Our Stories

Back to the Classroom with a Twist

Teach For America veteran prepares to switch to health care

Cleon Rice
Commercial Rotational Development Program (CRDP) Associate, Genetech

Vanderbilt MBA 2018

Cleon Rice comes from a family of educators. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that after graduating from college, he joined Teach For America.

One lesson he took away from that experience: “I saw many operational inefficiencies and a lack of strong general management leadership,” he says. “These issues ultimately affected student outcomes, but the blame was often placed unfairly on students and their families.”

Working in industrial supply distribution after his commitment to TFA was over, Cleon felt unfulfilled. He started thinking about a career in health care, which he believed would align his interests with his skills. And that led him to think about an MBA.

He was attracted to Vanderbilt’s health care concentration, he says, and to “the small-class size that would allow me to make the experience my own.” But the right fit was important, too. “I knew that no school would have a large number of students of color,” Cleon says. “It was important to me to find the program where I truly felt as though I fit in the predominantly white business school environment.”

For Cleon, who was elected president of the Owen Student Government Association, the importance of community hit home early in his first year. “My oldest brother died suddenly during Mod 1, and it was one of the hardest times of my life,” he explains. “The sense of support I got from the entire Owen community — classmates, faculty, and staff — was unfathomable. Though I had only been here for two months, I knew where to find my extended family. When I returned home, I was met with consistent love and support. People even brought meals. I would not want to experience this at any place other than Owen.”

Read more of Cleon's story on the MLT blog.



Fun Fact: When Cleon says he’s from a small town, he’s not kidding. At my high school on the Virginia coast, my older brother was my chemistry teacher, my mother taught Special Ed, and my godmother was the assistant principal. Ironically, my older sister was the keynote speaker at graduation.

“It was important to me to find the program where I truly felt as though I fit in the predominantly white business school environment.”