Meet The MBA Class Of 2020: Profiles In Courage

Curtis Duke

Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management

“Passion for the outdoors, sucker for Broadway and everlasting devotion to my brothers in arms.”

Hometown: Morristown, Tennessee USA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have the world’s greatest dog. She is a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon whose name is Daisy Duke, and she pretty much goes everywhere with me.

Undergraduate School and Major:

Sewanee: The University of the South, majoring in Physics

Missouri University of Science and Technology, MS in Geological Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: United States Army, Project Engineer

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Hurricane Irma and Maria caused utter devastation throughout the U.S. territories in the Caribbean in late 2017. I was selected to manage operations on St. Thomas and St. John, USVI. By the time I was returning to the Corps of Engineers District in Saint Paul, MN, our team (the Corps of Engineers and contractors) had removed over 100,000 cubic yards of debris, installed more than 2,000 temporary roofs, and installed a multitude of generators for critical public infrastructure. I was so thankful for the resilience of the local community and the volunteers who raised their hands to help. The public/private partners executed the mission with extraordinary operational efficiency.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Personable. I do not know how the admission team differentiates personality by looking at resumes and reading applications, but I would love to be a fly on the wall. From Welcome Weekend through Orientation, the creativity, intellect, and empathy was utterly apparent through the thousands of messages flowing through our online community.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? The alumni network was completely outstanding. It revealed the true nature of the school and the vibrant and expansive network of truly genuine people with complete loyalty to their school.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Without a doubt, the Turner Family Center of Social Ventures. The breadth of initiatives and experiences highlighted by the current students during Vanderbilt’s Discover Weekend was incredible. I cannot wait to augment my education with involvement in a social venture of this magnitude.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? During a counseling session with a Veteran mentor, I was anxiously describing my love for the Army while cautiously alluding to my desires step away after almost 10 years. I was pondering what it meant to step away. This mentor, whom I had only known for a short time, suggested pursing an MBA while still maintaining purpose by volunteering within the Veteran community. That was it!

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? Anything worth having takes time (and money) to achieve. Being worth the investment was never a thought that crossed my mind.

What other MBA programs did you apply to?

University of Texas, McCombs School of Business

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

University of Tennessee, Haslam College of Business

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I looked at a variety of factors, including geolocation (to be near family after 10 years), relationships and correspondence with alumni, Veteran presence, class size, and office of admissions communication. Owen fit all these factors, and the care and diligence in interactions with peers, alumni and admission officers was utterly stunning.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? It was certainly not a specific moment, but more of a timeframe. At age 23, I was a platoon leader for a route clearance platoon in Iraq for about 7 months. What defined this time was the professionalism and poise of the soldiers (age 18 to 35) and the amount of knowledge I gained from my commanders, peers, and, especially, the soldiers and noncommissioned officers within my platoon. They imparted me with wisdom, experience, and really knowing what it means to be a leader.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I want to work in finance with a focus in renewable energy.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Career-wise, I wish I knew!  I will always be involved within the veteran community. I hope to on the board of a local veteran nonprofit in my spare time away from my career.

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