Meet the Vanderbilt Owen MBA Class of 2018

Members of the MBA Class of 2018 at Vanderbilt University's Owen School of Management

Members of the MBA Class of 2018 at Vanderbilt University’s Owen School of Management

Go big or go small?

That’s easy to answer…on the surface, at least. In business school, “big” means flashy course offerings, glamorous cities, and plush endowments. In the age of the microprocessor, “big” has also become associated with impersonal, slow, and disconnected. Indeed, “small” has turned into the new big: intimate, agile, and dynamic. As students weigh “experience” against “resources” and “depth” against “breadth,” MBA programs like Vanderbilt University’s Owen School of Management are poised to increasingly draw the best and brightest students.

When people picture Vanderbilt, they often imagine academic prowess. Labeled as the “Harvard of the South,” the school is best known for its leadership in education and healthcare, along with its vibrant graduate program and its panoptic strength across the disciplines. That gives Owen a broader scope, not to mention a synergy with other leading programs in law, medicine, engineering, music, and even theology. Despite these resources, Owen deliberately remains small, boasting just 175 students in the full-time Class of 2018. This size has helped make Owen one of the friendliest and most tight-knit MBA programs around. That was a “big” part of its appeal to incoming students.


For Bennet Hayes, who holds a bachelor’s degree (economics) from Georgetown and a master’s (journalism) from Northwestern, Owen’s size affords him the opportunity to stand out and practice the leadership role he’ll be expected to play after graduation. “The small class size (and at no sacrifice to the variety of the educational experience) was extremely attractive,” he says. “There’s little doubt that the small class size is partially responsible for the development of Vanderbilt’s close-knit community. I see a smaller class size as a chance for me to find leadership opportunities during my time in the program. It’s obviously important that the ultimate output of an MBA degree comes to fruition – getting a job – but I also wanted to make sure that I attended a program where I could make an impact during my two years on campus.”

Christie St. John

Other 2018 class members, such as Massachusetts native Joseph Huggard, chose Owen so they would “not feel lost in the shuffle.” That would be hard at a school that boasts a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Instead, the Owen charm is based on a high-touch support model where everything is geared to students, with faculty and staff taking their mission of being mentors very seriously.

This dynamic, where students are treated as both the center of the universe and individuals with unique ambitions and needs, has been readily apparent to Stacey Fitzgibbons, who, like Huggard, worked as a mechanical engineer at Harvard before re-locating to Nashville. “A small class is advantageous in that it allows you to receive individual attention when you need help or want to make professional connections,” she explains. “Vanderbilt emphasizes that you make the business school experience your own so that you’re not getting an MBA the Vanderbilt way, but rather, you’re getting a personalized MBA that prepares you for your own unique career path.”


Indeed, the two words thrown often around at Owen about the Class of 2018 are “unique” and “diverse.” Christie St. John, the director of MBA admissions was more than happy to rattle just how wide-ranging this class really is. “Our incoming students come from a variety of industries, educational backgrounds, cultures, and above all, ways of thinking and world experiences,” she points out. “Our class contains a former European professional soccer player, certified riverboat captain, successful California music agent, and talented film producer. There is a young woman who assisted in running a large botanical garden, plus several highly decorated military veterans. And, of course, there are a number of consultants, bankers, engineers, and health care professionals, each of whom has a particular passion that makes them stand out.”

The class is certainly comfortable in the spotlight. In the sixth grade, Sarah Gaffney performed at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. William Harrison, who calls himself “a tall Canadian dude trying to get an education before the wall gets built,” was a member of the Canadian National Team that won a silver medal in the World University Olympics in China, finishing ahead of a United States team that included several future NBA players. Deidre Mitchell has twice competed in New York City Olympic Distance Triathlon, while Hayes has made his living as a professional poker player.

St. John also describes the class as adventurous — and for good reason. Maria Jose Rodriguez Gaitan certainly fits the bill. Despite being afraid of heights, she stepped out of her comfort zone by joining a mountaineering club and eventually scaling a 19,347 foot volcano. Looking for gutsy? Brazil’s Mabel Gomes once played cat-and-mouse with criminals pretending to have kidnapped her sister for six hours before police eventually apprehended them. You can’t help but respect the courage shown by Andreas Guentner, a former pro soccer player for SSV Jahn Regensburg and BFC Dynamo Berlin. He admits to loving to sing and dance…while he vacuums.


In fact, courage, in one form or another, actually seems to be the hallmark of the Owen Class of 2018. Fitzgibbons was once “painfully shy and afraid to talk.” Now? “I think nothing of standing in front of 150 soldiers to give orders or working alongside some of the country’s most brilliant minds,” she says.

Vanderbilt's Owen School of Management is ranked 28th among the best business schools in the U.S. by Poets&Quants

Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Management

This courage often manifests itself in their ability to make transformative change. Look no further than Gomes, who spearheaded an intensive PR campaign for the Brazilian government’s IT carm, which had developed a tart reputation with the general public. Her plan: greater dialogue, outreach and training. “In one year, positive mentions about the company in media outlets increased 150%,” she notes. “Changing the culture around transparency inside one of the most important government organizations in Brazil was my biggest professional accomplishment.” Gaffney represents a similar story, forging a business engagement partnership between Viacom’s Country Music Television (CMT) and McGavock High School, the largest public school in metro Nashville. The results inspired a visit from President Obama to the school, along with a consulting contract for Gaffney with the Ford Next Generation Learning Team.

You could also argue that aside from being diverse, adventurous, and creative, the class is also wildly creative. Carys Petrie, who has lived, worked, or traveled to 52 countries, was responsible for building WildHearts, one of the UK’s most respected social enterprises. Gaitan turned a sleepy Ecuadorian shirt manufacturer into a competitive fashion firm by assembling a tight partnership between manufacturing, marketing and sales. Let’s not forget Harrison, who left his mark both on and off the basketball court. “While playing basketball in Australia, I started an annual fundraiser within my club to raise money and awareness for the fight against breast cancer,” he explains. “This “Pink out” event involved our team wearing pink jerseys for the last regular season game. Proceeds from a silent auction and ticket, merchandise, and concession sales were donated to the Breast Cancer Network of Australia. The event was a success, and the concept has since been adopted by the entire league, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars being donated to the BCNA annually.”


By the numbers, the class also measures up to Owen’s high standards, with applications and average GMATs rising slightly. “Statistically, Vanderbilt drew 896 applications for the Class of 2018, admitting 400 students for a 44% acceptance rate and a 43% yield, says St. John. “The class brings an average GMAT of 691 to the table, with scores in the middle 80% range stretching from 620 to 720. As undergraduates, the class averaged a 3.4 GPA collectively, with GPAs ranging from 3.3 to 3.5 at the mid-80% threshold.”

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