Meet Northwestern Kellogg’s MBA Class Of 2021

Kristen Kelly

Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University

“An anthropologist at heart, curiosity and empathy drive me.”

Hometown: Park Ridge, Illinois

Fun Fact About Yourself: Since graduating from college in 2013, I have lived in 3 different countries in east and southern Africa and traveled to 12 others, working to support change in the field of international development.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Notre Dame, Anthropology

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Savanna Private Game Reserve, Community Project Manager

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I acted as Process Lead to build VSO’s* global framework and community of practice for Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (AYSRHR), pioneering teamwork and knowledge-sharing processes with colleagues across VSO’s offices in Asia, Africa, and the UK. Over the course of my two years on the project, I used my team-building strengths to foster powerful collaboration, designing processes that built virtual knowledge management and communication platforms to allow individuals on our team with different perspectives and experiences to spark creative, effective solutions together. Three years later, the AYSRHR team is still going strong, creating a lasting impact.

*VSO is an international development organization.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Inspired and inspiring. The classmates that I’ve met so far are incredibly driven, drawing on humility that sees room for growth and change. They are also incredibly inspiring, willing to share their impressive array of skills and experiences to help others on their MBA journey.

Aside from your classmates, 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? The primary reason I chose Kellogg was for its focus on social impact, anchored in my goals to create a more sustainable, equitable world. Through Kellogg’s Social Impact Pathway, I look forward to learning more strategies for positive social change and gaining the management skills I need to achieve my goals. I will dive headfirst into the Public-Private Interface, learning from faculty like Professor Megan Kashner, whose vast experience in impact investing will be crucial for my social impact toolkit, as will courses like “Leading the Mission Driven Enterprise.”

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I look forward to joining the Women’s Business Association, engaging in a vibrant community of leaders across various sectors and empowering one another to achieve our goals.

Kellogg is often described as “team-driven.” In your experience, what is the most important quality of a team member? How do you intend to bring that in a culture where “students run everything.” I think the most important quality of a team member is the willingness to listen without judgment. The best ideas often stem from an open-mindedness that allows for creativity and innovation. I intend to do my best to listen, especially to the quieter voices in the room and advocate for more inclusive approaches to teamwork while at Kellogg.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “How did you research culture fit at our school, not having visited campus or spoken to alumni?”

This question was not from Kellogg (where I did visit and speak to students). I only started having conversations with students and alumni from other schools after I was accepted to their programs. It would have been much more helpful to do so earlier, including to have a more prepared answer to this question!

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? In my most recent role as Community Project Manager for Savanna Private Game Reserve in South Africa, I acted as a power broker, liaising between a five-star lodge and the nearby poor rural villages. As the sole employee of the Savanna Trust, I was responsible for fundraising, as well as community project development and management. I worked alongside incredible community leaders, supporting them to implement strategies for sustainable development. One leader is Nyiko Mokoena, a 26-year-old nurse from Huntington village, who at the age of 18 envisioned the first nursing home in the municipality to serve vulnerable elderly. Today, Nyiko manages a team of 28 to care for 70 formerly neglected elderly people. I worked with Nyiko to strategize the next steps for scale-up by building partnerships with both the local government and other safari lodges. This work was exciting and inspiring and what most directly led me to seek an MBA. I believe that collaboration across sectors has the potential to create large-scale, sustainable change. An MBA toolkit will enable me to build these types of partnerships for positive change with an even greater impact.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Booth, Ross, Georgetown McDonough, CBS, Brandeis, Boston University

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I spoke to students, faculty, and alumni from each school after I was accepted. These conversations were the primary way I determined the cultural fit.

Kellogg’s high-impact, low-ego mentality perfectly coalesces with my values and ultimately made Kellogg my first choice for an MBA. I know that the connections I will make at Kellogg will last beyond graduation. With these like-minded leaders, I will continue collaborative efforts for global impact throughout my career.

Kellogg’s Social Impact Pathway and career management center resources affirmed for me that Kellogg was the right place for me to achieve my goals of working in the corporate social responsibility space after graduation.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? After a morning of hard work in the equatorial sun, women gather under the shade of banana leaves for a much-deserved rest. Bridget, a Uganda Martyrs University (UMU) student, and I sit with them on the ground, our legs folded off to the side in the traditional Ugandan manner. In the privacy of the garden, the women share their challenges:

“We cannot speak openly about our concerns on the garden.”

“Men are selected as leaders and don’t share information with us.”

“They take the vegetables we grow, sell them, and decide how the money is spent.”

Bridget and I spent eight weeks facilitating conversations like this in the villages of Nnindye. The University Partnership for Outreach Research and Development (UPFORD) between UMU and Notre Dame brought us together to investigate the successes and challenges of UPFORD community gardens, intended to boost food and livelihood security.

Bridget and I committed our research to Nnindye’s women. They fed their families, ran small businesses, managed housework and saved money for children’s school fees. And yet, they lacked agency to create meaningful differences in their community’s development. We emphasized the importance of mainstreaming gender equality in UPFORD’s programming, but were frustrated when there was little desire to translate our recommendations to action. These first experiences as a power broker, seeking to amplify the voices of Nnindye’s women (and the lack of agency I felt, pigeonholed as student researchers) fueled the passion for my career.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? My dream job is to direct a consulting firm, which seeks to close the communication gap across corporate, government and non-profit organizations. We would build innovative partnerships for large-scale, sustainable international development impact.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.