Our Stories

From Two Stoplights to a Top-Tier City

Ex-college volleyballer finds the challenge and resources she was looking for

Kirstin Johnson
Performance Marketing Manager, Levi Strauss & Co.

Vanderbilt Master of Marketing 2018

How do you get from Lincoln, California — just north of Sacramento — to Des Moines, Iowa, and Madison, South Dakota? In Kirstin Johnson’s case, the route involved volleyball. She accepted a scholarship to play the sport at a small, private school in Des Moines, and when the school unexpectedly shut its doors after her sophomore year, Kirstin wound up at Dakota State in the small town of Madison.

But if her way through college was a bit indirect, Kirstin was clear about the path she wanted to take for her career: marketing. And she knew how she wanted to get there. “I wanted a program at a challenging and prestigious school,” she says. “I wanted to be able to get into a career, not just a job.”

For Kirstin, Vanderbilt stood out by enabling her to complete her master’s degree in less than a year. Nashville was a big selling point, too. “I had been living in a town with two stoplights, and I was ready to be part of an exciting, fun city,” she says.

She also liked the opportunities in a small MMark program to get to know faculty and her fellow students. “But the biggest factor for me,” she says, “were one-on-one career coaching and the alumni network. Both of these were missing in undergrad.”

Kirstin’s experience at Owen exceeded not just her expectations but her hopes. “The program is completely personalized,” she says. She cites the freedom she and her fellow students enjoyed to apply individual and team projects to subjects that interested them. “For example,” she says, “I worked on marketing research for my industrial immersion class on the outdoor rec industry, then did a project on ride sharing pricing strategies for my pricing strategies class, then research on LGBTQ+ ads in Consumer Analysis. All these projects gave us so much more insight into different industries and the ability to bring this knowledge into the work world.

“All the faculty and staff know you by name and what interests you and will do whatever it takes to help you succeed.”

Fun Fact: Kirstin is in the process of visiting all 58 national parks in the U.S. She’s made it 20 so far. (Yosemite is her favorite.)

“I wanted to be able to get into a career, not just a job.”