Meet Indiana Kelley’s MBA Class Of 2021

“Hoosier hospitality.”

That’s what Kyle Bender calls it. An Indiana native, he subscribes to the Heartland faith in the ‘greater good.’ This belief led him to join Teach For America, where he built a high school technology curriculum from scratch. Soon enough, he was spearheading a 20-member team’s fundraising efforts for the organization. These roles reinforced his public spirit, that sense of optimism, commitment to service, and genuineness of connection that also defines the Midwest.

He found this same spirit when he visited the Kelley School of Business last year. “I mentioned to a Kelley professor that I wanted to improve my Excel skills before attending business school,” Bender remembers. “He offered to share a tutorial for the Jumpstart and Modeling Spreadsheet courses he taught at the time, and followed up several days later with the resource. Interactions like these confirmed Kelley was the right fit for me.”


You’ll find plenty of stories about Kelley’s “personal touch” from first-years like Bender. Caitlin Jones, for one, received a handwritten note from Dean Idie Kessner – Poets&Quants’ reigning Dean of the Year – congratulating her when she accepted her offer to join the Class of 2021. Her classmate, Jake Frego, enjoyed a similar experience, calling Dean Kessner and her leadership “very accessible and generous with their time.” This set the tone for what came next, Frego adds.

Military Club meeting

“These ‘personal touches’ are important because they indicate that Kelley is a place that values each individual and seeks to invest fully in him or her. I am confident that I have found an MBA program that not only is characterized by strong academics and reputation, but that also fosters lasting relationships.”

The Kelley School culture harmonizes well with the area’s values. Indiana is a place where a greeting is as sincere and someone’s sadness to see you go. It is the golden rule come to life, a live-and-let-live ethos where being friendly, humble, and helpful are the fibers that hold together the social fabric. At the same time, the area is known for its slower pace and roomier space, giving students a chance to truly explore their interests and build deep and defining relationships.


“Our culture is the best you can experience,” Dean Kessner told P&Q in December. “And it does make a difference where you go. We are different in our collegiality, our collaboration, and our teamwork. No other school is quite like what we have here.”

Tyler Yoder, a 2019 Kelley MBA and P&Q MBA To Watch, took inspiration from the Kelley code. “I vividly remember Idie Kessner talking about the three core qualities of Kelley students: “The talent to succeed, the humility to grow, and the tenacity to persevere.” As I interacted with Kelley students, I found each of these qualities to be true, especially the students’ humility. They talked about how Kelley students do not define their success by how quickly they move to the “corner office,” but rather when the entire team around them succeeds.”

It is these values that are carried by 115,000 Kelley alumni into their careers. These shared beliefs and experiences make for a potent network – a lesson that Justin Speller learned after he decided to join Kelley’s MBA Class of 2021. “I was running through the Seattle airport with my Indiana sweatshirt trying to catch a flight and out of the blue I hear “Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoosiers!” (which is our Indiana chant) and was immediately greeted by a third-generation Kelley alumna and his wife. It was then that I recognized the vast reach of the alumni network and instantly knew where I wanted to spend two years.”


Entrance to the Kelley School

Speller himself – a Biology and Anthropology major as an undergrad – joins the Class of 2021 from Bank of America, where he served as an assistant vice president. His claim to fame? He built and launched a learning management system used by 40,000 students. That’s not the only big number racked up by class members. As a Deloitte technology analyst, Aditi Sharma’s work was so impressive that her client signed on for another $14 million dollar project. In contrast, Cassie Deguzman developed a repositioning plan that enabled her employer, a dairy marketing cooperative, to boost sales by $15.6 million dollars. In Indianapolis, Kyle Bender raised $16 million dollars for Teach For America – and become more acquainted with the Kelley School in the process.

“Over half of the board of directors I managed at Teach For America had a direct tie to Kelley – either they were an alumnus or their kids went through the program.”

The Class of 2021 also boasts its fair share of organizers. At Eli Lilly, Jake Frego oversaw the firm’s strategic planning process that produced financial projections through 2030. Tyler Patrick Ray’s passion is retail. In Japan, he launched a t-shirt line that he sees “people walking around in my neighborhood wearing.” At South By Southwest (SXSW), Caitlin Jones created documentation that connected all stakeholders. Her efforts streamlined communication and made all the various moving parts visible to decision-makers.

“After my first SXSW Conference & Festivals experience as an employee, I recognized the need for an effective process on how we internally tracked the placement of the 25 unique conference tracks, staff workspaces, and venue sales spaces located across 19 city-wide hotels and venues during the planning phase of the event,” Jones explains. “With help from the logistics and programming teams, I created a real-time document the entire company could reference to ensure that we did not overlap the use of conference event spaces for the 10-day international event. The document was immediately beneficial and continues to be used to maintain accuracy across all departments and committees, from graphics and signage creation to sales and sponsorship client use to keynotes and featured speaker placement.”

MBA team meeting


This year’s class is also a study in perseverance. Take Rong Xue. At PPG, this chemist had to test 13 solutions and 500 formulas to perfect a product after a recall. Over 17 months, she suffered repeated setbacks before she eventually saved the line. “To find a good solution, I read numerous technical books and papers, proactively reached out to other chemists, participated in vendors’ workshops, and tried their new ingredients,” she recalls. “After considerable trial-and-error, I finally found a solution that met all the requirements! This project turned out to be a great success: All 30 formulas were revised, with better quality control and reduced costs.”

Think that’s intense? Try being Nate Zimmerly, a U.S. Army Operations Supervisor who was deployed to Liberia during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 – an eye-opening experience to say the least, he says. “I helped open two Ebola Treatment Centers in two extremely remote locations deep within the jungles of the country. I lived and worked with the local population to open these two treatment centers. During this time, I learned firsthand about the struggles that the majority of the world’s population faces on a day to day basis.”

Danielle VeZolles’ moment of truth came after a year as general manager of a boutique hotel – her first job after college. During her vacation, the property suffered extensive fire damage and had to close for three months. As a result, her role shifted from the steadiness of running an operation to the uncomfortable position of restoring a historic building.

“Throughout the closure, my leadership skills were put to the test as I navigated unfamiliar territory,” she explains. “I met with several restoration companies, meticulously analyzed their 150-page proposals, negotiated prices, and selected a company to do the restoration work in three months. Under my leadership, the repairs were successfully completed under budget two weeks ahead of schedule – and we opened just in time to accommodate a group who had booked the entire hotel for a weekend. Thrust into an ambiguous situation, I grew considerably, navigating the complexities of people management, customer service and leading through crisis.”

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