Reactions to my decision to attend business school were not what I expected. Upon telling friends and colleagues who knew me well, they offered a resounding, “Really? You, business school?” It was a shock to them, but it was also a shock to me!

I did not have a grand life strategy where getting an MBA was one piece to the larger puzzle, and I had not felt like I fit in with the business students I knew from my undergraduate experience. Coming from a background as a professional musician and management consultant with a faith-driven mission to use my life in service to others, business school did not appear to be the glove that fit. Yet, as I journeyed through the graduate school application process, I came to find that an MBA was what I needed to continue living out that mission by scaling climate resilience and adaptation solutions.

Ryan Van Slyke points at written music, next to a young boy playing the violin
My students at the DC Dream Center’s afterschool music program helped me become a better teacher, leader, and human

Pursuing a Graduate Education

I knew from an early age that graduate school was in the cards for me. Growing up around a university, I loved the college environment and the intellectual curiosity it fosters. I took this to heart, completing my undergraduate studies of two majors and three minors in disparate fields—music performance, international studies, economics, and African studies.

I knew that graduate school would offer an ability to receive specialized training. As an aspiring leader at the intersection of climate and international development, I wanted to deepen my content knowledge, technical skills, and grow as a leader.

Deciding on the Degree

I struggled throughout the application process in how to pursue these goals and interests in a graduate education. On one hand, very specialized programs in climate and/or development offer a depth of subject matter expertise unmatched by a generalist program. On the other hand, professional degrees like an MPA or MBA offer fundamentals and leadership development and subject matter expertise if one searches for it. I found the tightest fit with professional degrees because I’m a practical, hands-on problem-solver with leadership aspirations.

A policy nerd by heart, I grew up around policy schools and intimately understood graduate policy programs. I applied to both graduate policy and business programs because both would have offered opportunities to meet my core objectives. Of particular importance was an ability to work across sectors throughout my career, serving in governments, as much as business or nonprofit organizations.

Ryan Van Slyke and others at a conference
My colleagues from Booz Allen and I presenting at an environment conference in Raleigh, NC on climate analytics for community resilience, 2023

The more that I spoke to alumni of both types of programs in my discernment process, the more I came to understand the ways an MBA degree is versatile.

  1. Even though MBA programs tend to focus exclusively on the private sector, I could still pursue my broader interests.
  2. The value of an MBA is understood by all sectors and offered the type of legitimacy needed to serve at the highest levels of organizations during my post-MBA career.
  3. The MBA also offered an ability to build and practice skills I did not learn in consulting and dive deeper into areas of interest like climate and development finance, a subset of impact investing.

Just determining an MBA fit my aspirations was not the end of my journey; instead, it launched an entirely new endeavor—finding the right program for me. I had hesitations about the culture of business school. I’m happy to say that I found the right fit with Team Fuqua.