2023 MBA To Watch: Caroline Cate, University of Tennessee (Haslam)

Caroline Cate

University of Tennessee, Haslam College of Business

“I am a recovering perfectionist striving daily to better my community and those in it.”

Hometown: Brentwood, Tennessee

Fun fact about yourself: In my senior year of undergrad, I competed in the Collegiate Dairy Product Evaluations Contest for UTK and was awarded 2nd in Ice Cream and 2nd Cottage Cheese. Our team got 4th overall but the year after I graduated the team got 1st! We are more than a football/baseball/basketball school. Go Vols!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor’s of Science in Industrial Engineering from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Lowe’s as a Field Industrial Engineer

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in Knoxville, TN

Where will you be working after graduation? The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as an Associate Project Manager for the EV EVolution

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

I am currently a mentor to five high school students in the TNAchieves program. The program exists to increase higher education opportunities for Tennessee high school students by providing last-dollar scholarships with mentor guidance.

President of Net Impact

Recipient of MBA Program Service Award

Campus Visit Coordinator for the Haslam Graduate Programs

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Securing long-term funding for Net Impact, a national organization that aims to equip the future leaders with the knowledge to build a more just and sustainable world, was one of the accomplishments I am most proud of during the MBA program. UTK is heavily involved in sustainability efforts in supply chain and marketing capacities. However, years ago, MBA students recognized there wasn’t an organization that spearheaded the engagement efforts for graduate students.

When I joined Net Impact and was elected President, the organization was just gaining traction, but every year it was a hurdle to secure funding for the yearly dues. It was time- and resource-consuming to determine how the organization would be funded so as to not strain the growing list of members. While it might sound like a small effort, the executive team had to meet with the Net Impact national staff, justify our value to the school, and lobby for support from program leadership. Everyone who heard and understood the mission of the organization and where we felt like it could go got on board. In the end, our executive team was able to secure funding for the organization through the graduate business programs office to ensure that it would continue to add value to students’ experiences for years to come. I am proud of that work and the fact that our team will have a big impact on the future experience of UTK MBA students.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When I was an Industrial Engineer for Lowe’s, I worked with a network of engineers who were excited to solve big challenges. There was a lot of momentum around implementing new technology and creating efficient processes with those technologies in mind. I was asked to help assess the current capacity of the distribution network and identify constraining factors. I worked closely with a couple of sharp engineers, who challenged each other to look closely at the system to understand the inputs and how those impacted the overall supply chain. The project took almost a year to complete and we worked closely with subject matter experts across the organization. I learned a lot about the system as a whole and gained exposure to various groups within Lowe’s. In the end, we provided a model to assess the capacity across Lowe’s 14 distribution centers, which was used in conjunction with forecasting models to understand whether new distribution centers were needed as Lowe’s pursued growth goals. It was a lot of work, but I know it had a big impact on the organization.

Why did you choose this business school? I was living in Colorado during COVID and found myself missing Tennessee. I wasn’t sure what the right next step was for my career, but I had always been interested in getting an MBA and combining my engineering background with the business skills and knowledge of an MBA. Moving back to Knoxville to do it at UTK where I can continue to cheer on the Vols seemed like an obvious choice.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? David Maslar is an Assistant Professor in the Full-Time MBA program at UTK who teaches Financial Management I and II and Financial Statement Analysis. From someone who didn’t come from a business background, Dr. Maslar does a fantastic job simplifying the materials to bring students of all backgrounds along. Every time a student asked a question, got an answer right, or showed interest in a topic we were learning, excitement and accomplishment appeared across Dr. Maslar’s face. He brought real world examples into everyday concepts and took time to explain the details. The University of Tennessee is lucky to have him.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? In my last semester, I took a Leadership in Nonprofits course. The goal of the course was to prepare the future Executive Directors, CEOs, and board members of nonprofits for their important roles in our communities. Alex Miller, our professor, is an east Tennessee farmer who tells it like it is. He has extensive experience with nonprofits and taught us to drill down to understand what makes a successful nonprofit and how that’s not so different from a successful business. My biggest takeaway was that we don’t take nonprofits very seriously and we have to start if we’re going to make any progress on the biggest challenges that face our generation. If you want a crash course, watch Dan Polletta’s TED Talk titled “The Way We Think About Charity Is Dead Wrong”. Our class was tasked with awarding $20,000 to local nonprofits who submitted proposals at the start of the course. In the end, five were selected and our class was able to award each of them with necessary funds to grow their organizations. That direct interaction between students and the community is why the class was my favorite course I took during the MBA program.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite MBA event was the MBA Student and Faculty Awards Luncheon. We had the opportunity to nominate our peers and professors for awards recognizing each other’s accomplishments throughout the program. It’s surprisingly rare that you get a chance to highlight your peers’ outstanding contributions to a project, program, and school. Awards for scholarship, team spirit, program service, and many more were given out and we each nominated who in our class best exemplified the meaning of the award. What I loved most about the ceremony was that it was a designated time to celebrate each person’s contribution to the program. We had a chance to cheer for our classmates and enjoy time well spent building the program up and making long-lasting relationships throughout it. It was at the end of our program, so it was bittersweet. I will remember it fondly when I think of the MBA program at UTK.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth was that the University of Tennessee, Knoxville is only for those interested in supply chain. Don’t get me wrong, the supply chain program at UTK is top notch. The professors are doing cutting edge research and really know how to translate theories into practice, but there is so much that UTK has to offer. I went into the program not knowing what was next for me in my career. Through discussing different opportunities with the Graduate Career Management Center staff, networking with other MBA graduates, and exploring job opportunities, I found something I was passionate about. UTK has an emerging Entrepreneurship and Innovation program that is naturally built from close ties with the growing entrepreneurship community in Knoxville. There is a lot of interest in the clean-energy economy with TVA, ORNL, UTK and a developing entrepreneurship ecosystem in the area.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Knoxville is in a growing season! There are new restaurants, bars, shops, and cool local hangouts. On game day, the Rocky Top school spirit can be felt in the air. Everywhere you look, there is someone in orange. You can’t beat Tennessee’s school spirit and we’ve proved it through good times and bad. Tennessee has always been my home and Knoxville is everyone’s home. The people are kind, welcoming, and wish you the best.

What surprised you the most about business school? Honestly, what surprised me the most was how much people didn’t know and admitted they didn’t know. UTK’s MBA program was full of professionals who really came to learn. No one was trying to pretend to know more than they did or be someone they were not. Everyone came as they were and brought their backgrounds, expertise, and open minds to the table. I thought everyone would be more intimidating! When it came down to it, everyone in UTK’s MBA program was out to see each other succeed.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I applied early and I never expected to get in! By that I mean, I tried hard to put my best foot forward on my application. I asked the advice of peers who had been through the program or a similar program, I recruited people to read over my resume and essay responses, and I prepped for the interview. I worked really hard to make sure who I was and what I wanted shined through my application. There is no shortcut for hard work.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? It’s so hard to choose! I was lucky enough to get to work with Krista De Cooke during the MBA program. While pursuing an MBA, she was also a PhD candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She led multiple student organizations and was recognized as an Outstanding Graduate Student Leader by the University and for Outstanding Outreach and Community Service by her department. She exemplifies scholarship. Despite juggling two graduate programs, she always raised her hand to help her peers, was engaged in the classroom, and challenged each of us to think differently. During the summer, Krista interned with Homegrown National Park which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that aims to regenerate biodiversity and ecosystem function by encouraging planting native plants. She is mission-driven and sees opportunity where there are challenges. There is no doubt in my mind that Krista will be making a big impact wherever she finds herself.

I want to give a special shoutout to every parent and entrepreneur who went through the program with me. Not only were they steadfast in their pursuit of higher education, but they did it while taking care of something that needed their undivided attention. I was inspired each day by both groups and how they seemed to effortlessly manage school work and home and business life. 

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? The items on my bucket list are pretty broad, but I like the idea that I can accomplish them no matter the circumstances of my life. I have always had a soft spot for those who come after me. Whether that be women, women engineers, MBA students, introverted extroverts, or calculated creatives, I feel responsible for making their path easier. I want to create programs and systems that help them find their way with more ease and assurance. I don’t know what that looks like right now, but when the right opportunity comes along, I know I will jump on it.

Second, I want to solve really big problems. Early in my career at TVA, someone gave me the advice to boil down my career goals into a short phrase or sentence. What they wanted was to solve big problems with smart people and I have adopted that as my own personal career phrase. Working with TVA, I am interacting with some of the brightest people who are trying to solve the world’s biggest problems related to reducing carbon emission through increasing electrification and pursuing clean-energy generation. I am just happy to be in the room. I want to be solving big problems that make our world a better place to work and play.

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

“I wish to share a brief note about Caroline Cate, an MBA student enrolled in my Marketing Strategy course at the University of Tennessee during Fall 2022.

Caroline’s most salient strengths are her intellectual curiosity, diligence, and positivity. As I structure my courses to be discussion-intensive, I greatly appreciated the hard work that she put in to prepare for each session, and her value-added comments to connect the material to current events and material covered in her other classes. Additionally, I greatly appreciated her positive energy, which helped reinforce a collaborative, constructive learning environment in my classroom. The aforementioned qualities, I believe, led her to successfully complete my class and earn high marks in other classes.

But her success was not solely academic. She demonstrated that she could apply her learnings to solve today’s complex problems. She sought out a summer internship to learn more about electric vehicle research and adoption strategies. She then leveraged her learnings to bring course concepts to life and pose thought-provoking questions to her classmates. It comes as no surprise that the enterprise at which she interned extended her a full-time position.

She is also committed to serving the greater good. Seeking to fill a need for discussion on environmental and social sustainability beyond the classroom, she helped escalate the Net Impact chapter at the Haslam College of Business to new heights. For that student-led organization, she organized a career panel, presented to the Dean’s Advisory Council, and invited a highly regarded keynote speaker (John Gordon, CEO at Whomi) to campus. For her efforts, she was recognized as her cohort’s recipient of the MBA Service Award. In sum, Caroline was truly an exemplar student. She is well-equipped to lead others to solve tomorrow’s business and societal challenges.”

Neeraj Bharadwaj


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