2021 Best & Brightest Online MBAs: Jennifer Zacharias, Indiana University (Kelley)

Jennifer Zacharias

Indiana University, Kelley School of Business

“I am many things — ambitious, conscientious, empathetic, indefatigable, meticulous, sincere, resourceful, humorous, thoughtful and generous.”

Age:  39

Hometown: Originally New Palestine, IN; Currently Minneapolis, MN

Fun fact about yourself: In 2017, my husband and I adopted a golden retriever puppy from a rescue, Retrieve a Golden of the Midwest (RAGOM). Bodhi brought so much joy to our lives that I was moved to volunteer and give back to the organization. I started as the silent auction lead for their annual fundraising event, Goldzilla, and went on to serve as chair of the board prior to starting this program.

Undergraduate School and Degree: B.S. in Business – Management and Entrepreneurship, Kelley School of Business

Where are you currently working? Target Corporation, senior director of merchandising, Target+

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I have only been in my current role overseeing merchandising for Target+ for six months, but I am enthusiastic about the work our team is doing! This role has the potential to be a defining experience. As I reflect on what brought me to this position, I am most proud of my sustained development and advancement at a Fortune 50 company, in terms of both business impact and leadership. I started as an inventory analyst in kids clothing supporting brick-and-mortar retail. With many stops along the way, I am now the leader of a high-performing, diverse and global cross-functional team paving a new path to deliver digital growth.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program?  As an undergraduate alumnus from Kelley, I knew the standard of education and the caliber of faculty would be world-class. I also valued the structure and combination of both synchronous and asynchronous content, the opportunities for in-person engagement (outside of COVID) through the Kelley On Campus, Global Connect Night and Global Immersion courses, and the ability to be in a cohort with students from across the world.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? I love the flexibility that an online MBA program offers. I was escaping the Minnesota winter poolside in Palm Springs during one my earliest group meetings. I appreciate that school is wherever I am, which means not having to choose between work, family, school, and travel. I have also made some incredible, lasting connections with other students located everywhere from Chicago to Japan!

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment?  I was surprised by the immersive atmosphere and level of engagement in the online class environment. The synchronous sessions are filled with robust debate and discussion, to the degree that I am often transported and at the end of a class when I step back from my desk, have forgotten that I am not physically in the classroom.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student?  The experiences were more similar than I would have anticipated. In many ways, the online experience through Kelley Direct (KD) may have been more engaging, given Kelley’s commitment to maintaining small class sizes, even in core and required classes. The KD professors are diligent and deliberate in using the synchronous class time for discussion, leveraging breakout rooms, and deploying additional collaboration tools. I have never felt disadvantaged over an in resident MBA student in terms of curriculum or experience.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? The breadth of knowledge and diversity of experience across my peer cohort continually impresses me. I would encourage prospective students to invest in connection the same way they would in person to maximize learning, both academically and socially, from the talented group that will surround you. I was elected to the KD Student Leadership Association at the conclusion of my first term and it has been incredibly rewarding. I would tell incoming students to look for ways to build relationships with other students during group meetings, engage in extracurricular programming like the Women in Business Association, and participate in networking.

What would you change about an online MBA Program? I would not change the online program at Kelley, the opportunities already exist to customize your experience academically and socially. One advantage of the online program at Kelley is that you become a member of a highly-ranked business school that also supports full-time MBA students. A way to further enhance the KD program would be to explore having integrated associations and networking events across the graduate programs to leverage the full power of the Kelley community.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? I am currently responsible for a P&L and am also a leader of leaders. I have been able to immediately apply specific concepts from both sides of the curriculum, such as marketing and strategy, as well as leadership and team development. More broadly than a specific topic, my MBA has challenged and fostered my analytical, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which will be applicable to any business problem I encounter in the future.

Number of Hours Per Week Spent on Online MBA:  This is no different than any other educational activity, the time commitment for each class was as varied as the experience of the students enrolled. A student with their CPA, for example, likely spent far less time on the accounting course than I did given that they already possessed that expertise. For a standard three-credit course, I would spend anywhere from five to 15 hours in a week on the material, depending on the curriculum and the overlap of group projects, exams or other major deliverables.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I love to immerse myself in positions that are challenging and engaging with complex problems to solve that also allow me to lead and influence team culture.  I aspire to progress to more senior-level leadership roles, where I can also have an impact on advancing diversity and female representation in business. Growing up, my dad would try to calm my inner perfectionist by encouraging me to focus on doing my best and that is what I continue to strive for in my career, to contribute the knowledge and skills I have developed in the best way possible, to have a lasting and meaningful impact.


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