Our Stories

Finding a Place to Contribute

Ex-Marine captain transitions to business

Ryan Stierwalt
Investment Banking Associate, Houlihan Lokey

Vanderbilt MBA 2016

After earning his degree in computer engineering in 1999 from the University of Michigan, Ryan Stierwalt spent the first few years of his career writing software. Then he joined the Marines and became an armor officer, completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and, as a captain, managed a headquarters company for an armor battalion. He was deployed to Iraq when the U.S. financial crisis hit in 2008. That, he says, "piqued my interest in how business works, how businesses work within the capital markets and how macroeconomic factors impact business and society.

It piqued Ryan's interest, too, in pursuing an MBA. "I think I gained valuable leadership and management experience in the Marine Corps," he says, "but I felt like I had real gaps in my business acumen."

After submitting his applications, Ryan wound up with a number of what he believed were great business school options. A "phenomenal" visit to Vanderbilt cemented his choice.

"I was particularly struck by two things," says Ryan, who enjoys running in Nashville's Centennial Park with his dog, Henry. "The first was a fascinating forecasting class taught by Sal March, an incredibly brilliant professor who at the same time was completely accessible. The small, intimate atmosphere felt like a place where I could learn a ton and make a contribution."

Ryan was even more impressed by the Career Management Center. "I thought the way the administration interacted with students was markedly different from what I saw at other schools," he says. "Read [McNamara] took time out of his busy schedule over the summer to schedule three or four calls with me to help me talk through thoughts about my career path, put me in touch with people to talk to and offered his advice. I was shocked that he took the time to do that and was thrilled at the prospect of working with his staff. I knew if he cared that much, they would, too—and I was right!"