Cassandra Sullivan isn’t the type of student you’d expect at the University of Oxford…at least if you buy into the stereotypes. Ten years ago, this Idaho native was on the verge of dropping out of Boise State, consumed by fear and a belief that she didn’t belong. She did alright though, graduating among the Top 10 in her class and landing a coveted role at Deloitte.
This first-generation student is hardly one to rest on her laurels, however. Coming from a military family, Sullivan is all too familiar with the routine of frequent and unexpected moves – ones that leave spouses with little security. In fact, she estimates that 90% of military spouses are underemployed. At Deloitte, she decided to tackle the issue head-on. She explored the issue with White House advisors and met with CEO Cathy Engelbert to establish the Military Spouse Initiative (MSI) at Deloitte, a program tailored to helping the firm tap into this underutilized resource.
“I defiantly lobbied to create an internal Military Spouse Initiative (MSI) that applied Deloitte’s flexible work practices to military spouses,” she notes. “After volunteering 20-30 hours per week towards the cause for the past three years, I am so proud to be the program manager for MSI, which recruits, retains, and connects 100+ Deloitte military spouses, offers $100,000+ to military spouse nonprofits, and allows me to have a career and develop as a leader.”
After earning her MBA, Sullivan plans to return to Deloitte, focusing on her work in organizational transformation as well as the fight against human trafficking. In the meantime, she is enjoying the bells-and-whistles that make Oxford so distinctive – and a curriculum unlike any other.
“The learning structure and culture at the University of Oxford pushes students to be interdisciplinary,” she adds. “You are integrated into a ‘college’ (like a Hogwarts House) with students studying various subjects. You are embedded in a university with a history that goes further back than the United States and connected to a legacy of learning along with former kings and queens. While I am eager to study finance, social impact, marketing, etc., I truly believe being able to connect the dots between all disciplines is crucial to being successful in business.”
Katie Rentz, University of California Berkeley (Haas): When they call, you answer. That’s just how it works in the U.S. Navy. That’s exactly what Katie Rentz did when she was deployed in Iraq. To say she was stepping out of our comfort zone would be an understatement! You see, Rentz was a Surface Warfare Officer – a ship’s navigator out at sea – where she handled the unsung nitty gritty of engineering and operations. Working alongside SEAL Team Five? Well, that option never even crossed her mind!
“When I re-designated as a meteorology and oceanography officer in 2015, I never imagined my next assignment would entail a boots-on-the-ground deployment,” she admits. “Rising to the challenge of training for and completing something I never thought I would be called upon to do was transformative for me both as a leader and personally.”
Now, Rentz is ready for another transformative experience: business school. And there are few better MBA programs for that than Berkeley Haas. Now, Rentz is focused on breaking into the tech sector, with a particular interest in the intersection of autonomy and mobility. While Haas is just an hour from Silicon Valley, she believes the most important of the journey is the people with whom she is sharing it.
“Inclusivity, open-mindedness, and a passion to make the world a better place are traits everyone here seems to share, and it’s really special to feel like I’m surrounded by such ambitious, kind people…While there are many viable paths in life, I knew this path would pay dividends down the road—and it’s something I am genuinely excited about doing. It’s not only a wicket to hit, it’s two years I think I will really savor!”
Brittany Hunter, Vanderbilt University (Owen): In 2003, Brittany Hunter was the top women’s high school basketball player in the country. To put that in context, the top male player was LeBron James! Sure enough, she landed a full-ride to play for the Duke Blue Devils. On paper, people believed she was destined to a lucrative career in the WNBA. After that, the possibilities were limitless.
That is, until she suffered a career-ending knee injury as a freshman that changed her life. Looking back, that wasn’t necessarily a catastrophe for her. “I was told that I was never going to play basketball after college because of the damage, and they were correct,” she says. “What they didn’t tell me was that I was going to have to find a new identity. The road was long and beyond difficult, but one that has shaped who I am today. I was forced to find other passions and open my mind to other interests and various paths I might have otherwise never taken, hence this MBA!”
After collecting undergraduate and graduate degrees in sports management, Hunter found her way to education, eventually becoming the vice principal of the Harlem Village Academy. For all the accolades she collected in basketball, they pale in comparison to her days as a teacher, when every member of her 4th grade class passed both the Math and English Language Arts (ELA) exams. It was a high achievement…one that took to heart in her own career journey.
“I taught my students that being illiterate can be a life-threatening disability,” she writes. “There are so many opportunities and circles that a person can be left out of because of their illiteracy. In that vein, I felt illiterate when it came to business acumen and finance. I want to be literate in the business world and acquire the acumen that will make me a force to be reckoned with.”
At Vanderbilt, Hunter is working to ready herself for that world. Question is, will the world be ready for her? “The goal in five years is simple,” she says. “Be a boss, in every sense of the word. Of course, I want to be well-connected and I want to be living comfortably, but I also want to be a connector for other people and live life with purpose.”
Want more? Check out the next page for a sample of other women from the Class of 2020 who are poised to make a big difference after earning their MBAs (if not before)