2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Helen Elizabeth Old, Duke University (Fuqua)

Helen Elizabeth Old

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

 “Woman. Southern. Six-syllable name. Curious. Resilient. Determined. Joyful. Empathetic. Loving. Generous. Leader. Faith-driven. Family-oriented. Hobbyist.”

Hometown: Beaumont, Texas

Fun fact about yourself: I am incredibly gullible, and April Fools’ is my least favorite holiday. Without knowing that April Fools’ jokes were part of the culture at Epic, I wrote a policy-length response to an announcement that part of the campus was going to become clothing-optional. It was thrilling to have the tables turned and be the one delivering the prank via a “Tav Tuesday” email to my fellow Fuqua MBAs this fall, promising that they could pick up an entire ham or turkey before Thanksgiving break!

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Virginia – English Literature Major, Bioethics Minor

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Epic Systems Corporation in Madison, Wisconsin

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Accenture Strategy – New York, NY (Virtual Internship)

Where will you be working after graduation? Accenture Strategy, Senior Strategy Consultant; New York, NY

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Healthcare Club FY Cabinet, Healthcare Conference Team; Section Health and Wellness Representative; Duke University Chapter of Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Quality and Innovation Scholar (QISP); Fuqua on Board Fellow; Duke MBA Consulting Club Case Parent; Fuqua New Venture Fellow; MBA Association VP of Student Life; Teaching Assistant for two courses

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my achievements in my extracurricular role as VP of Student Life on the MBA Association. When I came into the role, we still had a multitude of limitations around ways that we could gather in person, yet Zoom fatigue was reaching a breaking point. I was eager to help our community become closer-knit and feel connected despite these challenges. In my tenure, I have gone out of my way to innovate – both with my own ideas and with suggestions from others – to overcome those challenges.

The capstone of my experience in this role – for which I am most proud and truly humbled by the response I’ve seen from my peers and their partners – was the feat of successfully hosting our Winter Formal this January (2022). I didn’t take “no” for an answer, and advocated for my fellow students (and their partners) with the administration and MBAA to partner and persevere to find a way to safely hold this event for as many people as possible. This meant going to great lengths to establish COVID protocols specific to the event and find venues that could accommodate the unique requirements necessary for our group’s size and the school’s COVID requirements. We sold out, and people willingly followed all of the guidelines and were so grateful for the opportunity to have a “normal” event. The fact that I could look around at the party and actually feel the morale level rising in the room and witness the pure joy on their faces was absolutely priceless and worth every single minute of planning. Our class has seen a lot of challenges and limitations in terms of how we have been allowed to engage with one another. I feel honored I was trusted with this position and proud that my actions could help pave the path for further events to happen this spring (hosted by clubs and other student groups) to hopefully help us graduate feeling more connected and fulfilled by our MBA experience.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When I started working at Epic, I honestly had no concept of how technical the job of “implementation consultant” was going to be. I experienced many challenges in getting up to speed and presenting myself as the expert in our software to clinicians around the country. It was an uphill battle, and I am most proud of the fact that I navigated it with humility, grace, and a positive attitude. I learned to ask for help when I needed it and played to my strengths to demonstrate my value-add, while I worked on addressing my areas for growth. I sought opportunities to learn about the software in non-evaluative contexts so that I could grow in my understanding and convey this knowledge to my own clients and work. Ultimately, after almost four years at the company, I had established myself as a point person for system guidance for hospitals that were merging or sharing their software; completed a highly detail-oriented technical project for an international client; served as the liaison between twelve radiation oncologists and the Epic development team, and a testing lead for multiple client engagements; and I became a mentor and team lead to new hires to help them grow, as many did for me.

Why did you choose this business school? When choosing a business school, I narrowed my search by focusing on schools with strong programs in healthcare; the Health Sector Management program at Fuqua made it a clear standout. When it came down to making a decision, I wanted to go to a business school where I felt I would thrive – both personally and academically – while feeling empowered to grow and transform. I had the privilege of being able to see a number of programs in person in 2019 and 2020 before COVID-19 shut down campus visits. This gave me the opportunity to get a feel for the “vibe” of different programs. Fuqua stood out to me because I always felt energized here.

At Fuqua, even as a prospective student, I cracked jokes with strangers I met for the first time in class visits; I was excited to explore the social scene and felt comfortable. Sometimes “comfortable” can have a negative connotation and suggest that growth may be stifled or halted. It was quite the opposite in the case of Fuqua. For me, it’s only possible to grow in a space where I can feel comfortable expressing vulnerability and expressing my full-fledged self authentically. I am pleased to report that the vulnerability and authenticity I felt unlocked during my visits has increased during my time here. I have gotten to know myself much better, been stretched, and grown in confidence as a result of this experience. I would absolutely choose Fuqua again.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Boldly step up to be the lead on assignments in subject matters that felt intimidating, sooner. Last year in the spring, I had a conversation with my COLE Fellow, Kirk Wilson, about my goal to grow in self-confidence. One of his recommendations was to challenge myself to take ownership of assignments in subject matters that felt challenging or scary, rather than shying away from them – that through overcoming those fears, I would grow in my assurance of my abilities. Going back, and if time were unlimited, I wish I had been more proactive with doing this from the beginning, even if I was a “supporting” owner/contributor to the assignment for the more quantitative classes. Coming into business school, I knew I had certain strengths and weaknesses, and hoped that they would be balanced out by my peers. However, I think another way to approach this would have been to take the lead more frequently in our non-dominant spaces and back each other up/help one another learn, rather than default to the person who was already a natural/experienced in a particular area.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Team Fuqua is part of what you’ll hear about us and may feel skeptical or think it must be a myth. When I came through and was asked “What Team Fuqua means to [me]” in my admissions interview, I said, “a genuine outpouring of support.” I am here on the other side to debunk any skepticism or mythology: Team Fuqua is not a myth, and it’s not a branding tool. It’s real.

In my time at Fuqua, there have definitely been some trials in which my class (’22) has felt challenged to feel connected due to lack of “normal” experiences – particularly in our first year. However, Team Fuqua is alive.

Yes, alumni respond and are eager to share their time and stories with us and help us grow, even if it’s a cold outreach on LinkedIn. Yes, these people show up and drop food at your door when you have COVID, and take your dog out for walks when you are too winded to do so (also thanks to COVID). Yes, these Fuquans are there to check in and see through a surface level “doing fine” response and actually take the time to care, ask, and listen about what’s going on in your life, help you consider which internship or job to take, and what’s happening on a deeper level. Yes, these people are the ones with whom you’re going to laugh when you’re trying a new sport (cough, golf) or branching out on the social scene/adventure sports (Aspen ski trip) and make lifelong memories.

I’m here to report: Team Fuqua may mean something slightly different to each person you ask to “define” it, but I do believe it is a vibrant part of what makes the Fuqua community so special.

What surprised you the most about business school? People will tell you to be careful – business school is going to fly by. What I have been surprised to realize is how much every little experience has added up to create such a huge impact and change in such a small amount of time. This time is truly unique to get to take a step back from working to go back to school full-time. Every person here is trying to achieve something that may differ from the person sitting next to them, yet I truly believe that each one of us has grown or transformed as a result of the experience. At times, it was easy to feel imposter syndrome when learning about my peers’ backgrounds, yet then we would have a daring conversation and realize that everyone felt that way, which enabled authenticity and growth to occur. I don’t think I knew how deeply personal that transformation would feel (rather than academic, for example).

I am amazed by the connections we have been able to make with one another and the deep level of kindness and generosity of spirit that I have seen in my peers, as well as the level of respect and understanding we have developed for one another, despite a lot of our time together last year being virtual. I’ve gained a lot of appreciation for the little moments that happen when least expected and leave a huge mark. I’m not always good at slowing down to recognize these moments when they happen, but in looking back I understand that intentionality in interactions with my peers has been one of the most invaluable parts of the experience.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I took advantage of Fuqua’s Open Season Interviews, which allowed me to “opt-in” for an early interview during a campus visit before I had even submitted my application. Rather than waiting for an invitation (or lack thereof) and deferring that decision to the Admissions Committee, I was proactive and demonstrated my interest and investment in Fuqua. I knew my test scores were perhaps not the most competitive, but I also knew that my personality and ability to interview are assets that could help me sell myself. By interviewing early, I presented a face and personality to my “25-Fun Facts” essay and the woman the Admissions Committee would read about on paper. I genuinely expressed my love of Fuqua and desire to join this community, before they could have the chance to say “no”. Be proactive with any chance you have to set yourself apart!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Kelli Valdez. My first interaction (of memory) was bonding with her over our shared love for Broadway music that was playing as an intro on Zoom before the start of our Entrepreneurial Mindset and Action (EMA) class during Summer Term of first year. My relationship with Kelli has become one of my most cherished at Fuqua. She was my Section Representative, and I had the honor of being part of her cabinet. She is so influential that – despite her personal need to be physically remote for our entire first year – she made a HUGE impact on our class and served as glue to keep us together as a section. During moments of tension last year, Kelli would host section-specific daring dialogues and debriefs to process and unpack issues as a group, which helped us understand a larger array of opinions and perspectives while growing closer as a family.

This year, I’ve had the joy of sharing time on campus with Kelli in person, and observing her in leadership roles as a Co-President for the Duke MBA Consulting Club and the VP of Academics on the MBA Association, a COLE Fellow, a mother to twin five-year old boys, a strong contributor to classes, and an insightful friend. I don’t know how she manages to do it all, but I admire Kelli deeply. She is an incredible human and friend, is not shy from having deep conversations, and she has the most CONTAGIOUS laugh and smile – dimples included – when she shares a moment of joy and connection with you. I will never forget this and feel so honored that we are not only classmates and section-mates, but also friends.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Growing up, I always wanted to be a physician. In college after my first year at UVA, I did a summer internship at my local hospital, CHRISTUS St. Elizabeth in Beaumont, Texas. Here, I had the opportunity to rotate through all sorts of departments – including administration to spiritual care, surgery, the pediatric ICU, and more. Paul Trevino, the President and CEO of the hospital, made this rotational internship experience possible. He may or may not realize how influential the experience was for me because, throughout my time and interactions, I was doing deep introspection through my conversations as I tried to discern whether or not to continue working toward going to medical school.

Paul enabled me to see and appreciate the multitude of cogs in the healthcare wheel that must function efficiently and effectively in order to deliver patient care. Prior to my time at St. Elizabeth that summer, I had a more myopic perspective that centered around “doctor” as the key role for healthcare. As a result of my time that summer, I realized that I did not see myself as the physician, and I gained respect and admiration for the hospital system at-large. I began to explore what other options may exist – for example, within the business side of healthcare – for me to pursue a career that would enable me to positively impact the healthcare industry to support and empower healthcare professionals.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. I want to feel that I have made a positive, meaningful impact in the healthcare industry, particularly the provider space. I am passionate about harnessing the potential at the intersection of technology and healthcare and working toward a world in which we deliver high quality, high value care to patients without sacrificing the well-being of providers (physicians and other clinicians) in the process. If I can have a positive impact to reduce burnout for those who have chosen medicine as their vocation, I will feel I have succeeded.
  2. Someday, I’m going to start my own business or non-profit! In a world where money is no object, this will be centered around my hobby and passion of knitting and the fiber arts. Ideally, I would have a yarn/fiber arts store and café combination in my local community – similar to The Sow’s Ear in Madison, WI – which was a haven for me in my time there. The business or non-profit would serve as a gathering place for individuals across generations and diverse backgrounds. It would cultivate a spirit of acceptance and creativity and include community work to teach and empower others to know how to knit.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? The pandemic has changed my view of a career in three key respects. First, we’ve seen that location-dependency no longer has to be a main focus or limiting factor as an individual shapes a career arc. This expands possibilities, whether trying to figure out how to accommodate lifestyle choices, a dual-professional household, or location proximity to family, for example. Next, I think we have all become more keenly aware of the importance of having a sense of balance (this doesn’t necessarily mean 50-50) and prioritizing personal well-being as part of a career. In essence, through working at home and having various obstacles coming into play, perhaps we will remain more accepting and understanding of the different types of workstyles. That may include not traveling to client sites every week, workday timeframes, working from home, doing a workout midday, having a break to go take the kids home – that are most conducive to empowering individuals to succeed. Finally, I think that the distance that we’ve all experienced during this time has emphasized how paramount relationships are and the importance of finding quality people with whom you can enjoy working and whom you can trust, even if you’ve only met within a virtual environment. It can take more effort, but I have realized that being creative and taking the time to figure out how to connect genuinely with others is going to be a top priority for me, and I can’t take relationships for granted.

What made Helen Elizabeth such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“When I look back on the incredibly challenging year, there is a bright light—that shining example of Team Fuqua at its best is Helen Elizabeth Old.

I was fortunate to meet Helen Elizabeth early in her first year at Fuqua. I was struck by how authentically she cared about others and her genuine curiosity about how to make Fuqua home, both for herself, and for her classmates. I was excited by our many conversations and Helen Elizabeth’s desire to learn and grow on the journey, and made sure to always keep an eye out for her on Zoom, or in the hallways. This was a relatively easy task because I felt like I saw Helen Elizabeth everywhere. And no matter how she was feeling, or what was going on, I was greeted with a smile.

When she was selected as the Vice President of Student Life in the spring of 2021, and tasked with the charge of helping elevate the student experience, in a time of unprecedented (and understandable) feelings of frustration and disconnection, no one could have predicted the impact. And no one could have been better for the role, and for Fuqua.

Helen Elizabeth was the driving force behind the events and activities that helped bring the school closer together and shape the student experience. She launched summer term social programming, the first in-person Fuqua Friday in two years and the many that followed in the fall and winter, and the only event to date that has brought the entire student body together.

Helen Elizabeth approached each day, and each interaction, with a tireless energy and enthusiasm that I have seen unmatched in my time at Fuqua. With intelligence and grace, she balanced the consistent, often challenging, feedback from her peers and advocated on their behalf. Her selfless desire to lift up her classmates, and creatively think through how to motivate connections, quickly earned the admiration and trust of the leadership team.

Having a front row seat to watch Helen Elizabeth pull off the Fuqua Formal is unquestionably a highlight of the year. Having been at Fuqua for 15 years, first as a student, and now as a staff member, I can’t recall a student who leaned into such significant adversity and through sheer will, created an unforgettable experience that has had such a positive impact on the entire student community.

As an administrator at Fuqua, I am often asked to share my definition of Team Fuqua or what it means to me. I now have the gift of describing the journey of Helen Elizabeth. She authentically, and selflessly, leaned into a leadership challenge during a time of unprecedented adversity. Without a blue print, or playbook on how to perform her role, she confronted each day with optimism and enthusiasm and an authentic desire to do something special for her classmates to help bring them together. As a result, she helped rebuild tradition, helped foster innovation, and will leave Fuqua a much better place than she found it!”

Steve Misuraca
Assistant Dean


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