. Without exception, every officer has excelled and had a great experience. We see a proven product that provides critical thinking and excellent project management skills,” he adds. “We learn new ways to analyze decisions and provide our senior leadership with sound, data-driven recommendations. Because of the environment in which we work, we have to manage uncertainty, making defensible decisions aimed at optimizing outcomes.”

To date, the U.S. Coast Guard has seven alumni of the ETM program. In addition to Hahn, they include Tim Barelli MS ’09, Pat Lineberry MS ’11, Brian Kostecki MS ’12, Brian Willson MS ’12, and two December graduates, Ed Aponte MS ’13 and Benjamin Norris MS ’13.

After chasing drug runners in high-speed boats on the Caribbean, plucking climbers off California cliffs, and hoisting the sick and injured from boats pitching violently in rough seas off the coast of Alaska, Aponte and Norris admit the Mines graduate program has been a big change.

“I’m glad I came to Mines. Everything I’m learning, best business practices, operations research and decision making, will translate directly into my next job,” says Norris, who has been flying helicopters for eight years and describes his time spent commanding a crew and helicopter in the Bering Sea as ‘the most rewarding and exciting tour of my career.’

Aponte, an aircraft commander who oversees crews, mission execution and helicopter mechanics, chose Mines over George Washington University and Johns Hopkins. “There was no debate, and I’ve never looked back,” he says.

After graduation, they were both assigned to Elizabeth City, N.C. They are excited about their new jobs and the new opportunities that await them, but having lived close to campus for the past year, they are not looking forward to their new commute: They plan to move their families to the Norfolk, Va., area to have more schooling options, which will mean a 1-hour commute each way. The last time we spoke, they were still working on a solution to this problemĖthe best one they’d come up with was sharing the cost of a small plane and flying to work. “We’ll be working next to a runway,” Aponte says, a twinkle in his eye.