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Inspired by family, Thunderbird grad accomplishes a bucket-list achievement

After several decades away, Vanessa O’Neal graduates this December with a Bachelor of Global Management from ASU


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December 07, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.

Finishing her degree has always been a bucket-list item for Vanessa O’Neal. It was through her husband Ryan’s support that she decided to return to school and pursue a Bachelor of Global Management from Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University.

Vanessa O'Neal
After an 18-year pause, Vanessa O'Neal returned to college and earned a Bachelor of Global Management from Thunderbird School of Global Management. During her time at ASU, she was honored with the Dean’s Circle Award for exceptional leadership, as well as the prestigious Barton Kyle Yount Award for exemplifying the principles of scholarship, accomplishment and character at Thunderbird.

“Life got in the way, and I couldn’t finish my degree when I met Ryan 18 years ago. Now that our kids are older, he encouraged me to go back to school. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have applied,” she said.

Not only did O’Neal finish her degree, she thrived in the program, earning the Dean’s Circle Award for her exceptional leadership, as well as the prestigious Barton Kyle Yount Award for exemplifying the principles of scholarship, accomplishment and character at Thunderbird.

Amidst her busy schedule of a full-time course load, managing a household of three children and leading a Girl Scout troop, she also represented Thunderbird as a campus ambassador,  conducting tours of ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, hosting on-campus speakers and networking events and spearheading other initiatives to recruit the next generation of Thunderbirds.

This semester, she has also been recognized as Thunderbird’s outstanding campus ambassador. 

Now, as an accelerated master’s student, O’Neal looks forward to another year at Thunderbird, where she will pursue her Master of Global Management.

As O’Neal anticipates this next part of her education journey, Ryan and her daughters remain her steadfast motivation to succeed. 

“I know that I am setting an example for my three beautiful daughters,” O’Neal said. “I want them to know that you can do anything you want to do in life that makes you happy. It will be hard at times, and you will fail, but you just pick yourself up again and keep going until you make yourself proud.”

Ambassador's Ball
O’Neal (right) with fellow T-birds at this year’s 33rd Annual Ambassadors' Ball, hosted by the Diplomatic Corps of Arizona.

Question: Where are you from, and why did you decide to enroll at Thunderbird? 

Answer: I’m from San Diego, California. I decided to enroll at Thunderbird because of the global component of the degree. My work experience is management, and I love getting to know about different cultures. Thunderbird seemed to be a great fit for me in their global management program. 

Q: What is your favorite story from your time at Thunderbird? 

A: My favorite story from Thunderbird is when I was sitting in Foundations and learning about the Thunderbird Mystique. This story made me realize that I was home. I was right where I needed to be. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at Thunderbird?

A: We have such an accomplished staff of professors that I have learned so much from each of them. All the professors that I have encountered have shown how much they care about the students by taking time out of their busy schedule to talk or give advice. I can’t choose one, but I can shout out Professor Ear, Professor Leclerc, Professor Gamso, Professor Ettenson, Professor Gemmiti, Professor Peterson, Professor Vázquez Ortiz and Professor Jimenez- Rodriguez. All these professors have given real-life experiences that have helped me learn what is to come in my journey after college. 

Q: What advice would you give to a student just starting a program at Thunderbird?

A: Stay open to everything Thunderbird has to offer.  From clubs to events to even going to different Pub nights, you never know what opportunities will open for you from just trying it out.

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