Meet Kellogg’s MBA Class Of 2019

Eric Van Aelstyn 

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management and McCormick School of Engineering (MMM Program) 

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Equal parts film enthusiast, golden retriever, and problem-solver. You will find me at the taco truck.

Hometown: Seattle, WA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have stood at the highest point in the contiguous United States (Mt. Whitney, 14,505 ft) and looked down on the lowest point (Death Valley, -282ft.).

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Southern California – Major: Film Production, Minor: Business Administration

Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation:

Alliance College-Ready Public Schools: Teacher, Algebra 1/Algebra 2 (Teach For America)

Ant Farm: Coordinator, Associate Producer, Sr. Associate Producer

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: One of the realities for my 10th grade algebra students in California was that they needed to pass a basic proficiency test called the CAHSEE (CA High School Exit Exam) in order to receive a diploma. This test was administered in 10th grade and covered up through 9th grade English/Language Arts and up through 7th grade Mathematics. Despite having a class dedicated for CAHSEE preparation, only 64% of our students passed the test first try.

To address this, I – along with a few other members of our team – developed and taught a 10-week intensive “boot camp” that our students were required to attend every Saturday morning leading up to the exam. That year our passage rate jumped by over 20% (by over 30% in math alone). Over the subsequent two years our team refined this program and our students’ passage rate continued to climb, reaching a 93% first time passage rate. Seeing my students walk across the stage as graduating seniors is something I will never forget.

Looking back on your experience, what one piece of advice would you give to future business school applicants? You are more than your job title, so share it. The application process is an opportunity to dive deep into your story and explain why the sum of your experiences has led you to long nights (or early mornings) studying for the GMAT, existential crises while writing essays, and a burning desire to further your own education.

Communicate this story—your story—through every step of the process. As a candidate with a non-traditional background, I was worried that my background did not fit the MBA mold. Fun fact: there is no mold! Trust that the application process has been designed holistically with the applicant in mind. You know why this is the right moment for you to pursue an MBA and admissions officers and interviewers want to those reasons as well. Reflect, discuss, and finally, synthesize. Authenticity is easily recognizable and a well-articulated, personal, and confident story will answer the essential MBA questions: Why now? Why here? And why would this class be worse off without me?

What was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? One of my goals in obtaining an MBA was to switch industries into tech. I knew that an MBA would provide a solid foundation to do so, but I was also looking for a differentiating factor. When I heard about the MMM program from a friend who was a first-year student at Kellogg, I saw the bridge I was looking for.

I had experienced first-hand the failures and successes of design within my charter school network, and later, while working in creative advertising. The idea of codifying that process was fascinating; I immediately saw the practicality of design thinking and innovation everywhere, particularly in the tech space. The MMM program was an opportunity to learn these principles in a small cohort that emphasized experiential learning and teamwork from some of the leading minds in the field. A dedicated MS in Design Innovation from the McCormick School of Engineering, combined with an MBA from Kellogg, meant that in a little over two years I would be prepared to identify the real problems, ask the right questions, and execute an applied approach to generate transformative solutions.

What would success look like to you after your first year of business school? Success equates to preparedness. Kellogg offers an amazing array of opportunities for its students, no matter what function or industry students plan to pursue. This means there is some strategy involved in your first year. As a former teacher, I evangelize the idea of backwards planning. Set a target and work your way back to the present, step-by-step. Align your actions with outcomes. Attend lunch and learns for industries and functions that intrigue you. Talk with second years about their internship experiences and which classes most helped them in those roles. Be purposeful with class projects and labs so you have experience to leverage in an interview and in your career. If I am prepared with the tools to confidently make the hard, thorny decisions that can lead me to my dream firm or career, then I will know that my first year has been a success.

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