2020 MBAs To Watch: Niina Al-Hassan, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Niina Al-Hassan

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

Working to learn more about myself and others to understand how to improve people’s experience.”

Hometown: Pullman, WA

Fun fact about yourself: I’m a huge fan of concerts! Last year I went to 31 different shows, mostly in small venues around Chicago.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Brown University; BA in Business, Entrepreneurship & Organizations

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Novus; Associate – Analytics Desk

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? I interned as a Technical PM at Integral Ad Science (IAS), a third-party ad verification firm based in New York. It was a great experience to understand what it is like to manage a product that sits upstream and the internal stakeholders it required working with.

Where will you be working after graduation? I’m primarily recruiting for growth-stage tech firms, so most of my spring quarter will be spent interviewing for full-time roles!

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • C. Austin Scholar, Kellogg’s highest merit-based award
  • MMM Program Vice President
  • Black Management Association Conference Co-Director
  • Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club Vice President of Finance
  • Northwestern University 150 Years of Women
  • Black Management Association and Kellogg Section Mentor to 1st Year Students

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? This year, I had the honor of co-chairing the 33rd Annual Black Management Association Conference (BMAC), Kellogg’s longest-running student-led conference. The conference theme, Series B: The Next Round of Growth, focused on the scale of investment and innovation in technology and entrepreneurship over the past decade while also bringing to light perspective on what’s next.

We tapped into Kellogg’s alumni network to bring in entrepreneurs to discuss their growth and scaling journeys. We also worked alongside professors within the Kellogg Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Initiative, who connected us with judges to participate in the BMAC Venture Competition for founders of color, which awarded $5,000 to two up-and-coming startups. It was an incredible opportunity to build a conference from the ground up and execute on the vision that myself and my co-director wanted for our conference participants.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I don’t think that I can point to one specific project or accomplishment that I am most proud of, but I am incredibly proud of the incremental progress I’ve made in understanding how empathy is key to decision-making. Attending Kellogg has allowed me to really work hard on that skillset. Here, we are constantly placed in situations with people from different professional backgrounds, upbringings, and value systems. As a result, our perspectives all differ considerably. Meeting people where they are and understanding those differences has been hugely important in shaping the way I hope to lead in the future. Through my professional experiences and time at school, I’m really proud of the progress I see in myself.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Day at Kellogg (DAK) is a wonderful opportunity to welcome prospective students on campus to show them what the full-time student experience at Kellogg is all about. My experience at DAK really reaffirmed my decision to join the MMM program, but what really makes DAK special is the level of intentionality put into every piece of the weekend by the student leadership team.

The hope is that through the variety of programming offered, there are many events that resound strongly with each prospective student. For several people, that comes through in the ‘Hear My Story’ series or through Small Group Dinners. Both events are a way for people to get candid feedback about the current student experience while answering tough questions and sharing their personal perspective about finding the right fit for your business school goals.

Why did you choose this business school? In my job prior to Kellogg, I was an associate at a FinTech firm focused on data analytics for institutional investors and hedge funds. Because the company was small, we had the opportunity to wear many hats, one of which was as a product stakeholder, helping with customer interviews and product launches. This was my first introduction to product management, and it felt like the perfect fit for my interests and skillsets. I knew that I wanted to transition into a full-time product management role, but I needed to develop a better understanding of the design and the full product lifecycle.

At Kellogg, the MMM program was the perfect match for that goal. The combination of a traditional MBA program with an MS in Design Innovation, gives students a strong foundation of human-centered design principles and many opportunities to apply our learnings through experiential coursework.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be yourself and pick the school with the culture that’s the right fit for you. When putting together your application materials and picking out schools, it’s important to convey what you want the admissions counselors to know about you that isn’t obvious from your LinkedIn profile. It is important to be authentic in your essays and interviews rather than saying or writing what you think people want to hear. On culture, every school is different, and the best way to get a good feel is to visit on a preview day or reach out to current students to get their perspective.

What is the biggest myth about your school? A lot of people believe that given Kellogg’s geographical location in the Midwest, we’re severely limited in our options for internships and full-time roles in California, New York, etc. when that’s really not the case.

Nearly 70% of last year’s class accepted positions outside of the Midwest, with the West Coast being popular among my classmates. Having interned in New York, I can say geography really hasn’t been a significant hurdle to overcome in recruiting! 

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Starting a journey without goals or milestones makes it very difficult to track progress and ensure you’re staying true to the course you set out for yourself. If I could go back, I would have tried to document my goals and track my progress more often to aid in my reflection process. I started to do it more during the Spring of my first year, but it would be great to have done so throughout the entire experience.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Jenna Leahy is probably one of the most upbeat, sharp, and caring people I have met in my life. Jenna embodies so much of what makes Kellogg a great place to learn from your peers and is genuine in her enthusiasm and interactions with every student and faculty member she meets. Her work starting a charter school for low-income K-3 students in Phoenix prior to Kellogg, as well as the time she spends getting to know people at more than just face value, are just a few aspects of what makes her such a great colleague and friend. It’s incredibly easy to see how she draws in people with her sincere desire to put some good into the world. I feel very lucky to have gotten to know Jenna over the past two years!

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? At my role prior to Kellogg, I was lucky enough to be paired with an amazing mentor on my very first day. She has become one of my closest friends and someone that I lean on for advice about both personal and professional decisions. When I started to think about going back to school, she was incredibly supportive about my decision and removed many of the concerns and hesitations I had going into the process. Especially considering that the MMM program is not a traditional MBA path, she made me confident in my choice, knowing that it would be a great fit for the goals I had after school. Studying for the GMAT and applying to school can be incredibly daunting, so to have someone believe in your ability to succeed was paramount for me in remaining confident throughout the process. I was very lucky to have someone in my life at that time to keep pushing me throughout it.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • Near term, is launching an entirely new product (rather than just a feature) that has wide-reaching impact and tangible benefits to my target user base.
  • Long term, it is creating a social impact-focused startup studio which seeks to employ founders of color as part of the leadership team of all new ventures.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As someone who was genuine in her interactions with others, who was open to new experiences and who always strived to help people in their pursuits.

Hobbies? I’m super passionate about discovering new music and artists and love getting the chance to see them live in concert! I also love playing soccer and trying out new recipes.

What made Niina such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Niina is a wonderful example of everything that is a Kellogg MMM and more. She excels through her hybrid leadership approach – utilizing a combination of creative and critical thinking skills to make a meaningful impact at Kellogg. Her ability to understand people more deeply through human-centered design, enables her to empathize in a way that makes her a sincere leader and contributor to our community. She is authentic and her transparency is inspiring. Additionally, Niina uniquely balances the qualities of humility and confidence that modern leadership hungers for, as she actively listens and keenly frames insights that are actionable and of value. Specifically, her contributions as a student leader within the Kellogg MMM program have been incredibly inclusive and thoughtful – leaving a lasting example of impact through holistic understanding and action that current and future students will benefit from.”

Greg Holderfield, PhD
Professor and Director
Segal Design Institute / MMM program / Northwestern University




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