Our Stories

Piloting Her Way to Her Next Career

Army officer prepares herself for landing in the civilian world

Kacie Ryan
Aviation Officer, UH-60 Black Hawk Instructor Pilot, U.S. Army

Vanderbilt MBA 2023

When Kacie Ryan joined the U.S. Army and went to flight school immediately after graduating from college, she never imagined that she would become proficient enough to work as a helicopter flight instructor, the role she took on in 2020. “I was not a natural pilot,” she says modestly. “But hard work, practice, and confidence pay off.”

Even so, Kacie says, as she contemplated what she might pursue after her active duty in the Army, she didn’t see piloting or flight instruction as a long-term career. The same was true of pathways offered by her undergraduate degree in health and exercise sciences. “Getting my MBA,” she says, “gave me the opportunity to explore different industries, expanded my knowledge about the civilian workforce and the business world, and introduced me to a vast network of people who I could learn from and connect with.”

Once she narrowed her choices down to programs with small classes and in locations that interested her, Kacie was drawn to Vanderbilt’s Human and Organizational Performance concentration. Initially, she thought that track was most applicable to her duties as an Army officer. After she began taking classes, she says, “I realized that HR is what I want to do with my future. I never would have understood that were it not for the opportunities in that concentration and in taking the classes that Vanderbilt offers.”

As with beginning flight school, Kacie experienced a degree of impostor syndrome as she entered an MBA program with no business background. “I felt like I didn’t necessarily belong,” she says. “But after just a few weeks, I realized that even in a career that is not part of the business world, there are so many things you have to offer and so many lessons you can share with classmates.

“The longer I was at Owen, and the more I heard from friends at other great programs,” she says, “I realized I made the right decision to come here. I have felt so welcomed and included that I knew it is where I was meant to be.”

Her internship, in which she created a DE&I repository for resources, practices, and procedures for Activision Blizzard, increased her confidence that she can ultimately be as successful in the civilian world as she has been in the Army.

“The Army offered me a great opportunity to take this time [to earn my MBA],” Kacie says. “And I know that I have learned a lot that I can bring back to the military. But I also know that I am equipped for the business world after my time in the Army ends.”

Fun Fact: Kacie, a Black Hawk helicopter instructor pilot, is featured in the credits of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II.

“The longer I was at Owen and the more I heard from friends at other great programs, I realized I made the right decision to come here.”