Senior Spotlight: Jacob Schroeder
This May, we’re shining the spotlight on some of our College of Arts and Science seniors! Meet Jacob Schroeder, a double major in economics and history, who also has minors in business and Spanish.
What was your favorite class and why?
My favorite class at Vanderbilt was my Freshman Writing Seminar on the Cold War with Professor Thomas Schwartz. I’ve always had a passion for history, but this course inspired me to pursue my economics and history majors and embark on a senior honors thesis.
Coming from a high school that didn’t challenge me academically, Schwartz pushed me to grow as a writer and historian by providing blunt and constructive feedback. My final project in his class was an independent research paper investigating Richard Nixon and the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Schwartz guided me through the project by providing close mentorship. He would later take me under his wing as his research assistant, a role in which I had the privilege of helping him complete and publish his biography on Henry Kissinger.
Since taking this class, Schwartz has been the single most impactful mentor/father figure I’ve gotten to have on this campus. I went on to take four straight semesters of classes with him, and he helped me establish a prominent American Enterprise Institute Executive Council on campus (one of my favorite extra-curriculars). Throughout my time at Vanderbilt, Schwartz has connected me with former students who have had a profound impact on shaping my career.
As a senior completing my history honors thesis under the tutelage of Professor Schwartz, it is surreal to see everything come full circle. I’m incredibly grateful I’ve gotten to take this fascinating and challenging course and am thankful to have continued to grow under his mentorship.
Can you tell us about a project that you really enjoyed?
I’ve had an absolute blast working as a teaching assistant for the business course Managing in Adversity taught by Michael Ainslie and Professor Patrick Leddin. It is an unprecedented, never-before-created class at Vanderbilt in which we host CEOs and executives from all over the country as guest speakers. Many prominent figures such as the CEO of American Airlines Doug Parker, author James Patterson, the Deputy COO of BlackRock, and even John Ingram, the chairman of Ingram Content Group, LLC. and co-owner of the Nashville Soccer Club, have joined us.
This class was the brainchild of Michael Ainslie, a Vanderbilt graduate and former CEO of Sotheby’s, an art-auction house. He has graciously shared his time and network with students in the business minor program and has been an incredible mentor to me! Thanks to his hard work starting this class, I have no doubt that our students will take away life-long connections and leadership wisdom that will propel them far into their careers.
As this class has never been taught before, I’ve had the unique opportunity to play a large role in the writing and development of the curriculum. Each guest speaker presents a custom business case reminiscent of those taught at Harvard Business School, highlighting a particular moment of adversity they had to overcome. To help develop their cases, I’ve worked alongside these speakers, supporting them in writing their stories and keeping their content tailored to the needs of our students.
When they visit campus, I’m responsible for coordinating class networking luncheons and dinners, and facilitating their itineraries in Nashville. This has entailed hours of facetime with nearly all of our 27 guest speakers––significantly more direct work with executives than I’ll get in my consulting job after school! What is particularly remarkable about working with these incredibly accomplished individuals is the mentorship and guidance they’re willing to offer me. Getting decades of wisdom passed down in direct conversation is something that will leave an indelible impact on me and has been a real inspiration.
In addition to working directly with executives as guest speakers, I get to help guide and support the class in their learning experience. This has been a really cool opportunity to share my career mentorship and guidance with students who are just about to enter their internship recruitment journeys. Supporting others and seeing them achieve their goals has been without a doubt one of the most rewarding parts of my Vanderbilt experience and has made this particular project even more enjoyable!
Can you tell us a little bit about your balloon/entertainment business?
When I was only six years old, I began twisting balloons. My mother had owned an educational event company, and at her community programs, I played the part of every embarrassing character imaginable: a clown, a dancing chicken—and I even twisted balloons dressed as a leprechaun and elf (life-sized at that time!).
This skill seemed unusable until middle school, when my family hosted a Japanese exchange student. Shohta barely spoke English, but we quickly became close friends. We shared cultures, competed in countless games of Super Mario Bros., and rock climbed. We came from different backgrounds, but Shohta was the brother I never had. Shortly after returning home, Shohta was diagnosed with leukemia.
My grandfather had recently passed from a brain tumor, and I couldn’t imagine losing another person to cancer. I was worried Shohta would die. He was isolated in the hospital for months and wanted me to visit. As a way to raise money for my trip, I requested booth space at the farmer’s market and dusted off my old balloon pump. I’d noticed that there were many families and young children coming to the Sunday market, but other than a couple junk food vendors, there was little catering to this large demographic.
That was how my company, Imagine Balloons, was born.
My booth was so popular at the farmers markets that within months I successfully completed my fundraiser. However, my trip was postponed because Shohta needed a bone marrow transplant. Using some of my earnings, I sent him gifts.
When Shohta recovered, we reunited in his hometown of Maebashi, Japan. We reopened our Nintendo’s to continue our games of Super Mario Bros and tackled the world’s most extreme rides at Fuji-Q Amusement Park. Shohta would later visit me again in Oregon, and we keep in touch to this day!
Although I started with the goal to visit my friend, I continued twisting because people really enjoyed my balloons. I developed a list of over 30 private and institutional clients, largely by referral. I would work for marathons, fairs, community events, and corporate businesses such as TopGolf and Unitus Credit Union. At 17, I even became the youngest member of the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce to attract more business––sipping a Capri-Sun while networking at cocktail parties with people usually a few multiples of years older than me.
Expanding the business also meant expanding my repertoire, and I challenged myself to create every crazy balloon request a customer could imagine. If a student wanted a superhero, princess, or heck even a space kitten on Pluto (seriously!), I would tell them I currently didn’t know how to make this design but give me one week and I’d teach myself. I’d then sit on the floor of our upstairs loft in a pile of broken balloons practicing the next design until it was perfect.
When I came to Vanderbilt as a Curb Scholar for Creative Enterprise, I was shocked and elated to meet another fellow balloon artist, Barton Christmas. The summer after my freshman year we worked together as resident assistants for the Kentucky Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs. There I would create my magnum opus: a 10-foot-tall Viking with a light-up sword and shield!
Although I haven’t been running my balloon twisting company since the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope to continue spreading positivity by making balloons for others, especially while traveling abroad this year.
What are you most proud of during your time at Vanderbilt?
I’m most proud of how much I’ve grown as a person physically, mentally, and spiritually over the past couple years. I’ve persevered through a lot of rejection and failures in both my personal and professional lives, and I’ve been able to channel negative energy in a positive direction. College is truly about self-discovery, and in this regard, I feel I’ve been able to make the most of the incredible opportunities Vanderbilt has to offer!
The past couple years have been tremendously difficult for everyone, particularly for students about to leap into the job market. Prior to the pandemic, I was going to volunteer abroad in Ecuador and hike the Camino in Spain: both fully funded by scholarships. At the last minute, these plans were canceled, but thanks to the guidance of Professor Slatton in the business program, I was able to pivot into an internship in private equity advisory. This had a profound impact on my career goals and gave me the tools I needed to enter the business world.
Recruiting for an internship and a full-time job during the pandemic was incredibly difficult, and I faced countless rejections despite dedicating close to 40 hours a week preparing for consulting interviews. After reaching an internship final round interview at my dream firm, I was rejected once again. Despite the taxing nature of this process, I made sure to stick to my goals and trust my own hard work, which paid off a year later when I tried again and secured a full-time offer at that same firm!
Another way I’ve grown has been through my own physical development. I grew up with a minor physical disability and never was good at athletics. I didn’t have a healthy relationship with food, nor consistency and dedication with fitness. Whereas most first-years put on the “freshman 15,” I did one better with a “freshman 50!” That’s when I discovered a passion for boxing. The sport has pushed me in amazing ways, and I’m incredibly proud of the progress I’ve made in the past couple of years. I found an excellent coach at Title Boxing Nash and lost that “freshman 50.” I’ve even gone on to fight in my first exhibition match this spring!
What advice would you give to incoming Vanderbilt students?
Always take the initiative to discover and seize new opportunities. Follow your own intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm, and don’t be afraid to jump out of your comfort zone and “ask,” whether it be for mentorship or connections.
Recently, a mentor of mine, Teddy Raskin, passed forward the quote, “Luck is just probability taken personally.”
Although many life opportunities and circumstances are completely out of our control and are determined by luck, we can do a lot to maximize our probability of encountering success. It is up to you to take the initiative, put in the hard work, and say yes to unique opportunities. Even if you don’t hit the jackpot immediately, maximizing your probability of encountering success will pay off over time.
Vanderbilt is an incredible environment for putting you on the path to success; immerse yourself in what it has to offer with an adventurous spirit and a passion for connecting with others.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?
I have three big priorities for the next five years:
- To focus on growth, particularly in the tools that will push me forward in business
- Discover my next big idea, or solidify my career direction
- Travel the world and connect with others
Although in college I’ve made many steps towards these priorities, life as a truly independent adult will give me brand new opportunities and resources to focus on practical pursuits more deeply. Instead of dividing my time among really disparate activities such as a large variety of extracurriculars and academic subjects, I’ll be able to focus on one job. As a consultant, this job will take up much more time than studies, but it’s more closely tailored to my interests and will give me a macro-view of the business world.
It’s really difficult to state specific goals or accomplishments over such a broad time period. I could’ve never have guessed or predicted some of the most incredible opportunities that have presented themselves in just the past few months. For this reason, I can’t plan for particular achievements and outcomes, but rather position myself in a way that will keep me open and prepared for what’s next! I’m excited for the journey and am not too worried about the destination.
What is your best memory from your time at Vanderbilt?
My favorite memory/experience was our Curb Scholarship retreat to New Orleans in late October 2019.
On our four day adventure we: stayed in a burgundy 19th century mansion, marched through the streets of New Orleans leading our own jazz parade, explored the house of a billionaire Voodoo Priestess, immersed ourselves in the world of Mardi Gras, experienced a private performance at Preservation Hall, got attacked by a horde of mosquitoes, munched on bags of Zapp’s and beignets, welded metal art with a renowned sculptor, and best of all, I survived getting chased by a mudman at a Guns N’ Roses concert at Voodoo Music festival!
I made some lifelong friends on this trip, in large part because there is nothing quite like bonding over the extraordinary. After our wild adventures, we would all gather in the living room of the mansion playing the piano and singing songs together.
This trip has instilled a deep passion for exploring the weird and unique and has encouraged me to enthusiastically venture off the beaten path. Since this trip, I’ve gone on to take countless spontaneous excursions on a quest to recreate the best memories of this trip and experience life to its fullest!