2021 Best & Brightest Business Major: Samantha Bryant, University of Texas (McCombs)

Samantha Bryant

University of Texas, McCombs School of Business

I’m just a book-reading, Food Network watching, social media marketing, encouragement giving type of gal!”

Fun fact about yourself: There is a restaurant in Austin known for its pancakes (Kerbey Lane Café), and I’ve tried 17 unique pancake flavors!

Hometown: Austin, TX

High School: Lake Travis High School

Major: Business Honors and Marketing

Minor: Global Management and English

Favorite Business Course: Digital Marketing

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During College:

  • Canfield Business Honors Program Peer Mentor
  • Vice President of the Honors Quad Residence Hall Council
  • Student Advisory Board President for the Kendra Scott WEL Institute
  • Philanthropy Director for Texas Bluebonnets Spirit Group
  • Volunteer at Austin Animal Center
  • Co-chair and Counselor Trainer for Ignite Texas
  • MC Leader in the Austin Stone Community Church College Ministry
  • Reading Partner for Students Enhancing Austin Literacy
  • Chair of the Canfield Business Honors Program Student Diversity and Inclusion Committee
  • Chair of the Canfield Business Honors Program Make-A-Mark Committee
  • Member of the Class of 2021 University Gift Committee
  • President’s Leadership Award 2021 Recipient
  • University Honors (Fall 2017-Present)

Where have you interned during your college career?

  • Paula Biehler Public Relations – Public Relations Intern (Austin, TX)
  • Influencer Inc. – Summer Marketing Intern (Remote – based in Miami, FL)
  • Kendra Scott WEL Institute – Student Advisory Board Leadership Intern (Remote – based in Austin, TX)
  • HarperCollins Publishers; Harper Imprint – Marketing Intern (Remote – based in New York, NY)
  • Hachette Book Group; Grand Central Publishing Imprint – Marketing Intern (Remote- based in New York, NY)

Where will you be working after graduation? I’m not sure yet, but once I know I’ll keep you updated!

What company do you admire most? One company I deeply admire is Penguin Random House. I’ve had multiple internships in publishing, and I’m constantly amazed at how well PRH innovates new ways of making the publishing experience easier for authors and the reading experience more engaging for readers. The structure of PRH is extremely complex, yet they manage to build an incredibly supportive culture where employees feel known and cared for by their teams. Publishing and book retailing have definitely struggled during the continued digitization of the world, but I’m encouraged by the ways PRH continues to be a thought leader in the industry. Their corporate commitment to diversity, both in employees and authors, has also been extremely encouraging to me, and I can’t wait for this trend to continue as more people of diverse identities start sharing their stories in new ways.

Who is your favorite professor? My favorite professor has been Bukky Akinsanmi, who is my current Strategic Management professor. First, it is just such a delight to be part of Bukky’s class! She does a great job of engaging students even in a virtual environment, and her passion for the subject matter is radiant. Weaving humor into class discussions can be a really hard thing to do in business classes, yet Bukky does so with such grace while still driving home key takeaways from each lesson. The course content is also so interesting, and I’m finding it’s bringing together many of the fundamental principles of business that I’ve studied in many of my other classes. Strategy is really learning how all the pieces can come together to make businesses succeed, and I think Bukky does a great job of breaking down large and ambiguous topics into more digestible and applicable sections.

While Bukky is an incredible professor, I also just find her to be an inspiring person. Her background is somewhat non-traditional (coming from Architecture before studying strategic planning in human capital management) and she has several degrees from higher education. Her commitment to getting to know her students is mind-boggling. Although we’re only a few weeks into the semester, I already feel so supported by Bukky in a way very few of my professors have done. Bukky and I also immediately bonded over our experiences of both being one of the only women of color in the areas where we work and socialize, so I’m also glad to have a professor that is able to encourage me in who I am, not just how I perform academically. In all my years of school, this is the first time that I’ve had a Black female professor, and I’m thrilled to finally have a professor that looks like me in the classroom. Our first day of class was bittersweet for me; I was so glad to have this opportunity to see my own identities shared with our professor, but my heart broke for the Black Students (particularly Black women) who have come before me and never got that experience. It was such a small thing, and yet it was so powerful to feel seen and known in ways other professors haven’t been able to understand. Bukky has definitely motivated me to continue to be more conscious of how I’m advocating for women and women of color, and I’m excited to continue learning from her the remainder of this semester.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from studying business? One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in studying business is for any company or organization to succeed, all functions of business have to work together. I know this seems fundamental and clearly intuitive. However, the more I’ve studied business, the stronger the connections have become between different aspects of what makes any organizations work. In business school, I think it can be easy to be siloed into whatever you’re studying; the marketing students hang out together and the finances students have their own cliques. Outside of school, we need the deeper understanding of how other departments think and operate.

The fundamental differences in how people approach problems and what strengths are brought to the table should be celebrated in business. Often times, we don’t step outside of the comfortable bubbles we’ve created to really understand the perspectives of others. However, my degree in Business Honors (and my time in business school in general) has pushed me out of my comfort zone countless times so that I have the ability to empathize with my coworkers from any department better so that we can work together to effectively solve problems. For example, I live with two Finance majors, and the ways they approach a case study and the ways I do are completely different. Still, I feel like I’m challenged by them and learn more from them compared to some times when I’ve worked with other marketing students. Embracing all of business is so powerful, and a lesson I’ve learned that I will carry for life.

What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field? I think a lot of people have a limited view of what you can learn when you major in something related to business –  and what you can do with your degree once you’ve graduated. Yes, you’ll study finance and accounting. Of course, it’s important to understand how marketing and supply chains factor into how a business operates. However, business majors are so much more than that. Business-related fields of study teach you how to work with other people, how to clearly articulate your ideas, and what helps any organization survive and thrive. Even if you decide to pursue something different after you graduate, majoring in something related to business will help give you a great framework that can be applicable in any career path!

I also think many incoming or potential business majors think they have to get a job in exactly what they majored in. While this can be *extremely* helpful, I think a genuine interest in and passion for whatever work you do after you graduate will help you succeed, even if its in a department or industry that you didn’t study.

My final piece of advice is be proactive in job searching! It takes a lot of introspection to know what company and role is a good fit for you, but don’t feel rushed to pick something just because everyone else is! Being different is hard work, but it does not make it any less valid or any less possible; you may just have to fight for it more.

What has surprised you most about majoring in business? A couple of things surprised me about majoring in business. First, I was shocked by the level of preparedness my degree program has provided me for life after graduation. From my first semester, my classes focused on tangible skills that will benefit me for a lifetime and helped me build good professional habits. Many of my friends who did not study in the business school had to learn fundamental job recruitment skills on their own, which helped me grow increasingly thankful for the training and support that came with majoring in business. As I’ve spent the entirety of my senior year working multiple internships, leading student organizations, and still going to school full-time, it’s been nice to have direct systems and guidelines to keep my eyes set on the future related to my professional development.

The second surprising discovery I had from my business classes was how genuine and kind many people were. Going into college, I was nervous because I knew business students often get a bad reputation for being driven only by money and selfish ambitions. However, I was thrilled to find the classes for my majors encouraged (and even sometimes required) collaboration and teamwork between peers. I have continuously felt directly supported by the faculty and staff of my university in addition to having classmates and coworkers that want to help me succeed.

Looking back over your experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently in business school and why? I think I would have gotten more involved with other business organizations on campus earlier in my time in school! I’m glad that I got more involved later in college, but I wish that I had spent more time investing in and learning from relationships with people in other business majors earlier at my time at UT. Through my extracurricular activities, I got to meet a lot of students outside of the business school, yet I felt like I struggled some to connect with other business students. I’m so grateful getting involved at my university in one of the many student organizations is so easy, but I wish I would have worked through some of my misconceptions that I didn’t have to engage in the business community beyond class earlier. Some of my closest friendships now are also majoring in business, and I actually love getting to talk with them about our shared experiences in class together.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of? I’m really proud to be one of the Class of 2021 recipients of the President’s Leadership Award for The University of Texas. Not only do I have the great honor of carrying on a legacy of amazing the amazing students, leaders, and world-changers that came before me, I also have the great fortune of staying connected to UT and encouraging the generations of President’s Leadership Award recipients that will come after me.

During my collegiate career, I’ve really struggled to combat imposter syndrome.  As one of the only students of color in the Canfield Business Honors Program, I always felt like I had to work twice as hard as some of my peers, yet never achieved the same level of comfort in my own skin. I remember feeling like a cherry blossom on a tree; the life I had built up and projected to the world was pretty, but one unexpected strong gust of wind and I would just blow away. My freshman and sophomore year, I was rejected from so many organizations and leadership positions, and I thought I would never be able to make my mark during my time at UT. However, by my junior year, I started to ask for more responsibility in the roles I already had, which transformed into more opportunities to lead and get connected to my amazing peers.

I began carving out a place where I could more fully be myself with others instead of subjecting myself to be placed in a box that I wasn’t supposed to be in to begin with. By my senior year, I was asked to create new opportunities for other students to develop that same level of comfort for themselves in my roles as the Chair of the Canfield Business Honors Student Diveristy and Inclusion Committee and my internship with the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute. While these were certainly extracurricular achievements that lead to my nomination for the President’s Leadership Award, they also were incredibly personal accomplishments that I hold dear to my heart. Receiving accolades for doing something I care so deeply about has been one of the most humbling experiences of my collegiate career. More importantly, I finally felt like I’m exactly where I am supposed to be.

Thinking about how much I’ve grown since my freshman year has been comforting; I know that no matter what life has in store for me in the future, I’ve been able to build resilience in college that I will be able to carry with me. I no longer feel like a cheery blossom, but I’ve become the whole tree. I have seasons of beauty and seasons of loss, but now when the wind comes, I stand.

Which classmate do you most admire? I admire my classmate, roommate, coworker, and best friend Jessica Meek (aka Jessie). Jessie is not only one of the smartest, most driven people I’ve met in my entire life, she also has a heart that genuinely cares so deeply for others. I’m always inspired by how intentional Jessie is in building and sustaining relationships while balancing so many academic and extracurricular commitments at any given time. Jessie also lives with chronic illnesses, which makes her ability to be a stellar individual that much more motivating. She has every right to complain and be frustrated, yet Jessie is likely the most positive person I know and radiates joy, even when she is not having the best day. Jessie and I met because we are both part of the Canfield Business Honors Program, and I’m so thankful for how our friendship has grown over the past four years. Walking alongside her in life and in school has been such a blessing in my life, and I would not be the woman I am today without Jessie.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I would want to thank my mom for my success. As a first-generation college student at UT Austin herself, my mom experienced the rigor of life in college with only distanced support from her family. If the number of times I call my mom in crisis in any given college semester is any indication, she has definitely had the chance to be a huge support to me in more ways than I can count. I like to verbally process anything and everything that happens in my life, and I know that my mom will pick up the phone and just listen whenever I need it. From writing me cards to cheer me up during my first finals season to helping me decorate my dorm rooms and apartments to cheering me on during my last semester of college, she’s been there every step of the way.

My mom has continued to inspire me with her ability to handle any situation with grace, and I’m so thankful for how she has continued to love and encourage me through every milestone I’ve had during my time at UT Austin. While my mom is great at making sure I push myself out of my comfort zone to succeed, she also reminds me that I am just one person who is only capable of doing my best. It can be easy to get caught up in what’s immediately happening in my life, but I look to my mom as a reminder that there is so much more to life than school, and that college is just one chapter of the greater story of my life.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

1. I’d love to write a book someday (Don’t ask me when or what it will be about, but I love getting to share my thoughts through writing, and I think publishing a book would be a great way to do that)!

2. I want to be a leader in initiatives to improve the structure, implementation, and accountability for DEI. As a woman of color, it’s sobering to realize that there are still places in this world that I can walk into and people genuinely don’t want me there because of the color of my skin. I never felt “othered” growing up even though I was one of the only Black students in my high school, and I want other young professionals to feel the same level of comfort in their skin in the workplace. This is an ongoing bucket list item, but I hope that in each new role I have in my career, I can keep making progress towards a more inclusive and equitable future for people of all identities.

What are your hobbies? I love to bake (I’ve been trying out so many new recipes during the COVID-19 pandemic), and I’m also a big fan of fitness, especially running; I hope to run a half-marathon someday soon! Cross-stitching, reading, and going for hike are all other activities that I enjoy getting to do whenever I get the chance.



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