Meet Vanderbilt Owen’s MBA Class Of 2020

Shanah Gaskill

Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management

A people-first Kansan fueled by ambition, humor, and loyalty.”

Hometown: Dodge City, Kansas, USA

Fun Facts About Yourself: 

  • My friends call me Big Shan.
  • My hometown, Dodge City, KS, coined the term “Get the hell out of Dodge”
  • I got a speeding ticket on my very first trip as an Uber driver.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Kansas, majoring in Marketing and Leadership & Management

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Uber, Senior Marketing Manager

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: In early 2017, Uber dominated daily headlines at breakneck speed, experiencing a continual stream of negative press coverage. Externally, the company’s brand reputation underwent heavy scrutiny and criticism. Internally, attrition was at an all-time high and employee morale was at an all-time low. Inspired to create meaningful change and confident I had the skills to do so, I ran head-first toward one of the organization’s biggest problems—culture. After pursuing opportunities outside of my marketing role, I was selected to project manage a few large culture-related projects. From recruitment to attrition, I worked with people across the organization to analyze, understand, and positively impact the life cycle of all employees at Uber. Through this work, I was able to oversee and implement strategic employee development programs that were rooted in first-hand feedback from organizations across the company.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Good-natured and team-oriented. I’ve yet to spend a ton of in-person time with my classmates, but we do have a lot of online chat activity happening. With this, it’s clear that the members of our class are more than willing to lend others a hand. Whether it is questions about a summer course or the best place to grab dinner, people are always chiming in and helping out. I’m excited to see how this will play out both inside and out of the classroom.

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? One of Owen’s values is, “We take business personally.” This value states that Owen will continually take a people-first approach in all aspects of the experience, and this value has been shown to me multiple times throughout the application process. Whether through conversations with alumni, staff, or current students, each person has gone above-and-beyond to lend me a hand. I’ve never once felt like a number at Owen. I have felt like an individual who is exceedingly welcome and wanted in this program—which was extremely unique to Owen and apparent in its intentionally smaller class size.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Professionally, I’m looking forward to joining HOPA (Human and Organizational Performance Association). Since I’m switching careers from marketing to human capital, it’s important for me to network and learn from professionals within this function of the business.  Personally, being a part of the Tech Club and Christian Business Association will allow me to work with other students that have similar interests and priorities.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I came to a fork in my career where my day-to-day title and expectations were within the marketing organization, but I was becoming increasingly involved with projects that fell within the people organization. Through my work on employee experience in the people org, I realized my professional passions lie in the human capital space. Because of this, I’m pursuing an MBA to help launch my career switch from marketing to human capital.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? I’m fortunate to have a strong network of mentors, both professional and personal, that helped walk me through the pros and cons of investing in an MBA. Ultimately, each conversation encouraged me to go after my best professional self, and an MBA is one of the strongest ways for me to do exactly that.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Kellogg, Darden, Ross

How did you determine your fit at various schools? At this point, there are just a few MBA programs that explicitly focus on human capital. I prioritized the programs that have this focus—it was important for me to get the educational background and experience in the human capital space so that I can hit the ground running post-graduation. During the application and decision process, I leaned on Poets & Quants as well as program websites to better understand offerings and culture.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? In the fall of my sophomore year of college, I felt passionate about leading the community of women I’d grown to love, and I knew I could do so in a positive way. Because of this, I decided to run for sorority president despite my age. Traditionally, an underclassman’s priorities include academics, volunteer activities, and trying not to get lost on campus. But on election day, I received a phone call from the sororities’ election committee to let me know that leadership would now be one of my priorities because I’d been one of the youngest members to ever be elected president. I immediately assumed responsibility for nearly 200 women’s academic and campus success. And with the help of an executive board and many advisors, my year as president snowballed into future campus leadership positions. Whether it’s applying for campus leadership roles, tracking down summer internships, or making professional leaps post-graduation, I pin my confidence and ambition to apply for things that may seem out of reach back to this defining moment.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? At this point, my plan is to join an employment brand team for a fast-paced tech company. My goal is to help companies recruit and keep top talent through strategic initiatives that positively influence the employee experience.

Where do you see yourself in five years? After graduation in 2020, I am going hit the ground running. I will be working toward becoming the Head of People for a startup within the tech industry. Whether that’s by working my way up through the employment brand team or taking on new people-related challenges, I will be working to make workplace teams extremely productive, strategic, and ultimately, happy.

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