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Fridays from the Frontline: Welcome Weekend at Vanderbilt Owen

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Continuing our series of posts from applicants sharing how they arrived at a decision on where to enroll for business school, this week we hear from Dylan Bright about the admitted students’ weekend he attended at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. As you’ll read, the well-planned weekend helped him know that the Nashville school was the one for him.

If you’ve recently decided on where you’re heading in the fall, we’d love to have you share your decision-making process with us in a subsequent post. And if you haven’t already, remember to submit via MBA DecisionWire!

Welcome Weekend at Vanderbilt Owen

by Dylan Bright

One year ago while studying for the GMAT, it was hard for me to picture myself studying in a classroom environment or moving to a new city. And yet, there I was, staring at Vanderbilt’s beautiful campus in the heart of Nashville. My wife and I arrived on Thursday night, had dinner with a few friends, and then met up with several other admitted students at The Row for a beer.


The first part of the weekend, Scholar’s Day, was a great introduction to Owen’s culture and curriculum within a small-group setting. Our group of around 20 kicked off the day with a quick breakfast and, as anyone who has been to an admitted students’ event likely knows, an icebreaker with the school’s admissions team. Next up was a nearly two-hour session led by two members of the renowned improv comedy group the Second City, which counts Tina Fey, Chris Farley and countless other Saturday Night Live and Hollywood stars among its alumni. Since we were all meeting each other for the first time in person, the Second City duo implored us all to stand up and to ignore any potential discomfort we might feel. After a few one-on-one activities with other future students and partners, we were split into two teams and assigned the task of developing a movie preview. Luckily for my group, one of our teammates had a booming announcer’s voice.

After lunch, each admitted student had the chance to meet with one of Owen’s Career Management Center coaches. My time with Brook Meissner couldn’t have been more productive. I left the session with an introduction to two second-year students with internship experience and full-time offers aligned with my career goals. The advantages of a small program truly showed in Brook’s familiarity with my résumé and application, despite the fact that the start of classes was several months away and he had a full plate with current students. We also had the opportunity to meet with Dean Eric Johnson in groups of ten or so. It was intriguing to hear him speak about the changes he’s seen at Owen over the past few years and to ask him about his vision for the future of the program. It was evident from chats among us admits that his plans inspired and invigorated us all.

I’d be remiss not to mention another key aspect of Welcome Weekend that only served to reinforce my belief that I had made the right decision: partner involvement. My wife and all other partners were not only invited to participate in all events but also provided with their own schedules and the opportunity to interact with current Owen Partners Association (OPA) members and leaders. Anyone with a significant other certainly knows that the MBA journey—from preparing for the GMAT and revising essays to deciding where to go and the late-night studying that follows—is not a solo venture. I commend Vanderbilt for placing so much importance on partners’ experiences.

The afternoon consisted of a casual Q&A with faculty and admissions staff over sangria, followed by cocktails for the entire group at Bound’ry, hosted by the OPA. Interacting with first- and second-year students and partners was a great way to connect across class years. After a quick stop at our respective hotels, we met up back at Owen for the formal kickoff and Global Business Association Food Festival, where current students cooked and served unique foods from around the world. The building buzzed with activity as we were joined by the rest of the admitted students, along with Dean Johnson and many of the faculty and staff. I can’t count on two hands how many different countries’ dishes I tried, but I can assure you that it was all delicious.


Day two was a whirlwind of activity. We began with a TED-style talk from Trisha Fridrich, a second-year student who, after spending her summer as an investment banking intern, founded a ticketing platform to connect travelers with tours, attractions and events across the country. Trisha shared how her work experience and studies at Owen gave her the drive and skills needed to launch her venture. Next came an overview of the academic programs and focus areas. Most of us were intimately familiar with these formal aspects of the program, but it was helpful nonetheless to have a refresher on the different paths students can combine to craft a customized experience.

That session was followed by a second TED talk from a first-year student, Aaron Dorn. Before coming to Owen to focus on healthcare strategy, he co-founded a bank and served in Afghanistan with the United States Marine Corps. We proceeded to participate in a few hours of concurrent sessions covering everything from the school’s Leadership Development Program, which is delivered in partnership with executive coaching and search firm Korn Ferry International, to Nashville’s vast housing opportunities and sit-downs with professors on academic focus areas.

The final TED talk of the day came from Latia Harris (MBA ’13). She spoke about how her journey from an internship with Microsoft led to a full-time, international rotational program with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, during which she helped strategize the company split in 2015. The opportunity to hear from someone who had to make tough decisions, including turning down a full-time offer from Microsoft after her internship and another from Google after spending a few years at HP, was enlightening. She had a defined goal of seeing her company through a tough time and powered through it.

Owen’s energetic Dean Johnson led the closing remarks and encouraged all present to explore their interests, connect with current students and enjoy the journey. Having stayed in touch with many soon-to-be first-years, it’s clear that we’ve taken that message to heart. After a break back at our hotels, all of the admitted students and partners hopped aboard charter buses to head downtown to Acme Feed & Seed for a cocktail reception and a performance by the Owen Band. Far from a pep band that plays inspirational business-themed tunes, the band was spectacular, as any performers are likely to be in Nashville.

The people, program and city are more than I ever would have hoped for when I first began my search over a year ago. Owen’s leadership has developed an engaging community among the students, faculty, career coaches and city—one that I am proud to say I will be a part of. I remarked at the beginning of this post that it was hard for me to picture myself back on a university campus. After this experience, I couldn’t picture it any other way.

Have you recently decided where you’ll be enrolling in the fall? Be sure to share on MBA DecisionWire!

Photo credit: Sina Seger, another incoming Vanderbilt Owen student