2017 Best MBAs: Kaitlin Koga, Yale SOM

Kaitlin Koga

Yale School of Management

“I seek to build community, empower others and take risks to pursue my life passions.”

Age: 27

Hometown: Pearl City, Hawaii

Fun fact about yourself: I took a 155-km solo bike trip around the former path of the Berlin Wall for my 25th birthday (coincided with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall).

Undergraduate School and Degree: Harvard College, A.B. History and Literature

Where did you work before enrolling in business school?

  • Partakers College Behind Bars – Consultant
  • Freedom House – College Access Coach
  • AchieveMission – Associate Consultant
  • MATCH High School – MATCH Corps Member

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? Domestic Policy Council at the White House, Washington D.C.

Where will you be working after graduation? Undecided

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • President of the Student Body (Student Government)
  • Co-Founder of Net Impact PRISM
  • Research Assistant at Yale Law School

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? In my first year, I co-founded PRISM, a weekly discussion series dedicated to social issues of local and global importance. I’m proud that the series has doubled in attendance this year, engaging MBAs from across our community on issues like the Flint Water Crisis, Wells Fargo Controversy, Executive Order on Immigration, and Black Lives Matter.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Before business school, I realized that my passion was to work full-time on criminal justice reform. I wrote myself a job position, pitched it to an organization and found funding to do the work. During the process, I was terrified but it made me more confident about taking risks to pursue a career path that spoke to my unique skills and interests.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is Sharon Oster. She is a true pioneer in the field of nonprofit management, essentially writing the book on how principles of economics and competition can be understood and applied to organizations dedicated to social impact. Plus, she is a brilliant economist, former dean and captivating lecturer.

Why did you choose this business school? I loved that SOM is deeply mission-driven; the school attracts people from around the world and across all sectors who care about the dual mandate to lead business and society. I also think that SOM is going through a massive strategic transformation and I wanted to play a role in shaping the school’s legacy.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? SOM is striving to be the most distinctively global business school and I have deeply enjoyed the opportunity to connect with people and issues beyond the U.S. I have developed deep friendships with individuals from around the world, traveled to Costa Rica, South Africa, India and Mexico, and evolved in my understanding of what it means to be a “global citizen.”

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? I came here to develop a management skill set to impact the field of criminal justice and I’ve been surprised at how supportive SOM has been in this very unique MBA path. The SOM core gave me a strong foundation in management skills and analytics, while also providing strong experiential learning – whether that be through my internship applying economics to criminal justice policy at the White House or doing credit-based client work with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in New York and the Connecticut Department of Corrections.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program?  SOM is seeking applicants who are mission-driven. Know what you are uniquely passionate about and be authentic.

 What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that everyone is from or going into non-profits. While I think many of my classmates are driven to be “leaders for business and society,” there is a lot of diversity in how individuals interpret that mission and the sectors where they seek to make impact.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I started my MBA experience playing ice hockey and absolutely loved it, even though I was terrible at ice skating. I ended up quitting in the interest of time management, but really wish I had stuck with it.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire my friend and classmate Jessel Patel. Jessel made a transition that not many people make ­– moving from working purely in the corporate sector at Deutche Bank and Morgan Stanley to working at a nonprofit CDFI over the summer. She also brought MIINT, an impact investing lab and competition, to SOM bridging a path for others to pursue the field.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized it would be the best opportunity to get outside my comfort zone and grow my skills and mindset.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…in Law School. I’ve always been fascinated by law and although I feel strongly about building my career in organizational management, I think I would have enjoyed studying law a lot.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would focus on how we move from diversity to inclusion. SOM has been very successful at attracting talent from a wide array of backgrounds; the next step is building structures to ensure that every person in the community feels uniquely valued, respected and included.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I would love to be the Executive Director of a social justice organization dedicated to transforming the U.S. prison system. Alternatively, I would love to serve in public office to advance reforms in civil rights and criminal justice.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I want to thank my parents, who have always encouraged me to be fearless and confident in pursuing my own path.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me as someone who influenced the SOM community to be more intentional, thoughtful and compassionate.

Favorite book: People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia

Favorite movie or television show: Survivor – I hold MBA watching parties at my house

Favorite musical performer: Shakira

Favorite vacation spot: Hawaii – my hometown and the most beautiful place in the world

Hobbies? Hosting dinner parties, wine tastings, hiking and photography

What made Kaitlin such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

Kaitlin Koga is the president of the SOM student government. She exemplifies the very best in our student body volunteering for such a demanding, pivotal leadership position. She serves as a role model for all students in her caring commitment to the varied perspectives of the student body. Kaitlin’s career has been dedicated to serving the needs of diverse and divergent populations. She has served as a consultant to Partakers College Behind Bars, an educational mentoring non-profit partnered with Boston Prison Education Program; worked with Freedom House, an education non-profit; served as a contractor for Achieve mission, a human capital management consulting firm serving high-impact and scaling non-profits among other professional experience roles all dedicated to advancing educational outcomes. Her selfless dedication to assisting others achieve educations goals defines Kaitlin.”

Sherilyn Scully
Assistant Dean, Academic Affairs and Student Life

DON’T MISS: THE COMPLETE HONOR ROLL: BEST & BRIGHTEST MBAS OF 2017