Matt Hickman’s unmistakable megawatt smile conveys an authentic and genial nature, immediately putting those around him at ease. He’s a definite people person who balances exceptional interpersonal skills with a solid and steady work ethic. The six-foot linebacker earned a position on Tulsa’s football team as a freshman walk-on, along with the respect of his coaches and teammates — both on and off the playing field. Now set to complete his TU experience as a graduate of the MBA program, Hickman looks back on his time at the place he’s called home for the past six years.
Where to play collegiate football came down to two choices for Hickman: TU or Oklahoma State University. “In weighing my options,” he says, “I really didn’t know much about TU until right before coming here. The scholarship opportunities from both schools were about the same, but I thought getting that strong education at TU would be really valuable. Football was a big part, but the value of the education is what anchored my decision.”
Hickman’s time in the football program marks a significant part of his TU experience. He played for two coaches (Bill Blankenship and Philip Montgomery), both of whom he says are “not just knowledgeable football coaches, but also great examples of how to be a great man, father and leader.” He notes that the same atmosphere was evident in the classroom by professors and administrators. “It’s been incredible to see all of the kindness,” he says. “Every person you run into wants to see you succeed.”
Because he redshirted his freshman year, Hickman still had one season of eligibility after earning his bachelor’s degree in management. He wanted to stay at TU and play, but after meeting with Montgomery, he wasn’t hopeful that scholarship funding would be available to make it happen. “He said, ‘Hick, I can’t help you right now, but if something comes up, I’ll call you.’ I walked out and thought that was it for me. Football was done, and that was a tough pill to swallow.”
Hickman turned his focus to a job search. Around spring break, he got a call from his coach asking if he was still interested in playing football. “My joy was unbelievable. I said, ‘Coach, can I practice with you today?’”
His focus shifted once again; this time to applying for TU’s MBA program. Though he was behind in the application process, Hickman says, “The advising office was incredibly helpful. The attention they gave to my application impressed me from the start.”
TU’s full-time MBA program is set up as a cohort, which Hickman admits he initially viewed with skepticism. “But I got into it, and during orientation week, I started to see the diversity in my cohort mates, and how we were such a cohesive group starting out. There was so much diversity in experience — people with different backgrounds and professional experience. You could see the value of that diversity of thought from the very first day.”
Hickman settled into the program and the rigors of football season. With his scholarship only guaranteed through the fall semester, he started exploring options for remaining on campus to finish the MBA program. Hickman started making calls and landed a graduate assistantship position that would fully fund the remainder of his time at TU. “I’ve now gone from looking for a nine-to-five to getting to finish graduate school.”
And the icing on top? The Golden Hurricane finished with a 10-win season — only the fifth team in TU’s history to claim that distinction — and secured a spot in the Miami Beach Bowl. The team went on to defeat the Central Michigan Chippewas 55-10.
He recounts what made the 2016 team so special: “It wasn’t that we had this superstar or that superstar. We had individuals willing to sacrifice their time in the spotlight to make sure we succeeded.”
As Hickman’s time in the MBA program draws to a close and he transitions to seeking employment in private equity or investment banking, he shares how valuable the experience has been. “The professors challenged us not just to take a different theme or chart or process and simply run right through it, but to really think about how to apply it to a situation and how to work as a group,” he says.
The MBA program pairs students with mentors and Hickman considers himself fortunate to have received wisdom from Budco, Inc.’s President and Co-owner Nick Allen (BS ’70). “He and his wife, Barbara (BS ’70), are incredible mentors. They have helped me not only with my job search and making introductions, but also pouring wisdom into me about the different cycles of life and the decisions that come and go with those.”
Hickman says individuals like Nick and Barbara personify the Tulsa community. “The city really makes the university what it is. It’s not just the classes; it’s the people in the city and people like the Allens that make TU so special.”
Hickman also notes that he could talk at length about faculty members who have made his TU experience a success — even professors he only had for a semester. He recalls taking an economics class with Professor Steve Steib. “We got along well, and we would sit outside the building and talk. I’d want to hear his life stories, and he would want to hear mine. When I was walking at graduation, he stood up and gave me a hug. To me, that shows just how much these professors care. It was incredible that he did that — that he took the time to give me a hug, and he only knew me for a semester. But I could name countless professors who have done things like that.”
Hickman traces the success he celebrates back to the people he values most: his family. His mom, a teacher, and his dad, a businessman, exemplify what Hickman hopes to achieve in his own life. “The only reason I got to go to college is because of the sacrifices they’ve made. That’s what got me here. But then it was the kindness and generosity of so many people that has led me to where I am today.”
He continues, “There isn’t another place in the world that would have invested as much in Matt Hickman as this place. That’s what TU is. It’s a giant family of individuals investing in each other so that we can be successful.”