Meet the MBA Class of 2023: Jessica Walling, USC (Marshall)

Jessica Walling

USC, Marshall School of Business

“I’m the girl who literally ran away from home and joined the circus.”

Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio

Fun Fact About Yourself: I spent time in Nepal trekking to Annapurna Base Camp.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music, BFA in Theater Design and Production

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Cirque du Soleil, Stage Manager

What word best describes the Marshall MBA students you’ve met so far and why? Motivated

What makes Los Angeles such a great place to earn an MBA? Los Angeles is one of the biggest cities in the world and you can find any industry here to get real world experience while completing your MBA.

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of USC Marshall’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I wanted to stay in the entertainment industry but pivot roles. USC Marshall is known for its Business of Entertainment Certificate program and strong alumni network currently working in the industry. For me, it was a no brainer.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at USC Marshall? The Business of Entertainment Association – this club offers opportunities to meet industry professionals, spend days on the job, and take trips to other entertainment hubs around the country. Plus I can’t wait to build deeper connections with my fellow entertainment-focused classmates.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: After undergraduate, I made the transition from costume design into stage management. As a stage manager, one of my primary jobs was calling shows (the person on headset keeping the entire show in sync and on track, also responsible for navigating the team through problems and show stops). My first show call was in an arena in front of nearly 6,000 people. The amount of work that goes in to learning how to meticulously lead a team of technicians and performers through an entire show is enormous. Most people learn how to call shows in an educational setting, but I was learning in an arena in front of thousands of people. I was so nervous but my first show was clean and that gave me the confidence to know I’d make a great stage manager.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? COVID-19 decimated the live entertainment industry. Before COVID, I was an internationally-touring stage manager with Cirque du Soleil. On March 13, 2020, that all changed in an instant and I was sent home along with the entire touring industry. I knew going forward I still wanted to work collaboratively and create art, but find a way to be intricately involved in choosing what stories get told at a company that allowed me to have more stability and room for advancement. I am hoping an MBA from USC Marshall will help transition from daily operations to upper management roles within the live entertainment industry.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? COVID-19 abruptly halted my career as a stage manager and gave me time to think about what I want my life to look like. I decided to pursue an MBA because I wanted to learn more about how businesses operate so I can leverage my past production experience with my new business education as I transition into upper management roles within the live entertainment industry.  

What other MBA programs did you apply to? UCLA Anderson and NYU Stern

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into USC Marshall’s MBA program? Be true to who you are and your story. Your uniqueness makes you an asset to any MBA program and you should highlight your individuality. I was worried my unusual story would be an obstacle, but it set me apart and gave me a distinct set of skills that continually prove valuable in the classroom. I mean…I literally ran away and joined the circus and now I’m at a top 20 business school with a premiere entertainment-focused track. If I can do it, you absolutely can too.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.