By: Michael L. Jackson
Aaron Buchanan’s reaction to being named this year’s J. Dwight Peterson Key Award winner is likely very similar to the award’s previous recipients: a combination of elation and surprise.
“I’m thrilled,” said Buchanan, a Kelley School of Business senior who will graduate next month with a triple major in finance, supply chain, and international studies. “It was a complete shock to me.”
If Buchanan was shocked to be named this year’s most outstanding student, you don’t have to talk with too many people to discover that he may be the only one.
“I was not surprised,” said Peggy Daniels Lee, clinical assistant professor of operations and supply chain management, and chair of the Indianapolis undergraduate program. “He may have been surprised, which says a lot. His motivation has never been ‘What awards can I get?’ His motivation is ‘Can I help?’ and ‘Can I learn something from this experience?’
“I have watched him grow and mature, but he always remained himself,” Lee added. “I liked him from the very beginning.”
First awarded in 1988, the J. Dwight Peterson Key Award is the most esteemed honor bestowed on a Kelley Indianapolis graduate. It is given annually to the outstanding senior on the basis of scholarship, extracurricular activities, leadership, and character. The award is named for J. Dwight Peterson, who graduated from Indiana University in 1919.
A two-time IUPUI Top 100 student, Buchanan has been a fixture of campus life during the past four years. “No matter where you go, you’re going to run into Aaron,” joked Lee. He has served as Vice President of the Kelley Indianapolis Student Government, was a member of the defunct Entrepreneurship Club, worked with IUPUI College Republicans, and has served as a member of the Kelley Honors Advisory Board.
In his role with the Honors Advisory Board, Buchanan worked with a group of staff and students to help transform the Kelley Honors experience and make it more meaningful for undergraduates. The advisory board has added a host of new activities, including networking opportunities, a retreat, trips to Bloomington to participate in the Kelley CFO roundtable, and a yearly spring dinner at Dean Phil Cochran’s house.
“During my freshman year, being in honors meant you were going to get an ‘H’ on your diploma,” Buchanan said. “I feel like we’re beyond that. There’s an experience there now that you can learn from.”
Maureen Kinney, Kelley’s director of undergraduate programs, has been there since Buchanan’s first steps on campus and has watched him blossom as a leader during the past four years.
“He’s become someone who students know and can rely on,” she said.
In addition to his work with various student groups and clubs, traveling has also been a big part of Buchanan’s past four years. In the summer following his freshman year he was selected to participate in the prestigious Kelley in Oxford program, and he was among the first group of students to travel to the U.S. Air Force Academy’s National Character and Leadership Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Some of his fondest memories, however, were made on the road traveling with classmates and professors to various case competitions in Indiana and surrounding states.
“Those were a lot of fun,” he said. “Spending four or five hours in a car with a professor, having meals with them, you really get to know them a lot better than you would otherwise. The competitions were always challenging academically, but I always looked forward to it.”
Perhaps most remarkably, Buchanan did it all these past four years while working 25 to 30 hours a week as an inventory control analyst at Fastenal.
“I probably could have done more on campus if I wasn’t working, but I don’t feel like I missed out,” Buchanan said. “I know I’m prepared to enter the workforce. I think the work experience was worth the trade-off.”
Following graduation in two weeks, Buchanan and Kelley classmates David Wheeler and Nick Mosier will head to Alabama and Florida with “no return date and no agenda.” He’ll spend a week in June out West with his brother, Austin, before heading back to Indiana and starting his career as a financial analyst with Cummins’ emissions solutions division on July 6.
“In one way he’s the same Aaron that he was when he first got here: honest, humble, responsible, gets the job done, good sense of humor,” Kinney said. “But at the same time I’ve seen grow into his own in confidence, and in his major, and what he’s going to do in the next few years at Cummins.”