Meet Yale SOM’s MBA Class Of 2019

Katie Sierks 

Yale School of Management 

Describe yourself in 15 words or less:  Agricultural sustainability practitioner and enthusiast, avid hiker and moose lover, lifelong learner

Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

Fun Fact: I visited Everest Base Camp and spent four months backpacking and traveling across India with the National Outdoor Leadership School.

Undergraduate school and major:

School: Harvard

Major: Environmental Engineering. Minor: Earth and Planetary Sciences.

Employers and job titles since graduation:

Employer: Cargill, Inc.


Environmental Engineer

Energy and Natural Resource Analyst

Sustainability and Marketing Associate

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: During my four years with Cargill, I enjoyed working on many interesting and impactful projects across multidisciplinary teams. My biggest accomplishment, however, was not directly connected to my daily work. I am most proud of my extracurricular leadership of the Cargill Young Professionals Network (CYPN).

When I began a new role with Cargill’s environmental team, I noticed a significant cultural difference moving from a tight-knit corn mill to the sprawling corporate headquarters. I joined CYPN and worked to replicate the plant’s inclusive, supportive culture in my new environment. After I was selected for a leadership position, I realized a lack of funding hampered our ambitions to execute larger-scale projects.

For months, I worked alongside the CYPN leadership team to create and present a compelling business case to transition from a grassroots organization to a formal, funded Business Resource Group.  Our successful request validated CYPN’s effectiveness increasing employee engagement and workplace diversity.

Building on robust connections across the talented CYPN community, I then worked to join an international network by establishing one of the first Net Impact Corporate Chapters. This international nonprofit trains the next generation of leaders to tackle the world’s toughest challenges. I believe the combination of Cargill’s global scale and diversity of employee specialties will enable our burgeoning chapter to effectively drive large-scale change.

Looking back on your experience, what one piece of advice would you give to future business school applicants? Talk to current students, alumni, and coworkers!

Before I decided to begin my application odyssey, I solicited advice from many colleagues, friends, and professors. In addition to reconnecting, they provided a valuable sounding board to test different hypotheses about how to most effectively improve agricultural sustainability and the specific skills I needed to achieve my goals.

These conversations convinced me that a joint degree was the right path for me. With essay ideas fomenting, I then turned to school selection. To identify possible target schools and craft my application, I mostly used print and electronic resources – university homepages, business school focused websites (more than a few hours on Poets&Quants), and several MBA and business advice books.

Tweaking draft after draft, it was easy to retreat into the depths of school webpages for generic essay fodder. My eyes slightly glazed over re-reading my first iterations. Speaking with student ambassadors and alums helped me effectively communicate my enthusiasm and excitement in my essays. Their guidance helped me identify and cogently explain my potential niche at school as well as what I could contribute to the community.

I happily ended up with a few different options from which to choose. By again speaking with students and alumni, I realized Yale’s joint degree was a great fit for me.

Although essay writing is arduous, looking back (albeit with slightly rose-colored glasses), I am happy the application process prompted me to reach out to old friends as well as to forge new connections.

As you work through your applications, don’t underestimate the value of your network as well as the importance of student and alumni perspectives.

What was the key factor that led you to chose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you?

The responsiveness and selflessness of several Yale alumni were the key factors for my decision. As April drew to a close, I spent hours questioning which school was the best fit for me. The admissions teams recommend I speak with a few alumni.

Jenny, a highly successful Yale SOM graduate, answered her phone with an apology, “Sorry my coverage is a little spotty here.” I was shocked she was willing to speak with me, an uncommitted potential student, while on vacation in Antigua.

I assumed Jenny’s generosity in speaking with me on holiday must be an aberration. Yet, as I continued networking throughout the spring and summer, I spoke with a number of supportive, successful alumni who provided helpful academic and career advice. I am excited to fully immerse myself in such a cohesive, collegial environment. If I one day achieve my goal of working as a Chief Sustainability Officer, I will try to repay the generosity I received and respond to a confused potential student from wherever I happen to be.

What would success look like to you after your first year of business school? Next May, I hope to be a new, improved version of the friendly, sustainability nerd I am today.

I plan to develop an expertise in sustainable supply chain management. I want to better understand effective operational and procurement strategies that minimize social and environmental impacts while maximizing performance. I also want to increase my command of corporate finance. For me, a successful first year entails absorbing all the information I can.

Equally, if not more importantly, I hope to cultivate meaningful relationships with my classmates. I’m excited to learn more from Yale’s diverse student body and to hike with new friends while I reconnect with parts of the Appalachian Trail.

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