By Ryan Underwood
Around noon on March 8, news reports of an American tourist killed in a terrorist attack outside of Tel Aviv began to circulate around the Vanderbilt campus and among Owen students who were on spring break. Nearly three hours later, a message from Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos confirmed the unthinkable: Taylor Force, a first-year MBA student and West Point graduate, had been the person killed in the attack while on a school trip studying global entrepreneurship.
The 28-year-old Force “exemplified the spirit of discovery, learning and service that is the hallmark of our wonderful Owen community,” Zeppos wrote. “This horrific act of violence has robbed our Vanderbilt family of a young hopeful life and all of the bright promise that he held for bettering our greater world.”
Ten days later, family, friends, classmates, faculty and staff filled Benton Chapel to mourn Force’s death. At the service, Zeppos announced the creation of the Taylor Force Memorial Scholarship for graduates of U.S. military academies going to Owen, with preference given to those who attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. Mark Cohen, professor of American competitive enterprise and professor of law, who was the faculty leader on the Israel trip, said despite Force’s short time at Owen, he and many others got to know him well.
“For all the students here who knew him for just the few short months that we did, we could easily see how he became the warm, funny, modest, thoughtful and always friendly person that he was,” Cohen said. “As the father of a daughter who is Taylor’s age, I want (the Force family) to know I would have been proud to call him son.”
Dean Eric Johnson, who flew back to Nashville from a student trip in Guatemala when he received the news of Force’s death, said words simply can’t express the tragedy. “Taylor really was a quiet leader in every sense of the word. Humble and authentic,” Johnson said. “We all feel better to have known him, even in the devastation of this time.”
Justin and Stephanie Shults
Just one week after the memorial service was held for Force, the Owen community received more devastating news. The U.S. State Department confirmed that graduates Justin Shults, BA’08, MAcc’09, and his wife Stephanie Shults, MAcc’09, were among the dozens who perished during the terrorist bombing at the Brussels airport March 22. Justin and Stephanie met while earning their Master of Accounting (MAcc) degrees at Owen. Justin received his undergraduate degree in economics from Vanderbilt as well.
The couple was residing in Brussels, where Justin worked for Tennessee-based filtration company Clarcor Inc. and Stephanie worked for global food manufacturer Mars Inc. “This bright young couple chose, in the spirit of discovery, to become global citizens in order to grow, to learn and to broaden their perspective,” Zeppos said upon learning of their deaths. “They represented the very best of Vanderbilt and Owen.” Karl Hackenbrack, associate professor and faculty director of Vanderbilt’s MAcc programs, served as faculty adviser to both of them and knew them quite well. He said during their time at Owen, they were fondly remembered by faculty, staff and classmates.
“We remember Justin’s radiant smile and Stephanie’s approachable, empathetic demeanor,” Hackenbrack said. “They were always sensitive to the needs of others, identifying those on the periphery of a group and extending a genuine welcome and hand of friendship.” Funeral services for the Shultses were held April 8 in Lexington, Kentucky.
Contributions may be sent to:
Vanderbilt Gift Processing Office
PMB 407727, 2301 Vanderbilt Place
Nashville, TN 37240-7727
Attn.: Taylor Force Memorial Scholarship or Attn.: MAcc Program Fund