Meet Georgia Tech Scheller’s MBA Class Of 2021

Kelsey Lyford 

Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business

“Dedicated servant leader with a passion for making a positive difference in the world.”

Hometown: Princeton, Massachusetts

Fun Facts About Yourself: I marched in President Barack Obama’s 2013 Inauguration Parade, which was an incredibly powerful experience and is the coldest my toes have ever been.

  • I sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from the U.S. to Ireland in a 295-foot tall ship.
  • I grew up in a small Massachusetts town with more turkey than people.
  • When I was eight, I ran a very profitable “business” selling cookies on the school bus after class.
  • I plan on owning a home with ocean access so I can spend my days snorkeling and boating.
  • Math has never been my strongest subject. Despite that, I pursued (and completed) an Engineering degree.
  • I recently finished a 150-mile bike ride and couldn’t walk for a week.  Apparently, training is key to endurance activities but I raised $5000 for research!
  • I am absolutely terrified of yellow-jackets and might be scared of the GA Tech mascot.
  • I am an introverted extrovert.
  • A ski resort was five minutes from my childhood home and is where I fell in love with snowboarding.

Undergraduate School and Major: United States Coast Guard Academy, Civil Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: United States Coast Guard / Deputy, Logistics Department

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: As the Executive Officer for the Coast Guard Cutter KATHLEEN MOORE’s participation in a joint agency, international training exercise, I had the incredible opportunity to lead my 24-person team through the preparation and execution of a 40-hour core training curriculum with Department of State approval. These trainings were provided to 18 partner nations and culminated in a joint operation at sea that strengthened our international partnerships and effectiveness to carry out law enforcement missions at sea.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Genuine and humble. Through all interactions, it has been apparent that I am a member of a dedicated team who genuinely cares about each other and will work to see each other succeed.

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? Scheller has a world-class sustainable business program that promotes interdisciplinary study and innovation to increase understanding of how businesses can be more sustainable and used to effect positive environmental and social change. As a dual MS Civil Engineering candidate with a focus on sustainable engineering, I desired the unique opportunity the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business offered to balance my technical skills with business acumen in order to better solve sustainability challenges – a field I am passionate about.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I am most excited to join “Net Impact.” This group is a global community of leaders who want to take on challenging problems and offer innovative solutions to environmental and social issues in order to effect positive change. This club offers the opportunity to turn my passion into action and complement my academic studies with real-world casework and impact.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? The most challenging question I was asked during my interview was to describe the biggest leadership challenge I have faced. This question was hard for me to articulate because my biggest challenge was also my biggest failure in which I was never able to overcome the problem and ultimately the individual was removed from service. However, the experience taught me more than any positive leadership experience I have had.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I am pivoting into a career as a Coast Guard Civil Engineer, a field that requires a careful balance of technical prowess, political savvy, and financial ingenuity as it is an underfunded program and its value often disregarded. The MBA program will improve my communication skills and ability to articulate via business cases the importance of our shore infrastructure improvement projects.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? University of Michigan, Ross Business School

What made you select Scheller? I saw the MBA program as a learning and leadership laboratory where I could practice my soft and technical business skills in an environment that cultivated open communication and positivity. The positive culture that I experienced during my interactions with my peers and faculty here was beyond any other program that I looked at and it was an easy decision to select Scheller knowing I would be surrounded with world-class academic programs and buoyant people.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I first prioritized academic program offerings that aligned with my passion for sustainability, closely followed by the culture of the school. I spoke with graduates of the Scheller Business College and conducted extensive online reviews of their academic course offerings. Attending Interview Day on campus was a long trip but the most valuable experience I had because it truly demonstrated the culture of the program; it gave me an opportunity to speak with current students who spoke to the amazing sustainability program.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? My defining moment occurred at 2 a.m. in the Straits of Florida at the helm of a 154-foot Coast Guard ship. I was twenty-one and fighting to stay on-scene with a Cuban “chug” – a rustic, barely sea-worthy Cuban refugee boat with 19 people in 12-foot seas that we couldn’t rescue until the seas calmed in the morning. For 6 hours I stared into the darkness and driving rain hoping the rustic vessel could hold together through the night and I wouldn’t lose 19 people. This moment shaped who I am because it drove home how desperate people are for the chance at a better life. As someone who has been incredibly fortunate to have opportunities in life, I committed at that moment to have a net positive impact in the world.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?  In ten years, I see myself as the Commanding Officer of a Coast Guard Civil Engineering Unit with responsibility for $20M in shore infrastructure improvement and maintenance projects. These projects will modernize the service and provide adequate facilities to our workforce, as well as improve our sustainable practices as an organization.

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