Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Michelle Morales, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Michelle Morales

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

Humorous and tenacious; loves Carly Rae Jepsen, hot soup and fighting climate change.”

Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico (but I moved around a lot growing up)

Fun Fact About Yourself: I’ve been bitten by a donkey!

Undergraduate School and Major: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Environmental Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Project Manager, Carbon Markets at 3Degrees Group, Inc.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? Coming from a niche, technical, non-business background, I wanted to understand the different components of management and get a cross-disciplinary education versus specializing in one subject. I appreciated that Kellogg provided a high-quality, holistic approach to managerial leadership and that I would have the opportunity to apply what I learn in class through hands on, experiential learning.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Resilient. I’ve been incredibly impressed with how resilient my classmates have been this year, especially given the complications Covid-19 has brought to the Kellogg experience. From international students having to deal with visa issues, to in-person students adapting to the new guidelines of a COVID classroom, I’ve been in awe by how my classmates have been tackling each new obstacle head-on, while still maintaining high spirits and optimism.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? Since the Kellogg Energy and Sustainability Club would be too obvious of an answer, I’ll go with the Kellogg Food and Ag Club (KFAB)! I like that, in addition to being a professional club, KFAB is a community of people who are passionate about their food and where it comes from. Regenerative agriculture is a topic I learned about at work and I am interested in diving deeper into understanding our agricultural systems and their potential for sustainable impact. While I never ended up making my own sourdough bread, quarantine did unleash a culinary side of me I never knew I had, so I am also excited to learn more about, and eat, delicious food.

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 into Kellogg? Prior to coming to Kellogg, I was a part of an improv comedy team in San Francisco. The most fundamental rule of improv comedy is to always “yes, and”. This rule is about making sure that we are listening to and supporting our scene partners, instead of shutting down their ideas. Knowing that your scene partner will support you allows you to take more risks and is crucial in feeling open and comfortable in a scene.

I think that the “yes and” principle applies to any team. Not in the sense that we should blindly agree to any idea, but in the importance of giving and receiving support. Giving and receiving support is essential in building the trust that is necessary for people to feel comfortable being open with their ideas, taking risks, giving feedback, and ultimately producing a quality output, no matter the context.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I went on Univision Television in Seattle to speak about the benefits of renewable energy, in hopes of expanding renewable energy programs to Spanish speaking communities in the Seattle metro area.  While public relations was not a part of my day-to-day job, I consider this experience an accomplishment because it gave me the opportunity to spread awareness of renewable energy options to communities that historically have not always been included in industry conversations.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? In my last role, I managed a portfolio of greenhouse gas reduction projects through data collection, quantification, and reporting. While I loved my job, I was constantly seeing the devastating effects of climate change and extreme weather events and wanted to expand my level of impact beyond my technical expertise. In September 2017, I was working in San Francisco where the Northern California wildfires choked the air with smoke, while my family back in Puerto Rico was experiencing relentless devastation from back-to-back Hurricanes Irma and Maria. It was at this point I decided that I needed to expand my impact and broaden my skillset to develop the managerial and leadership skills necessary to get more companies and organizations investing their resources into climate change resiliency.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Haas, Ross, Stern and Booth.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “Why do you want to pursue an MBA?” It took me about 2 years of pondering this question to finally bite the bullet and apply to MBA programs. I loved where I was working, the work that I was doing, and the quantifiable impact my work had on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It was hard to justify giving that up! Ultimately, I had to come to terms with the fact that for me to have the greatest impact, I needed to work through some of my weaknesses, expand beyond my technical expertise, and learn how to become an effective leader in order to work with more intelligent and influential people to dedicate resources towards solving global problems. By the time I was asked this question during the admissions process, I had an answer, but that answer was two years in the making.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I wanted to challenge myself academically, push myself out of my comfort zone, and learn new subjects I otherwise would not have the opportunity to learn. As a result, I leaned towards schools with a curriculum that would expand my knowledge and help me get a better understanding of “business” from a variety of perspectives and viewpoints.

Culture was important to me since I was coming from a non-business background. As a result, I wanted to go to a school that attracted highly intelligent students with low egos who would be open to collaborating with a business newbie like myself. Ultimately, when it came time to make a decision, it came down to a gut feeling. There are some things that cannot be quantified or explained, and it was these types of intangible factors that led me to determine Kellogg was the right place for me.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? If I had to pick just one, I’d have to say Hurricane Maria. The majority of my family lives in Puerto Rico and seeing the devastation and long-term infrastructure damages first-hand was sad and frustrating. It took my aunt over 10 months (!!) to get her electricity restored after the storm, and to this day there are folks on the island who still do not have roofs on their homes.

At the time, I was working with different industries and communities trying to adapt to climate change. While industries are slow to change, the people on the front lines of extreme weather events, sinking shorelines, and resource destruction face immediate problems that need timely and resilient solutions. Hurricane Maria lit a fire under me to work even harder to help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change, and ultimately led to my decision to pursue an MBA. The destruction and devastation of Puerto Rico and the long-term effects of Hurricane Maria are things that I hold with me as reminders of my goals and purpose throughout my business school experience. I’m to grow and become a better leader so that I can one day develop projects that apply global resources and expertise to local solutions for communities adapting to climate change, in hopes of curbing future devastation.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? I would probably have to say Ben and Jerry’s. Ben and Jerry’s can teach business students that it is possible to be profitable while sticking to your values and doing social good. And that potato chips and chocolate ice cream are a winning combination (see: Chip Happens).