Rice University Announces New Whitaker Scholarship Recipients

Ben Guest

Cory Kennedy

Ryan Kirksey

Linda Hamaker

Jeff Frey

Ben Guest, associate director of admissions at the Jones Graduate School of Business, and Cory Kennedy, director, government relations in Public Affairs have been awarded the Whitaker Scholarship. Named for the late Dr. Gilbert Whitaker — former dean of the Jones School — the Whitaker Scholars Program is designed “to help Rice staff who have demonstrated an outstanding managerial contribution and potential for even greater achievement” in their pursuit of a superior business education.

Guest is funded for his two-year MBA for Professionals program. Kennedy is funded for the second year of his EMBA studies. They are the sixth and seventh scholars identified by the program.

“I have witnessed thousands of Rice MBA graduates positively impact society by utilizing the elevated strategic vision they acquired while in the program,” Guest said. “This experience has fueled my desire to begin the journey of earning an MBA and to maximize my potential for the betterment of Rice University and the community. I am extremely grateful to have been selected for the Whitaker Scholars Program.”

Ryan Kirksey ’13, the fifth recipient of the scholarship, is equally as enthusiastic. “It’s the most valuable training I’ve ever had,” he said, speaking of his experience in the MBA for Professionals program. Currently Kirksey is the director of operations and finance at Rice’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

“I don’t think you’ll ever find a bigger advocate for the MBA program, the Whitaker Scholarship, and for working and going to school at Rice than I am,” he states. Originally considering an MBA, Kirksey was directed to the Whitaker Scholarship by a mentor who encouraged him to apply. “He was a very positive resource in helping me understand what I would have to accomplish to reach some of my goals,” says Kirksey.

The scholarship is open to full-time, benefits-eligible employees of Rice who either have direct supervision of projects and/or other employees at Rice or are in positions requiring knowledge of business and/or financial principles. One new scholarship is awarded annually, and the program provides up to two concurrent scholarships for staff members in either the MBA for Professionals or MBA for Executives program.

“Rice allows an employee to pursue a dream they might not have otherwise considered feasible,” says Linda Hamaker ’12, assistant chair of chemistry and another former recipient of the Whitaker Scholarship. “An employee that believes in themselves and wants to ‘go for the gold’ now has a way to achieve that dream.”

Like Kirksey, Hamaker is quick to heap praise upon her experience in the program and the opportunity afforded her by the Whitaker Scholarship. “I’m not sure if there is an aspect of my work that has yet to be impacted by the MBA program,” she states. “My perspective has changed on how I tackle situations and issues. I gather more information and involve more people in critical decisions that have a broad impact. I plan for the future differently. Most of all, I can share the fruits of my learning with my colleagues on everything from managing difficult situations to planning for future successes.”

Hamaker also acknowledges the program is no small undertaking. “You have to be passionate about entering the MBA program and everything the learning process has to offer. It is a true commitment of time and energy and a decision not to be taken lightly. Talk to as many people as you can about the MBA programs, the scholarship and the opportunities that have been afforded after graduation,” she says.

Scholarship recipients are selected through a rigorous process, first having to gain access to one of the two MBA programs, then appearing before the scholarship committee. Members of the Whitaker Scholarship program must also agree to a minimum two-year commitment to remain employed at Rice after graduation from the MBA program.

“You know they’ve brought you in front of that committee for a reason,” says Kirksey. He encourages applicants to strongly consider not only what the scholarship and degree can do for them, but also what they can do for Rice. “The program is challenging. It pushes you to be better and make more effective decisions. The university considers you a potential leader by making the commitment, so what can you show to prove them right?”

When asked how the program has impacted his work, Kirksey’s words practically beam their own smile. “I love when people ask this question,” he replies. “When I first started the program I thought, “this will be helpful information that I will be able to apply when and if I move into a corporate or public company setting.” But I have been so pleasantly surprised at how quickly I have been able to apply these skills to my job now as the administrative head of a department.”

Whitaker Scholar applications are due by the Jones School’s February deadline for MBA applications. To learn more about the Whitaker Scholars program, visit business.rice.edu/whitaker