Our Stories

Retooling His Career for Social Impact

Michael Woodnorth lays a foundation for making a world of difference

Michael Woodnorth
Strategic Growth Director, Project Return

Vanderbilt MBA 2018

Both by training and prior work experience, Michael Woodnorth was groomed for a traditional business career. But his work in the banking sector left him feeling unfulfilled. He wanted to align his career with his interest in social impact and believed an MBA could help him transition successfully. Since he was already living in Nashville (and loving it), he says, “It was pretty fortunate that a top business school was located here.”

At Vanderbilt, Michael has immersed himself in opportunities to apply what he’s learning to his career interests. One example of this was his participation in Vanderbilt’s Project Pyramid, an interdisciplinary course focused on alleviating global poverty that allows students to work on a consulting engagement for a social enterprise. For his project, Michael and a small team of graduate students from other Vanderbilt programs spent spring break in Peru conducting an environmental assessment and employee interviews at a shoe factory and its tannery suppliers. “The engagement and trip have proven to be an incredible learning experience,” Michael says, “and also provided me with a lot of personal growth.”

Through involvement with Vanderbilt’s Turner Family Center for Social Ventures (where he is a programming board member), Michael also organized a trip to Seattle for 15 students from Owen and other graduate programs. They met with and learned from companies in the social impact space, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Impact Hub, Threshold Group and Toniic. Additionally, he planned a service day at Second Harvest Food Bank for the Owen Christian Business Association and an undergraduate Christian group.

And as he looks beyond graduation, Michael has enjoyed support from the Career Management Center and faculty members who have alerted him to opportunities and connected him with people in their networks. They have been “instrumental,” he says, “in my pursuit of a career in social impact."



Fun Fact: Describing himself as “pretty crazy about physical fitness,” Michael runs, cycles, lifts weights, kickboxes and has done some mixed martial arts training.

“The engagement and trip have proven to be an incredible learning experience and also provided me with a lot of personal growth.”