When Christa Williams joined Bank of America nearly 19 years ago, she knew nothing about government contracting. That had changed by 2020, when she began serving in her current role as the bank’s vice president-government contracting business intelligence manager in Knoxville. With a newfound passion for an industry she hadn’t known existed, pursuing her Aerospace and Defense MBA (ADMBA) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business seemed like a logical next step in her career.
“I honestly had no intention of ever going back to school for an MBA, but at the advice of some great mentors in my life, I sought out the possibilities at UT,” she says. “When I found the ADMBA program first on the list, I honestly stopped searching. It was the ideal program for me to blend in the business acumen I wanted to develop while framing it within an industry I was already familiar with.”
Helping Others Succeed
Despite her nontraditional connection to the aerospace and defense industry, Williams’ knack for motivating others quickly inspired her classmates to select her as class leader. She was amazed at the support her fellow students provided for each other, as well as how available the faculty made themselves throughout the course of the program.
“I do not have a military background, but rather than excluding me, they were welcoming and excited about the work I am doing in the industry. We all operated as equals,” she says. “To me, that’s what being a Vol means — putting aside your status to help others succeed.”
Christine Dano Johnson, ADMBA program manager, says, “We were intrigued by Christa’s work with Alaska Native corporations and small defense contractors, which are growing powerhouses in the industry. Her energy, passion and dedication to both her own education and the success of her classmates were a strong addition to the 2022 cohort.”
Journey to Citizenship
Johnson found Williams’ story particularly compelling because of how much she was juggling outside of the program while completing her coursework. In addition to her full-time position at Bank of America, Williams has a busy family life — she and her husband of 18 years have two sons, ages 7 and 4, one neurodivergent with autism and ADHD — and recently went through a 13-month process of becoming a United States citizen.
Originally from Canada, Williams has spent most of her life in the U.S. and maintained a green card since the early 1990s. After a work trip during which she had to go through complicated security procedures due to not being a citizen, she decided to start the process. The timing, in terms of her participation in the ADMBA program, turned out to be perfect.
“I became a U.S. citizen in May 2022, just a few weeks prior to the program’s industry immersion week in Fort Worth, Texas,” she says. “Otherwise, I would not have been able to participate in the Lockheed Martin site visit to observe the F-35 production line or many other facilities on the itinerary.”
Williams completed the ADMBA program in December 2022 and is looking forward to the opportunities her new degree and connections can bring.
“My hope is to use my knowledge and cohort networks to add value to the businesses I interact with each day,” she says. “Who knows where one year, five years or 10 years will find me, but, as all my Air Force friends have taught me, I know that I will fail fast and keep trying to aim high.”
Stacy Estep, writer/publicist, firstname.lastname@example.org