Our Stories

Brewing up a New Career

Former taproom manager learns a new way of operating

Kristen Westerbeck
Global Operations Senior Professional, Nike

Vanderbilt MBA 2022

In 2012, right out of college, Kristen Westerbeck walked into Jackalope Brewing Company, a Nashville startup, and offered to work for free. After serving for six months as an unpaid intern, she was hired as a bartender and steadily worked her way up to taproom manager, community relations coordinator, and, eventually, marketing director and an owner of equity in the business. The experience, she says, “was an absolute dream and showed me how much resilience I had in me.”

Kristen also came to recognize that her ultimate career interests resided less in marketing than somewhere near the intersection of operations and sustainability. For that, she believed she needed an MBA, and the obvious source was less than 15 minutes from the brewery.

“Vanderbilt was strong in both Operations and Sustainability and Social Impact,” she says. “I did a lot of research on these concentrations in other schools, and Vanderbilt was one of the only ones that balanced recognition of school name with the caliber of concentrations.”

Kristen appreciated how the program enabled her to pursue her interests beyond the academic disciplines. At Owen, she became president of the school’s chapter of the student-led Net Impact Club, a national organization that helps bring together sustainability-rooted leaders across an array of business functions.

The connections she formed—among both fellow students and alumni—came to represent their own type of concentration. “Owen has a small enough class size that you know your classmates and you grow with your classmates,” Kristen says. “There are so many people I’ve met in this program who I will be connected to for life.”

Nothing symbolized that closeness for her more than the Thursday evening tradition of Closing Bell. “Going from working in a brewery to an MBA program means you always know when to work and when to celebrate with a beer,” she says.

In conversations with incoming students—the kind of conversations that alumni once offered her—she encourages them to explore new options without reservation or fear. “Had I come into business school to concentrate in marketing, because my background was in marketing, I never would have found my dream role in operations with Nike,” she says. “If you think you may have strengths in another area, take a class in it. You are fail-proof within the Owen program.”

Fun Fact: Kristen has visited all seven continents and 50 countries.

Vanderbilt was one of the only programs that balanced recognition of school name with the caliber of concentrations.