From military service to serving up community, Navy veteran finds new passion at Western

Contact: Erin Flynn
Sai Myint poses for a picture in his graduation cap and gown.

Sai Myint will graduate Saturday, Dec. 17, with a bachelor's degree in food marketing.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Pickleball is big business right now, with the sport exploding into primetime TV specials and a growing professional league. And a Western Michigan University business student is hoping to build on that momentum, taking the pickleball skills he's developed on campus to the next level.

Sai Myint is serious about the sport. He recently created the Club Pickleball registered student organization at Western and has won multiple amateur titles over the past year. But it's about more than the competition; pickleball helped him find fellowship and belonging on campus.

Sai Myint talks with another person on a pickleball court.

Myint found community on the pickleball court, eventually starting up a pickleball club on campus.

"Back in 2019, it was just my brother and me playing. He didn't know what he was doing, I didn't know what I was doing," he laughs. "But then I dropped in to play at West Hills Athletic Club, and I found my community."

It's something he had been searching for as a military veteran, having served in the U.S. Navy from 2015 to 2019.

"I think service members miss the tribe or community feeling," he says.

Myint's service took him all around the world, from Europe to the Middle East and the Caribbean. After he completed his service and was honorably discharged, he was looking for a fresh start. He wanted to finish a degree he had started at another Michigan university before enlisting, and Western—where his brother had recently graduated—seemed like the perfect fit.

"I started out as a supply chain major because I was in the supply chain department in the Navy," he says. "But I was struggling with a class, and I guess it was fate or destiny or meant to be that Haworth College of Business has so many options to choose from. Dr. Marcel Zondag convinced me to do food marketing. I took my first food marketing class in spring 2021, and now here I am ready to graduate."

What he learned inside the classroom he says was just as impactful as the experience he gained outside of academics. Since coming to Western, Myint has worked as a pharmacy technician; completed an internship with All-Weather Seal of West Michigan managing inbound and outbound sales calls; and completed an internship as retail management intern with CVS Health, a leading health solutions company.

"Western has given me a great network of people I can reach out to. In business, it's not what you know, it's who you know," Myint says.

He also worked as a co-instructor for a first-year student course and is active in Western’s Student Veterans of America chapter and the Food Marketing Association.

"Dr. Russell Zwanka is really taking the food marketing program to the next level … and all the people who I've met through food marketing have been great."

Myint tosses a pickleball in the air getting ready to serve over the net while wearing his graduation cap and gown.

Myint plans to continue competing on the amateur pickleball circuit after graduation.

Another connection Myint cultivated at Western deepened his commitment to service. He first encountered God's Kitchen of Michigan at a free meal event in 2021. Recognizing the organization could use help distributing food to those in need throughout the Kalamazoo community, Myint started helping out when he had free time. A year later, he had logged hundreds of service hours and was named the organization's Volunteer of the Year.

As he looks toward his future after graduation on Saturday, Dec. 17, he hopes to continue making an impact.

“I'm open to any opportunity that will give me a great work-life balance, a sense of community and appreciation for the work done … all while helping the community I live and work in too.”

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