Lessons Learned at SDSU Provides U.S. Naval Officer and Fowler Alumnus with Valuable Risk Assessment Skillset

May 23, 2024

Samardzic is currently a lieutenant commander in the U.S. NavyOpen the image full screen.
Samardzic is currently a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy

When Srdan Samardzic was born, his home country of Croatia was part of Yugoslavia and positioned firmly behind the “Iron Curtain.” Samardzic was still a youngster when Croatia gained independence in 1992, and the fall of communism offered him the opportunity to move about on a global basis. 

Samardzic used this new-found freedom to immigrate to the U.S. in 2001 with the idea of going to college and building a better life for himself. But without the resources to fund his education, Samardzic enlisted in the U.S. Navy with the hope that the military would provide a path toward a college education. 

It took five years, but in 2007, Samardzic was chosen to participate in the Seaman to Admiral 21 (STA-21) program which offers an opportunity for enlisted sailors to become Naval officers by providing college funding to schools with Naval ROTC programs.  

San Diego State University was one of the schools that qualifies for this program. “I wanted to be in San Diego and SDSU’s reputation and degree options contributed to the reasons I chose to attend,” said Samardzic, who enrolled at SDSU’s Fowler College of Business in the fall of 2008. “I opted to major in finance since I’ve always been drawn to numbers and market economics, and studying at SDSU further confirmed my passion.” 

Top student, Samardzic, with his most influential professor, Frank Ryan at commencement in 2014Open the image full screen.
Top student, Samardzic, with his most influential professor, Frank Ryan at commencement in 2014

The STA-21 has a rigid requirement that all participants finish their degree program in three years. Samardzic was not only able to finish on time, but near the top of his class, earning a summa cum laude designation in 2011. He was also promoted to an officer position in the Navy as an ensign and was assigned to the San Diego-based USS Stockdale as their main propulsion officer. 

His time at SDSU ignited his passion to keep learning. Plus, as a Naval officer, he could see that the interpersonal and communications skills he gained at the Fowler College of Business were more important than ever before. Since he’d already taken a few graduate courses during his bachelor’s degree program, Samardzic decided to take his education to the next level and he re-enrolled at Fowler as an MBA student in the fall of 2011. 

This time, things were a little different. Samardzic now had a full-time leadership role with the Navy which included overseas deployments. Using a mix of tuition assistance and funding from the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB), he was able to fund his graduate degree program which he finished in 2014. 

His commitment and ability to stay focused on his education while changing locations and assignments paid off for him in a big way: Shortly before graduation that spring, he was selected as the top student in the MBA program with a concentration in finance. He and his most influential professor, Frank Ryan, sat on the podium before nearly 1,500 Fowler students during commencement ceremonies. 

The Samardzic family in 2024Open the image full screen.
The Samardzic family in 2024

In the decade that has passed since then, Samardzic has married another Naval officer, had two children and has been promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander. Currently, he is a warfare tactics instructor stationed at Joint Forces Command at NATO headquarters in Naples, Italy and the lessons he learned at SDSU are still relevant in his job even now. “The biggest impact my coursework at SDSU had on me is the ability to assess and analyze situations and implement controls to take calculated risks at a tactical and operational level,” said Samardzic. “In my personal life, having a finance degree ensured prudent family financial planning as we think of early retirement and setting up our children for their educational goals.” 

For today’s SDSU students Samardzic offers this advice: “There are no easy buttons to success, but putting in the hours and prioritizing time in and out of the classroom helps to ensure success at SDSU. Getting into the habit of putting in the hours for hard work and study will carry over throughout your career.”

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