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Real Humans of MBA Students: Vanderbilt Owen MBA Class of 2023

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vanderbilt mba class of 2023Joe London, Vanderbilt Owen MBA Class of 2023

Age: 27
Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, The  Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, 2016
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry):
2016 – Present, Surface Warfare Officer, United  States Navy
2016 – 2019: Repair Officer, USS SHILOH (CG 67), Yokosuka, JA
2019 – 2021: Weapons Officer, USS ZEPHYR (PC 8), Mayport, FL
2021 – Present: Naval Surface Warfare Instructor, Vanderbilt University NROTC 

Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
Earning an MBA has always been a professional goal of mine and an eventual step in my career journey. An MBA presents a unique opportunity to start a new chapter in your life, while capitalizing on your work experience up to that point. I recently completed two shipboard tours of duty in the Navy and have begun exploring civilian sector opportunities. So it was a natural time for me to come to Owen to translate my military experience into something applicable to the civilian sector. I also wanted to find the right MBA program that would help me build the finance acumen to thrive in my next career path. 

Why did you choose Vanderbilt Owen? What factors figured most prominently into your  decision of where to attend?
I was initially attracted to Owen by the national ranking and reputation. I started my MBA decision process by making a list of schools I would be interested in attending, then comparing location, national ranking, networking opportunities, and reputation. Vanderbilt Owen very quickly climbed to the top of that list. The Owen concept of “world-class business education on a personal scale,” was a theme presented to me throughout my decision process. I understood that not only would Owen challenge me academically, but also would provide the necessary skillset to succeed in whatever career path I chose to pursue. Moreover, I understood that through Owen, I would have the opportunity to succeed with a committed team that would advocate for me as I work my way through the program and beyond. 

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of  2023?
I am currently studying full-time as an MBA student and working full-time as an active-duty Naval Officer, teaching undergraduate classes in the Vanderbilt Naval Science department. It has been really great being able to bring the skills I have learned from my time in the military and what I’ve learned from teaching into my studies at Owen. In turn, I find myself applying the  skills and management techniques that I learn at Owen to my own classroom, which, I feel, has  greatly enhanced my teaching.

Tell us a fun fact that didn’t get included on your application:
I really have an affinity for watches and especially enjoy collecting and restoring vintage timepieces. It appeals to my love of problem solving and working with my hands on small, intricate projects. Plus, I have the added benefit of being able to use my collection daily.  

Post-MBA career interests:
I have a passion for finance and the important role it has in the success of organizations and I am  interested in pursuing a career in corporate finance. Owen is an excellent resource in helping me gain the hard skills and experience needed for this new career path while also showing me how to leverage my military leadership experience toward achieving my goals. 

Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:
–What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application  process?
I would absolutely connect with MBA students actively studying in the programs I was interested in pursuing again. In my experience, this allowed me to gain  first-hand knowledge of the student experience at the schools I was considering. In the case of the Owen students I met, they helped me with my resume, gave advice on the admissions process, and provided insight into the career opportunities that people were pursuing after business school. It also allowed me to move to Nashville already knowing a few faces. 

–What is one thing you would change or do differently?
Video conferencing is here to stay. I think anyone applying to MBA programs moving forward should expect to conduct interviews and meetings in this format as they go through the process. Had I had this perspective when I started I definitely would have put more planning into crafting my interview space to enhance my personal brand. My home office was an acceptable background; however, I can see where improvements in lighting, background, and acoustics could have improved the environment and experience. 

–What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get  through it?
There is a part of the Owen application process in which you receive a random prompt and have 30 seconds to prepare your thoughts before recording a 2- to 3-minute video response. As a Naval Officer we are trained to do similar things as routine and I was able to rely on my experience. Still, the idea of pulling that off well can be a little daunting. What helped me get through it was the knowledge that it was not supposed to be an easy task and that everyone else applying would be facing the same challenge. I decided to embrace the challenge and look at it as an opportunity to communicate my personal brand in a way that would build rapport with my professional colleagues. 

What is your initial impression of the Vanderbilt Owen students/culture/community?
I have been very impressed by the caliber of classmates here at Owen and I’ve had the pleasure of working with accomplished students from around the globe who have experience in a variety  industries. Working with people who think differently and who see the world through a different lens is a privilege. It’s hard to curate this level of diverse talent at just any MBA program and Owen does it very well. It is very humbling and motivates me to improve myself daily. 

What is one thing you have learned about Vanderbilt Owen that has surprised you?
Owen creates a very challenging environment, which is to be expected. However, the culture of cooperation and fellowship that exists here is something that I was pleasantly surprised by. Every student here at Owen is working towards the same shared goals of not only succeeding academically, but personally as well. I’ve seen students help each other understand class material, study for exams, offer resume advice and share professional contacts. I even heard the first-hand experience of one of my international classmates, who was picked up at the airport, given a place to stay for his first week here, and help with this documentation by a fellow Owen student. All of this was done simply because he was a member of the Owen community. It is  something that has stuck with me and is an example I want to emulate.  

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your personal application or admissions process in  any way? If so, how?
COVID-19 restricted my ability to travel to Owen for a physical visit before accepting my offer. So, it was very important for me to get a sense of the campus, professional resources as well as the personality and character of Owen without seeing it in person. I think Owen does a great job of connecting prospective applicants with the resources needed to make an informed decision, regardless of where they are geographically. 

What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
The thought of coming back to an academic setting for the first time in 6 years was at the forefront of my mind throughout the application process and leading up to starting classes. You cannot help but wonder if the skills you learned as an undergraduate are still there or if they have atrophied over time. There is no easing into the course material at the beginning of the academic year. So, the first few weeks were a bit of a shock to the system. Luckily, the student network here is exceptionally cooperative. We support each other and get through it together. 

What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year?
I am most excited for the opportunity to learn from a diverse set of students. It’s not every day that you get to work in teams with people who are some of the top in their fields across various industries. Owen facilitates this in a phenomenal way and I’ve been exposed to different perspectives on how to approach real world problems. It has been really stimulating and I look forward to broadening my perspectives even further.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.