Christie St-John, MA’94, PhD’99, recently rejoined Owen as director of admissions after eight years as senior associate director of admissions and recruiting for the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. She directs admissions for Owen’s fulltime MBA programs and the MS Finance program. Before beginning her Vanderbilt career in 1997, St-John worked in marketing and in oil and gas trading. St-John, a Nashville native, has lived abroad and traveled extensively for both work and pleasure.
Q. Welcome back! Tell us a little about your connection to Owen, and what you’re doing now.
A. I was recruited to Owen from the Vanderbilt Ph.D. program in 1997. I had lived in France and Italy for about eight years and had come back to Nashville in 1992. One day, a friend from the Spanish department who was working with the International Executive MBA Program called and asked if I would be interested in working at Owen.
I met with Peter Veruki, Susan Motz and Tami Fassinger, and I guess I passed the test since I knew the difference between Saks Fifth Avenue and Goldman Sachs. They liked the fact that I had worked in several industries in the U.S. and in Europe and that I brought a strong international outlook to the program.
Admissions was quite different from any other job I had been in, and I loved working with the students. I started out managing the exchange programs. Luckily, the dean then, Marty Geisel, was willing to let me expand my role considerably. Because of my eclectic background, in addition to handling the exchange programs, I started doing some international recruiting and helping international students with their resumes and career paths. It soon developed that I was doing just about anything related to international affairs. It was a unique position and allowed me to get to know the students from the time of their first contact with Owen throughout their careers as alumni. I have remained in touch with a number of our alums over the years. It has been so gratifying to receive welcome-back notes from many of them.
When Tami Fassinger and I started talking about the director of admissions position last summer, I was intrigued. After visiting the school and seeing all the changes that had happened during my nine-year absence, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to make an impact and contribute a different perspective on MBA recruiting from my work with the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
Q. What goals do you have for your office?
A. Recruiting more military candidates, expanding outreach to women and minority candidates, and diversifying our international pool of applicants. To that end, we’ve added several new recruiting events, such as four military-focused recruiting events, a second trip to Latin America, a few stand-alone events and fairs in Europe, and our first foray into Africa. We also joined the Foundation for African Leadership in Business. I’m very excited about this because Africa is in great need of trained managers for their expanding economy. I am very pleased that Owen will be a leader in this endeavor.
Q. How can alumni help?
A. I have always believed that alumni are the key to recruiting and yielding great candidates. It is especially helpful when they talk (in person or via email) to prospective candidates because they can share their views on the value of the Vanderbilt MBA. Moreover, our alumni are proof that a Vanderbilt MBA will lead to career success. We urge all alumni to send good prospective candidates to us directly, to help us with our yield of admitted candidates, and to remain involved with the school through any activity that they feel suits them best, whether helping at MBA fairs, recruiting students at their companies, coming back to help with interviewing, or hosting coffee chats or dinners for admitted students.
I encourage all alumni to contact me directly if they want to be involved. We promise not to abuse their generosity.
“Alumni are the key to recruiting and yielding great candidates.”
Q. What differences do you see in Owen of 15 years ago and today?
A. All the students look younger now! The library has been updated and refurbished and is really impressive. That used to be one of my favorite places to go for research and also to get away from my desk. And, of course, there are more programs today than then, and the overall class size of the MBA program is much smaller.
I do feel that the international mix needs to be tweaked a bit to include areas where we already have a solid alumni base and new areas that are opening up for MBA talent. I am also very pleased to see the caliber of alums on the Alumni Board and the business people on our Board of Visitors.
Q. You have a lot of international experience. How will that apply to your new role?
A. Working in admissions with a focus on international recruiting has led me to more than 70 countries so far. I also served on the evaluation committee at American Councils, an organization launched by former Sen. Edmund Muskie. It provides scholarships for candidates from the former CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries. This gave me the opportunity to travel to some really exotic places, such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, to name a few.
I believe in establishing relationships wherever I go, so I am bringing personal contacts with overseas educational advisers and agencies—and Owen alumni—that will help us get the kind of international diversity that we are seeking. Plus, adding Kim Killingsworth to our admission office brings an even larger wealth of international knowledge since Kim had a similar job at Cornell University.
Q. Your Vanderbilt degrees are in French and Italian. How did you parlay those interests into your recruiting career?
A. Having language skills permitted me to get meaningful jobs in Europe. It has also meant success in recruiting in Europe. I can talk to potential candidates in their languages and can also speak with corporate recruiters about things other than just business because I know the history and culture of those countries—and other Francophone countries as well. It has allowed me to develop strong relationships with educational advisers, and to empathize with our international students when they come to the U.S.—I’ve been there and I know how confusing it can be. It also helped me have credibility with U.S. students who wanted to work abroad. It isn’t easy and it requires a lot of preparation and a lot of humility.
Q. If there’s one message you could convey to Owen alumni, what would it be?
A. We need your help to keep the Owen brand in front of recruiters and prospective students. And we want to stay in touch with you. Above all, please keep us updated as to where you are and what you are doing. I foresee lots of travel in the future where we will need alumni help. The MBA market is becoming more and more competitive, and to show how strong our program is, we need to show off our alums—they are the proof that this program is one of the best for success in one’s career.