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Transitioning to a New Way of Thinking

Army helicopter officer learns new skills for new career

Craig Kuphall
Innovation Chief, Civil-Military Innovation Institute, Inc.

Vanderbilt MBA 2021

After his Army career—he commanded an attack helicopter company and served seven deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq—Craig Kuphall’s goal was simple: “I wanted to pursue studies that fostered general critical thinking and leadership skills that can be utilized in many different ways in the ‘real world.’”

As Craig prepared to transition to civilian life, he and his wife decided to remain in Middle Tennessee, where they had lived for five years (based at Fort Campbell), to raise their family. The location—combined with the school’s reputation and influence and its unique Bass Military Scholars Program—made Vanderbilt an easy choice for his MBA.

He credits the faculty with helping him develop the new ways of thinking he sought. For example, Craig says, “My perceptions about marketing were completely flipped in Steve Hoeffler’s first-year marketing class. It was an incredibly fun class that showed me the scientific side of marketing. The same was true for Richard Willis’s managerial accounting class. I had hated even the idea of accounting, but then I learned that there is a subtle art to accounting thought processes that can make or break business decisions. There are many examples where I learned things I had never anticipated, and it has really changed my perspective.”

Professors also helped Craig, who served as an Army ROTC instructor during his time at Vanderbilt, develop his thinking about his next steps after the MBA. “As a career switcher without a very defined goal,” he says, “I spent a lot of time asking the faculty and staff about different career fields. No matter what, they were extremely willing to take the time and discuss any thoughts or ideas I had.”

For Craig, that kind of attention confirmed what he had heard about Vanderbilt before he enrolled. “The ‘personal scale’ that Owen offers is much more than a saying,” he says. “It’s baked into the culture of the school and all the connections you make.”

Fun Fact: As a walk-on with the Marquette basketball team, Craig technically shares a record for best free throw percentage (he was 2 for 2).

The ‘personal scale’ that Owen offers is much more than a saying. It’s baked into the culture of the school and all the connections you make.