Won Palisoul: Navy Veteran, Nonprofit Founder, and SPS Alum
Won Palisoul (’16SPS, Nonprofit Management) has achieved a great deal in a short amount of time. She founded the Women Veterans and Families Network and currently serves as Senior Compliance Officer at Semper Capital Management, L.P., which has $3 billion of assets under management. She has powered destroyers throughout the Pacific Ocean. She has played a crucial role in increasing veterans’ access to financial education and training, both through her work with the CFA Society of New York and Women Veterans on Wall Street (wVOWS). Along the way, she graduated from the Master of Science in Nonprofit Management at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies. Recently she told us her story and offered advice for other veterans.
Tell me about your Navy experience.
I joined the U.S. Navy in August of 2001 three weeks before 9/11. My first assignment was on a Destroyer stationed overseas. I was a Gas Turbine Tech—the electrical side—and power plant operator. I was also the Lee Helms during Sea and Anchor Detail and Restricted Maneuvering, steering the gas turbines—basically jet engines—that powered our ship to ports of Singapore, Australia. Hawaii, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Guam. It required incredible coordination and tremendous teamwork for us to not crash into a foreign port.
Sounds like you built an incredible skill set.
I learned the complex, technical side of operating a massive ship as well as electrical engineering. In my second assignment, I learned how to streamline supply chains for an aviation depot working with airplane and helicopter repair shops—essentially, coming up with answers to the question, “How do we save billions of dollars without sacrificing performance?” That was my introduction to finance and also to Lean Six Sigma project management.
What was next?
My Naval superiors recommended me for Direct Commission Officer program, but at that time I was a mother of two children under the age of four. My husband was also serving in the military. We decided to transition out of the military and move back to New York City. I was deciding between an M.B.A. and an M.S., and ended up choosing the Nonprofit Management master’s program at SPS.
First of all, the Columbia Veteran’s network is one of the best in the country. One of my former Division Officers attended Columbia. And, of course, I had developed an enormous passion for helping veterans in the nonprofit space.
What did you take away from SPS that you couldn’t have learned in the Navy?
In the military, I learned how to communicate and lead in the Navy’s culture, which is very structured. But SPS taught me how to lead in the nonprofit space, effective donor engagement, and the importance of board governance.
What advice do you have for other veterans?
First, Navy veterans should use the Navy College Virtual Education Center. They are dedicated to helping sailors navigate an educational path outside the military.
Perhaps more importantly, veterans often lose the sense of purpose they had while serving. They need to think outside of the box and find their new mission—don’t just take the job that’s easiest to obtain, choose something that you’ll still be passionate about ten years down the road. Build a network of friends. University is a great place to do that.
Finally, use the confidence you gained in the military to apply to Ivy League schools. Get the best education you possibly can for yourself—and use the G.I. Bill to help pay for it.
Learn more about the Master of Science in Nonprofit Management program at the School of Professional Studies and visit Student Financial Services for information about benefits and resources for veterans and service members at Columbia University.