Intermediate French class started with the usual chatter on April 16, 2007, at Virginia Tech University. “It was a normal Monday morning, talking about what we did the previous weekend,” says Colin Goddard, MBA ’18, who took the course as an international studies major.
When loud banging interrupted the routine, students assumed construction workers had started a project nearby. The professor looked in the hallway to investigate, then immediately shut the door and told students to get under their desks.
“I pulled out my phone and called 911 for the first time in my life,” Goddard says. What followed was 9 and a half minutes of terror. The attacker, an undergraduate student with a history of mental illness, shot through the door and continued firing as he entered the room.
Goddard recalls the smell of gunpowder and a sense of disbelief the first time he was hit. “The force of the bullet shook my whole body,” he says. “A sharp, stinging sensation became this warm wetness down my leg, which became numbness head to toe.”
Three more bullets struck Goddard during the barrage, which left 33 people dead, including the assailant, who ended the attack by turning a gun on himself.
Goddard responded to the trauma, in part, by going to work as an advocate for gun violence prevention. “I had my whole life turned upside down trying to make sense of something that was nonsensical,” he says. “Advocacy was a way to do that.”
Preparation for the career track started in Goddard’s youth, watching his parents serve in Kenya, Somalia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Egypt as international aid workers.
“I’ve seen how public policy, nonprofits and advocacy can shape the future,” Goddard says. “But I knew that businesses also had a role, and I wanted to get that experience making change in a different way using a different set of tools.”
So after nearly 10 years as a voice against gun violence in the nonprofit and public sectors, Goddard enrolled in the full-time MBA program at Maryland Smith to learn about business solutions. He found himself drawn to clean energy, which led to a career opportunity at Zero Mass Water.
“When I learned about a company building solar-powered clean water technologies that can bring water to places where there isn’t any, I was blown away,” he says. “My parents helped build water and sanitation projects all over the world, so I understood the need.”
As Goddard visits water-stressed communities in the United States, he sees some overlap with his prior advocacy work.
“People are concerned about the lead they are drinking and getting into their bodies,” he says. “I am hyper aware of that concern because I still have metal bullet fragments inside my body that are actively leaching lead into my own bloodstream.”
The other similarity, he says, is an underlying commitment to social value creation that gives urgency to the work at Zero Mass Water.
“The pace of startup life is quite fast,” Goddard says. “It’s certainly not a nine-to-fiver. But the meaningfulness of the work carries us forward.”
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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.