Our Stories

Managing in the Civilian World

Executive Program helps Air Force vet bridge the gap to business world

Angela Zephier
Emergency Manager, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Wilmington, NC

Vanderbilt Executive Education 2023

During her time as a Chief Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, Angela Zephier had taken many courses in leadership. But after she transitioned to a civilian career in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, her boss recommended she enroll in Executive Education courses at Vanderbilt. “He thought it would help me bridge the gap between being a leader in the military and being a leader and mentor in working with civilians,” Angela says.

It was an easy decision to enroll in Navigating Organizations: A Manager’s Roadmap. “Vanderbilt has a venerable reputation as the Harvard of the South,” Angela says. Logistically, it wasn’t difficult to get to Nashville from Wilmington, N.C., where she is based.

Most of all, Angela realized she “was in a rut.” As she explains, “You can get so focused on your projects that you forget your identity, forget taking care of other folks. This program opened my mind to becoming a better leader, a better team player, and a better manager who knows how to tactfully and professionally interact with a boss.”

Angela credits case studies and breakout sessions during the course with helping her assess her own performance and apply learning to her organization. “I was sitting on the edge of my seat to learn the outcome of these cases we studied to see how the outcomes translate into the real world where I am,” she says. She also applied lessons from the course readings that reinforced the need for effective managers to manage themselves through self-care.

Reflecting on her experience, Angela believes that one of the course’s biggest benefits came during breakfast, lunch, and the social hour at the end of each day. “I was sitting down with people who were heavy hitters at other places and learning about their experiences,” she says. “It was exciting to meet these people and hear their ideas and expectations about being a leader, learning how the challenges they’re facing are similar to the challenges I’m facing. The networking in this program is just phenomenal.”

I was sitting down with people who were heavy hitters at other places and learning about their experiences.