Meet Indiana Kelley’s MBA Class Of 2020

Natalie Shuntich

Indiana University, Kelley School of Business

An idealist, a proud veteran, a chocoholic and the female version of Mighty Mouse.”

Hometown:  Lemoyne, PA

Fun Fact About Yourself:  I used to parallel park a 225-foot ship on an almost daily basis, but these days I struggle with parking my little green car.

Undergraduate School and Major:  United States Coast Guard Academy – Bachelor of Science in Government (2012)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:  United States Coast Guard – Coast Guard Officer and District Branch Operations Manager

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: In May of 2014, I was presented with a “Regional Junior Officer of the Year” award from the U.S. Navy League. I was recognized for exemplifying the Coast Guard’s core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty. I was cited for regularly volunteering in my community and promoting the Coast Guard in a positive manner; serving as the lead conning officer in over 100 drills and seven real-life emergencies; training five new conning officers; and coordinating site-specific logistics for 19 visiting ships, several distinguished guests, and 275 service members partaking in a prominent five-day training event. While it is always exciting to be recognized for your commitment and hard work, the fact that I had such a positive impact on others and that my colleagues nominated me for this accolade is what matters most to me.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? I would describe them as ‘incredibly supportive.’ I have spoken to multiple classmates in person, over the phone and on mobile applications. It is apparent to me that the Kelley School of Business values MBA students who are bright and eager to lend a hand. I have seen numerous questions on Kelley message boards, and even more thoughtful responses from fellow MBA classmates. The classmates I have conversed with in-depth exhibit a genuine interest in finding out what makes one another unique and what each other’s post MBA goals are. A classmate of mine already introduced me to a connection she had made in an industry I am interested in, and another classmate sent a link to a business network she thought I might want to consider joining after I expressed a passion for the outdoors at the Forte Conference. Simply put, it feels like I have joined a big gregarious family.

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? My key factor in selecting the Kelley School of Business was the program’s exceptional reputation for preparing its students for success in business. As a career switcher, I wanted to attend a MBA program where I could acquire hard business skills, be surrounded by a strong professional network, and gain relevant experience in my field of interest. I remember reading a Poets & Quants article about how Kelley students were very “satisfied” with their program and felt “well prepared” for their future jobs. I also noticed that Indiana University was highly rated by MBA alumni and recruiters. I wanted to find out why those surveyed responded the way they did, so I asked students that question point blank. Several of them referenced their Academy experience. I was hooked once I learned about “Academy Fridays,” the Academy Treks and how classroom concepts were applied to consulting projects that impacted local businesses. Lastly, numerous Kelley students (and students at other schools I applied to) were quick to talk about Indiana University’s terrific focus on marketing.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I am looking forward to participating in the Veterans Club, the Marketing Club and the MBA Women’s Association at Kelley. I have been active in clubs and associations since high school, so they are a big part of who I am.  However, I am excited about applying for the GLOBASE program! I love problem-solving, working in teams and getting exposure to new cultures. I cannot imagine a better way to do all of these things at once.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I was fortunate to encounter three exceptional leaders at my last duty station in the Coast Guard. One of these individuals is currently working on her second Masters and the other two have MBAs. These three people encouraged me to take big risks, spearhead new initiatives, learn from failure and grow professionally. They were advocates for me at a point when I really needed that support and encouragement because I was at a crossroads. I knew that I wanted to shift careers, but I was not sure if I wanted to go back to school or go straight into a new job. Consequently, we had some deep conversations and they told me about their experiences in corporate America (each had a unique background). When I decided I wanted an MBA and it was the right time for me to go after it, they wrote letters of recommendation for me and made it possible for me to schedule time away from work to take the standardized tests.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? About two years, before I transitioned out of the military, I attended a Transition Assistance Program (TAP). It was at this session that I learned that the Post 9/11 GI Bill could be used to help finance the cost of a graduate degree. A couple months later, I attended a Service Academy Career Conference (SACC) in Washington D.C. with the intention of finding a job I could settle into once I transitioned. However, the companies at the conference were not ‘actively’ recruiting for the marketing jobs I was interested in and I found myself spending more time talking to the MBA admissions officers there. They spoke about the MBA network, the value of that second degree, and some of the exciting ways students were learning in their programs. When I returned home, I made phone calls to friends who had transitioned out if the military and spoke to my mentors. I was nervous about the opportunity cost of taking two years off work to go back to school and was considering using a head-hunting agency. When I ran the numbers, I saw that I could afford graduate school with the help of the GI Bill and the savings I had accumulated over the last nine years.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied to the University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler), the University of Maryland (Smith), Cornell University (Johnson), the University of Pittsburgh (Katz), the University of Minnesota (Carlson), and William & Mary (Mason).

How did you determine your fit at various schools?

When I started my MBA journey, I had an Excel document with a list of 20 schools. I made this list based on ratings and information I had read in Bloomberg Businessweek, S. News and Poets & Quants. This is a good starting point; however, my biggest advice to prospective students in determining fit is to talk to as many current students, alumni and staff as you can at the schools you are interested in attending. I talked to about 25 people at Kelley, and I did not shy away from asking questions about daily life, school diversity and pensive questions. You need to know if you can picture yourself in the shoes of a student on that campus on a Friday night to understand if you fit in there. School rankings only go so far; you have to look for a place where you can be your authentic self!  Also, you need to know that the school will support you in establishing the connections you need to get your foot in the door with your dream companies and help you make an impact as a graduate student and an alumnus.

Second, I highly recommend visiting campuses. My list narrowed down considerably once I started doing this. Some schools looked great on paper, but I discovered I would not be happy there. Having spent my time at an undergraduate institution with a small student body I knew I wanted to attend a graduate program at a large institution with a multitude of clubs, sporting events, and state-of-the-art facilities. Indiana University checked all of these boxes and had a relatively small MBA program where I could get to know fellow MBA students. The instructors I spoke to were also quick to discuss their research and the classes they were teaching. As a side note, Kelley is known for its exceptional instructors and its career services center. Furthermore, of all the programs I visited, Kelley was by far the most welcoming. The students could not stop talking about how much they loved Bloomington!  My experience is that when you are at a place you don’t like, you either air ‘all your dirty laundry’ or stay mum, and I did not see that here.

Third, consider the course curriculum, concentration offerings, and the adaptability of the program. I was really drawn to the unique Kelley School of Business academic program. Student’s spoke about the chance to design their own major and that Kelley was one of the first MBA programs to offer a single grade in the core classes. I am looking forward to getting exposure to endless on- and off-campus opportunities.

Lastly, scholarships are definitely something to consider. I knew that I would be able to get more ‘bang for my buck’ with the GI Bill by going to a public university over a private school.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? Graduating from the United States Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) was my defining moment. It was a physical manifestation of four years worth of challenges. My first two years at USCG were much more difficult than I initially anticipated. Simple things like taking a nap when I was tired, wearing a pink tee-shirt with the words “Nike” scrawled across the front, and looking down at my food during dinner time were taken away from me and they had to be ‘earned’ back. However, by the time my junior year arrived, I began taking on leadership roles in clubs, mentoring incoming freshman, attending conferences, and diving into classes that I absolutely loved! My four years at The Coast Guard Academy taught me several important lessons: 1) have a set of core values; 2) do not compromise those values when times get tough; 3) commit yourself fully to endeavors that are important to you; 4) ask for help when you are struggling; and 5) look out for others. Since graduating from the Coast Guard Academy, I have driven past the ‘New London, CT Exit 83 sign’ more than a dozen times.  Today, I recognize that USCGA gave me the grit I needed to chase my dreams rather than the dread that sign once invoked in me as a new cadet.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? A multi-day hiking trip though the Canadian Rockies is currently at the top of my list. You only live once and I have always thought that adventure is good for the soul every couple of years. After that, I hope to start a full-time job as a brand manager at a large multi-national company where I can be challenged and set up to grow into future roles.

Where do you see yourself in five years?  I want to be in a marketing leadership role in a collaborative yet competitive environment. In my job, I would be presenting data to top officials, mentoring others, and helping the company make smart decisions that will get memorable products to the public.

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