Student Spotlight: Special Agent and MBA@UNC Student Scott Swantner

From protecting our nation’s and other nation’s leaders to building cases and testifying against counterfeiters and computer criminals, Secret Service agent and MBA@UNC student Scott Swantner is constantly on the move. A member of the most elite law enforcement organization in the world, he must be available to travel anywhere in the world, quite often with little notice.

“About seven months out of the year I’m on ‘no notice, short notice’ travel,” he says. “That’s not its official name, but that’s essentially what it is. I could be sitting at my desk one afternoon and get an e-mail saying that I’m flying out at 6 a.m. the next morning. And I could be going anywhere in the world. Sometimes I won’t even be at my desk — I’ll be driving home for the day.”

Swantner was interested in combining his skills and training with business leadership acumen, so he decided to earn his MBA. An on-campus program would have been difficult with his schedule, so he set his sights on MBA@UNC.

“MBA@UNC literally was the only option for me,” he says. “When you combine flexibility of the program, quality of the program, reputation of the UNC Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School — I mean, there’s nothing comparable to MBA@UNC.”

As a Special Agent, Swantner has a dual mission. First, he plans for and provides physical protection in travel situations for the president and vice president and their families, major political candidates and all foreign heads of state that come to visit the United States. When he’s not planning or facilitating a visit, he is responsible for executing criminal investigations — cases that involve counterfeiting and fraud, as well as computer crimes.

“In the mid-1980s, the Service took over part of the U.S. code that allows us to be the investigative body for computer crimes,” says Swantner. “So we have a lot of agents going down that path, like I am now. And we also have a pretty robust computer forensics program which I’ve been part of now for more than a year.”

According to Swantner, cyber crime will only become more prevalent. “So there is going to be a need for more people who are proficient — not only in dealing with and conducting those investigations, but also in leading those teams. I’d really love to lead a team of cyber investigators,” he says.

When Swantner started the MBA@UNC program, he thought he had set his classes up in a way that would work with his rigorous travel schedule. “I picked back-to-back Saturday classes because I’m usually on my own most weekends,” he says. “But five weeks in, I started hitting a lot of ‘no notice, short notice’ travel.”

While concerned at first, Swantner says his professors were instrumental in helping him coordinate and make up missed classes in a way that worked best for his schedule. Quite often, this meant attending classes taught by other professors or classes taught by the same professor at different times.

“Everyone I met in all the classes that I’ve gone to, even the ones I jumped in on, is a busy working professional and they understand,” he says. “Just like when I see someone in my regular class that’s usually not there — they probably had a work conflict. You want to make them feel at home because they want to get just as much content that week as everyone else does, and they definitely made me feel that way in the classes.”

According to Swantner, the professors hold students to task. “Just because you weren’t in that section originally, you are still expected to be responsible for the material for that week,” he notes. “And I thought that was great, too. They don’t give you a free pass.”

There’s a lot that Swantner likes about the MBA@UNC program, including the state-of-the-art technology platform, the networking potential and the in-person immersions. 

“Being a mostly online program, [the immersions] make you feel good about being in the program,” he says. “They make you feel more part of the Carolina family. Having the dean of the school and people say ‘Welcome, you are part of the family’ — it makes you feel really welcome.”

“I also really like the fact that you’re able to develop these new personal connections with people that you have been connecting with over the course of 10 weeks,” he says. “The immersions provide opportunities for small discussions, going to lunch and just sitting somewhere to talk. It’s a neat, energetic buzz to be around all these different, diverse people that have all of these great ideas.”

But at the end of the day, the biggest selling point for Swantner is the flexibility MBA@UNC provides.

“There is no other program out there that could do that,” he says. “I couldn’t even say, ‘Yeah, I promise to be here every third Thursday for two years!’ And to me it’s a significant investment — and to obviously everyone else it is as well. You want to know that you made the best decision. And I don’t have any regrets.”