2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Kacie Ryan, Vanderbilt University (Owen)

Kacie Ryan

Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management

“Passionate, loyal, and caring leader determined to make a difference in the world.”

Hometown: Leavenworth, Kansas

Fun fact about yourself: I am not a gamer myself, but I am featured in the credits of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II. My husband had just finished the game when I found out and made him watch the entire credits until we saw my name!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Furman University, Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Company Commander of the Black Hawk helicopter initial entry flight training company for the U.S. Army

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Activision Blizzard – Santa Monica, CA (Remote), Talent Acquisition Intern

Where will you be working after graduation? U.S. Army – the Army is currently funding my MBA so I will return to the Army to pay back my schooling in years of military service.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: President of the Owen Armed Forces Club, Assistant Lead Communications Fellow, Women’s Business Association Mentor, Teaching Assistant for Women in Leadership

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? One of my goals as President of the Armed Forces Club was to make it more than just a social club. With the help of the rest of the board, we put on multiple professional, networking, informational, and social events. Of all the events, I am most proud of two events we hosted in the same week. We created and hosted the first prospective MBA student webinar for veterans with the help of Owen Admissions to share resources and make the application process and military-to-MBA transition easier for veterans. The next day, we partnered with Owen Student Government Association’s DE&I team to host a forum where veterans within the program could share their reasons for serving and backgrounds in the military. It was very rewarding being able to share the incredible stories and backgrounds of Owen veterans with our peers.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Not a common or necessarily useful skill in the business world, but I am most proud of becoming and serving as a Black Hawk helicopter Instructor Pilot for the U.S. Army’s flight school before coming to Owen. Flying did not come natural to me at first, so I would have never imagined that I would be teaching students at the same flight school I went through six years later. I loved teaching and seeing students improve, as well as treasure the bonds I formed with other instructors during that time. Also, being a woman in a male-dominated field, I am proud that I hopefully had the opportunity to be inspiration or motivation for future female pilots.

Why did you choose this business school? I was initially attracted to Owen’s Human & Organizational Performance (HOP) concentration and small class size. I felt that studying HOP would best translate back to my career in the military (and have since discovered my interest in HR). The small class size was pivotal to me, as this was a highlight of my undergrad experience at Furman; I love getting to know all my classmates and professors. As I started talking to current students at Owen and working through the application process, it was quickly evident that it was the school for me. The Owen and Vanderbilt community were all so helpful, friendly, and made me feel welcome right away.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Kimberly Pace, Management Communications

My favorite MBA professor is Kimberly Pace or K-Pace as she is known to her students. She has a little bit of an advantage because I loved her class and went on to work with her again in my second year as a Communications Fellow, so we have spent a lot of time together. She teaches Management Communications during Mod 1 to all first-year MBA candidates. She is so passionate about teaching communication and she does a great job explaining why it is such an important skill for leaders. She is engaging, energetic, welcoming, and genuinely cares about the success and future of her students.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? One of the favorites classes has been Managerial and Organizational Effectiveness. This class taught me frameworks and strategies to be an effective leader and manager. More importantly, the course required a great deal of introspection and made me evaluate my own leadership styles and team dynamics. I learned a surprising amount about myself in this class through personal reflection sparked by the topics we discussed. Professor Ranga Ramanujam was extremely passionate about the subject and created a great environment to learn from each other, our successes, and our failures.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? I love the Owen “Closing Bell” tradition, a weekly social event hosted by a different club or organization. Closing Bell kicks off the weekend and almost always highlights the uniqueness of or celebrates student organizations. It is a great opportunity to learn about a culture or tradition and just fostered camaraderie with classmates and staff.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I think there could be a misconception that since Owen is a small program, there are less opportunities. I think it is actually the opposite and Owen’s “personal scale” approach provides a more focused and individualized style to business school and career-searching. In my experience, having a smaller alumni network also seems to create more willingness to connect with current students, and it is more unique to meet or work with Owen grads.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? There is always something happening in Nashville! Whether you love music, food, drinks, outdoors, sports – there is something for pretty much everyone within a 30-minute drive. Owen is right on the outskirts of downtown, so you are never far from the action.

What surprised you the most about business school? What surprised me most about business school is how much of the experience takes place outside of the classroom. The classes have been wonderful and enlightening, but I have learned so much and built amazing connections at Owen-sponsored extracurricular and other social events. I have loved getting to network and build long-lasting relationships with my peers, alumni, and staff outside the classroom. There is so much more to business school than just the course work and some of my best memories will be the special and unique experiences I have been afforded while working towards my MBA.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I think the fact that I was confident but realistic (and not arrogant) was beneficial to me in the application process. Through my essays and interviews, I highlighted the unique leadership experiences I have gained from the military, but also admitted my weaknesses and lack of stereotypical “business” experience. By doing this, I proved that I could provide Owen with a diverse skillset and viewpoint, but Owen still had much to offer me; there was a genuine value added to both parties.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? While I admire so many of my classmates, I most admire Emmy Banks. Emmy is extremely involved at Owen and around Nashville but still puts her heart and soul into every organization she is a part of. She is a natural leader, truly loves to give back, and will always put others first, even if it means she has to send emails at 3 AM. She has been a crucial piece in the success of so many classes and events around Owen this year and has become a dear friend and inspiration that I could not have imagined completing my MBA without.

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

I have always had an interest in starting or contributing to an existing non-profit that assists veterans with PTSD or helps combat military suicide. This is something that I unfortunately have dealt with in people close to me and I am very passionate about.

After my time in the military, my goal is to take the knowledge and experience I gained in my HOP and strategy concentrations at Owen to pivot to a career in Human Resources/People Operations.

What made Kacie such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“From the start, it was clear that Kacie was a disciplined leader. As a NCAA Division 1 athlete leading her school as the captain of her cross country and track team, to her stellar academic footprint graduating cum laude, to her impressive professional journey serving her country as Captain in the US Army and a trained Black Hawk Helicopter pilot, her story to that point stands out a memorable one.

However, good leaders are trained leaders who need constant personal and professional development.

And here is where Kacie’s story takes an interesting and once again, selfless turn.

Kacie chose to attend Vanderbilt Business because she wanted to hone her leadership and personnel management skills, push her critical thinking skills, learn to use creativity to solve problems, and practice more effective communication techniques. She is obligated to return to the Army after business school yet still chose to take two years out of the work force to dedicate herself to more training. And that is why Kacie Ryan is not just a good leader, she is an exceptional leader. She is not content with her journey so far and intentionally chose to go back to school become a trained leader who constantly strives to learn more.

Since Kacie’s time at Owen, she has assumed many roles as a member of this community, but her biggest role has been as President of the Armed Forces Club. While it might be her biggest role, Kacie’s approach to the role has been as a quiet leader. She has quietly put things in play without fanfare or even recognition. The monthly AFC networking gatherings are new to Owen. The creation of a Military Admissions Fellow (creating something that can last beyond an immediate need) highlighted quiet creativity and recognition of a fellow military classmate who is moving on from that role so the work can continue when she leaves Vanderbilt. Leadership is about making others better in your presence and making sure the impact lasts in your absence. Kacie has led this AFC student club with quiet force and is leaving the club better than it was before. The new AFC leadership has been announced and I congratulated them but also told them that the bar has been set high.

Sue Oldham
Associate Dean, MBA Program Operations


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