Our Stories

Seeking a Spot beyond Her Comfort Zone

Acrophobic mountaineer finds what she was looking for at Vanderbilt

Maria José Rodriguez Gaitan
Design Services Specialist, Céntrico Digital

Vanderbilt MBA 2018

Maria José Rodriguez Gaitan is afraid of heights. So, naturally, she joined a mountain climbing group in her native Ecuador and actively participated for three years. “I like challenges,” she explains.

That’s also what brought her to Vanderbilt. 

After working in the fashion industry in Ecuador and Colombia and practicing what she calls “intuitive management” (her euphemism, she says, for managing without knowing business fundamentals), she decided to pursue an MBA in the United States. 

“I am definitely adding to my business acumen,” she says, reflecting on her first year, “but in this program most of the time I’ve felt like I am way out of my comfort zone.” For Maria, that’s a positive.

 “To me, the best way to learn is to be out of your comfort zone,” she explains. “There are a lot of opportunities to try new roles, to learn, to meet people from different backgrounds. So with this program I feel like I am getting a glimpse of the wider world.”

One aspect of Owen that has made things much more comfortable for Maria is the supportive atmosphere. “It’s been challenging,” she says, “but somehow there is always someone available to help me — from classmates to the CMC to Professor Larry LeBlanc. (“He would see me working on his spreadsheets homework during my breaks, and if he saw me struggling, he would take the time to explain things between classes.”)

That’s an example of why, for an experienced world traveller, there’s something about Vanderbilt she has not found elsewhere. “I have lived abroad in several places, and the main difference between those places and Owen is that Owen is really good at creating a community. The fact that we have so much support and so many activities makes it easy to interact with others and create strong bonds. It really has become like my family."

Fun Fact: Maria loves yoga and cooking. Maria climbed into the crater of an active Volcano in Ecuador once.

“The best way to learn is to be out of your comfort zone.”