EMBA Road Warrior: Stephanie Carlton
McCombs School of Business Executive MBA Class of 2012
Commute: Washington, D.C. to Austin, Texas
I had a choice between commuting to UT-Austin and staying in D.C to attend Georgetown for my Executive MBA degree. The University of Texas was attractive because Texas schools have a rich history in my family. My grandfather and sister are both UT graduates, my father teaches at A&M, and my brother is currently working on his MBA at A&M. But really for me, it all came down to which school had the better football team.
More seriously, UT has a strong management program and a strong accounting program—the perfect fit for someone who wants to manage government health care programs more effectively in order to put our federal budget obligations on a sustainable trajectory.
I am a health policy advisor on the Minority staff of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. This committee has jurisdiction over federal tax, trade, and entitlement program policies. While I used to work for just one member of the Finance Committee (Senator John Cornyn R-TX), I now work on two issues for all Minority members of the committee and Republicans in the Senate more broadly.
I’m responsible for the Medicaid and Medicare Advantage programs—with a combined annual mandatory spending at $500 billion. I get to shape and then negotiate public laws affecting these programs. In many ways, this is my dream job. I’m passionate about reforming our unsustainable entitlement program spending, which is the biggest driver of our $14 trillion national debt and current $1.6 trillion budget deficit. The sovereign debt crises across Europe have forced extreme austerity measures in many countries, and I believe we need to quickly implement responsible solutions before it gets to that point in America.
An average day for me in the Senate might include answering questions from Senators about legislation on the Senate floor, meeting with a CEO concerned about how Medicare or Medicaid policies under consideration in the Senate will impact his or her company, writing “Minority Reports” released by the Committee with findings on certain issues, or writing a bill affecting Medicaid or Medicare Advantage. I typically work 10-12 hour days in the Senate, but I fit in a couple study hours every day before or after work.
Every other Thursday, I catch a 7:30 evening flight out of Reagan Washington airport and make it to Austin by midnight. It’s approximately 3,000 miles roundtrip and about 10 hours of flying/study time. There’s some economic logic to my commuting decision. Travel costs are roughly $5,000 a year, but with state school tuition, the program was still about $20,000 cheaper with travel than to have stayed at Georgetown in D.C. The Senate also has a modest loan repayment program that helps with some of my tuition costs.
I fit in study time whenever I can. 5 AM to 7AM before work (yes, I am an early riser) or maybe a couple hours at the Library of Congress after work. But I get most of my studying done during the weekends. That still leaves time for a little bit of a social life in the evenings and on weekends, exercise two to three times a week, and church on Sunday evenings.
My job in Washington can be pretty consuming, but traveling to Texas helps me separate work from school. When I’m in Washington, I focus on reforming Medicare and Medicaid. When I’m in Austin, I focus on Dr. Rao’s next corporate finance exam.
I don’t have a spouse or children yet but, ironically, the travel from D.C. to Austin has given me a lot more time with my family members who live in Texas. My sister, a UT law graduate, still lives in Austin so I stay with her when I’m in town and I frequently see my parents and brother who live two hours away in College Station.
I usually catch an early flight Sunday mornings to make it back to Washington in time for both my afternoon soccer games and then my 5 PM church service. Playing soccer is a stress reliever for me. I didn’t want to give it up when I started grad school, but most of my games are early on Sunday afternoons. If my early morning flight is on time, I can usually make it to my games about ten minutes before start time. After throwing on my soccer jersey and cleats in the taxi countless times, the guys on my team have grown accustomed to seeing me run onto the field with my luggage in tow.
I haven’t missed a class weekend yet, but I came close after getting really sick at the beginning of this semester. I emailed all my professors to let them know I wouldn’t be able to make a class weekend, but thankfully it ended up being the weekend the snow hit Austin and all of our classes were canceled.
To read the stories of other EMBA road warriors: