Rebekah Vepraskas isn’t afraid of a challenge. The licensed professional counselor (LPC) is a 2019 Georgia Tech Scheller Executive MBA alumna and the founder of Salient Counseling. She recently founded a new company, Athlete Mettle, a high-performance goal platform for elite athletes and peak performers to maximize their success.
We sat down with Rebekah (virtually) to discuss her experiences, including her background in counseling, her new company, and her time as an Executive MBA student.
What was your educational background prior to coming to Scheller?
I earned my undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia. I received my M.S. in counseling from Mercer University and then trained in an Atlanta psychiatric clinical hospital for eight years where I earned my (LPC) licensure. Acute training in a psychiatric hospital setting helped prepare me to usher my clients through any scenario life could bring their way. I launched Salient Counseling in 2016.
Why did you decide to pursue your MBA?
It was through this process of constant goal calibration that I was motivated by my clients to pursue my MBA. I targeted my own goal of attending Scheller College of Business’ Executive MBA program. It had been a long time, seemingly impossible, dream of mine. Yet, in my work of challenging my clients to aim high, secret dreams move to the foreground. The same was true for me. Also, as a business owner, I saw value in increasing my training in entrepreneurship.
Describe some of the highlights of your time at Scheller?
For me, attending the Executive MBA program was one of the most fruitful experiences of my life. It exceeded every expectation I had. I did not expect to make 125 new friends, opening the vast "Georgia Tech Network." I did not expect to travel the globe with those new friends and have experiences that are priceless to me now.
As an entrepreneur, I did not expect to so greatly enrich my knowledge and understanding of price structure, marketing, branding, strategy, organizational culture, accounting, negotiation, finance, culture, sustainability, economics, ethics, supply chain, design thinking, business law, and international business.
I did not foresee the brilliant support of enthusiastic Scheller professors as I researched and launched my new company, Athlete Mettle, LLC. Particularly, I would like to thank my strategy professor Dr. Jonathan Guiliano for meeting with me over the past two years to support my research. I would like to also thank my finance professor, Dr. Jonathan Clarke for providing his time and feedback. Our Georgia Tech Scheller professors are truly inspiring and motivated to support their students within the program and beyond.
How have you used your MBA in your own business?
My MBA degree was invaluable because it not only made me a better business owner, but the training at Tech also increased my understanding of entrepreneurship to a scale that I could not have anticipated. At Scheller, MBA students are inspired to audaciously notice key trends and unsolved gaps in the marketplace and solve problems that are unseen. For business owners like me, solutions learned at Scheller can be implemented instantly.
What were some of the challenges you faced in deciding to return to school after establishing a successful career?
To my surprise, going back to pursue an Executive MBA as a business owner, wife, and mother of three was an unpopular idea to almost everyone I spoke with at the time. Many of my well-educated friends and family saw no reason for me to return to business school. However, several female friends admitted that they had always wanted to pursue an MBA but saw many challenges.
As a social scientist, I curiously began to examine why my goal was unpopular for others around me. From my experience, I understood that women face many social barriers to attend an MBA program because women may be more inclined to seek approval for their goals. This leads to lower enrollment of women in executive MBA programs.
In describing the social barriers women may encounter in obtaining their MBA, what inspiration can you provide to women thinking about earning their Executive MBA?
I believe that unconventional goals are how we best grow and where optimal momentum is found. The unpopular idea seemed like one I could not give up on pursuing. I read a book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that addressed the idea. She noted that women often give up on their dreams for the good of their families, while men do not and are not expected to stall their careers. I put aside the puzzling questions from family and friends and applied and was accepted to Scheller.
You conducted research as a student. Could you describe your inspiration and findings?
As a licensed professional counselor, I understood the extensive gaps in mental health support for elite athletes as well as the extreme stigma involved for this population. I launched a voluntary, private, qualitative research study to examine the idea of goal setting among elite athletes with follow-up support for a subset of the Georgia Tech football team.
The idea for my research originated with the tragic loss of a Georgia Tech football player in the spring of 2019. In subsequent interviews with his team members, I heard and sensed the grief and trauma of his fellow teammates. His friends were experiencing a tragic loss while also being conditioned to be incredibly stoic, selfless, emotionally hardened, and courageous.
Therefore, my question became, would players actually seek therapeutic support in this emotionally hardened environment? Would the athlete seek out a therapist they were unfamiliar with and would they signal that they needed a first visit, especially if they were experiencing psychological symptoms? It was then that I designed the private research study administered by myself to provide that safety net to players.
The goal in my research was to have monthly follow-ups with a voluntary group of 25 participants from the Georgia Tech football team. Head Coach Geoff Collins and the athletic department provided a sky box at Bobby Dodd Stadium for individual therapeutic meetings for a pilot study. Players designed goals, created personal mission statements, learned mindfulness practice, and guided imagery techniques. Players thrived and reached amazing personal goals.
How did your research lead you to create Athlete Mettle?
Working with professional athletes and CEOs, we focus on peak performance. However, it isn’t about trying harder. Which is what we often consider peak performance. It’s more anchored in reaching a state of flow through goal design and mindset optimization to achieve the specific goals and the outcomes clients desire.
Based on this research, we have designed and developed a platform for peak performers to maximize their success. Athlete Mettle allows peak performers to increase motivation through goal setting. Users join as a private team, design goals, and reach the state of flow through posting about each tiny success they experience. My continued work with athletes flourishes today through word-of-mouth referrals.
What sets Athlete Mettle apart from other counseling services?
Mental health is often focused on discussing the problem. While processing the problem is helpful, it is only a small part of the equation. Humans are highly motivated by what we desire to achieve. When I partner with a client to design their own personal goals, the outcomes are limitless. This is because we tend to achieve what we are focused on most. When we shift our focus from the problem and become primarily focused on our goals, it is an empowering, motivating experience.
Do you have any parting words to those considering an MBA ?
My Georgia Tech story means everything to me. The idea for Athlete Mettle, Inc. was born in the classrooms of the Scheller College of Business. The technology was coded and supported by Georgia Tech computer scientists, and the research is based on Georgia Tech student athletes. We are currently onboarding peak performance teams now. Dreams like this are possible at Georgia Tech.