Meet the MBA Class of 2023: Michelle Rocha Frea, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Michelle Rocha Frea

Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University + Pritzker School of Law (JD-MBA)

“Creative, empathetic former escape room designer and farmer. Passionate about agriculture, equity, and economic empowerment.”

Hometown: Fresno, CA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I grew up on a dairy farm and had pet cows.  I used to bring them to the county fair!

Undergraduate School and Major:

Brown University: American Studies

Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law: Juris Doctorate (c/o 2023)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:  AmeriCorps, Servicemember

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of Northwestern Kellogg’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I was initially drawn to Kellogg because of its JD-MBA program, which allows me to obtain a law degree and a business degree in three years. I loved that the entire second year of the program is spent as a first-year MBA student, and then third year is a hybrid between law and business.  This allows me to graduate with both my law and business first year classmates.

I ultimately chose Kellogg over other MBA programs because of its robust offering of experiential opportunities in Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship. These experiences were particularly important to me because I am hoping to pivot my career, and am also the first in my family to seek an MBA or career in these industries.  Kellogg provides opportunities and access to an incredible network that will enable me to build relationships and enter new industries. In particular, Venture Lab places Kellogg students in an internship with a VC firm or startup for one quarter, which allows students to develop a venture capital skillset in a growth-focused, low pressure environment.

Another experiential opportunity is the San Francisco Immersion Winter Quarter, which allows students to take courses at Kellogg’s San Francisco campus, intern in VC firms or VC portfolio companies, and build a network in the Bay Area.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Northwestern Kellogg? I am excited about Kellogg’s Golub Capital Board Fellows Program, through which one hundred Kellogg fellows serve on a Chicagoland nonprofit’s board.  To me, this program exemplifies Kellogg because it develops civic leaders who will also achieve professional excellence outside of their board service—high impact, low ego.

I think Board Fellows is an incredible opportunity to grow professionally and personally, as well as make a meaningful impact.  Through the program, I would learn how to manage a nonprofit and build meaningful connections within the nonprofit community.

Furthermore, the program would enable me to be a part of something much bigger than myself. I am eager to join a community at Kellogg comprised of people who are actively engaged in supporting movements that better the world via nonprofit work.

What word best describes the Kellogg MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far and why? Enthusiastic. Kellogg MBAs and alumni have so much love for the school. Kellogg does a fantastic job of vetting for people who want a strong community experience. Alumni have raved to me about the transformative Kellogg experience while referencing some of Kellogg’s greatest hits—section rivalries (Moose House!), Ski Trip, Drag Show, small group dinners, and, of course, KWEST. Clubs here are free, and that encourages students to explore many different communities and interests. Culture is the key differentiator here, and it truly shows!

What makes Chicago such a great place to earn an MBA? Chicago is a vibrant city filled with amazing food, beautiful architecture, and diverse neighborhoods.  There is amazing access to top-notch medical, legal, and entrepreneurial resources. Having lived in both Boston and New York, I think Chicago is a happy medium! Chicago has more to do than Boston, but is more affordable and less of a concrete jungle than New York because of its beautiful park spaces, bike paths, and proximity to the lake (which looks more like an ocean!).

Kellogg is known for a team-driven culture. What quality do you bring as a teammate and why is it so important to success? I focus on inclusivity and empathy, so I really try to make sure that everyone’s voices are heard.  Everyone has different strengths, and I try to acknowledge those. I think emotional intelligence is critical to a team’s success because in my experience, people want to feel understood and valued to truly be engaged.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I helped launch an escape room company. Before joining the team, I had never heard of an escape room game, much less played one! I leapt on the opportunity because I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something entrepreneurial and innovative shortly after undergrad.

When I joined, we only had the name and logo. I was able to help create the entire brand—from finalizing colors to designing store interiors to ordering the furniture. The bulk of my time was spent creating the escape room games and I was responsible for all aspects of game design. After finalizing themes, I would map out the storyline. I storyboarded with images and sketches, then worked with artists and engineers to make my vision come to life. Designing escape rooms was an iterative process and required an incredible amount of attention to detail; as a result, I felt a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment when I saw that people were enjoying my games.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? Career-wise, COVID highlighted the importance of innovation, wellness, and adaptability.  Companies need to keep clients happy and employees engaged, which required them to modify existing operational procedures.  I think the pandemic differentiated firms that are willing to prioritize their employees’ wellness and those that are not. Firms that did a good job keeping employees engaged and productive recognized that remote work should not be a license to eliminate work/life boundaries.  I think pre-COVID, I would have gotten caught up in working for the coolest brand.  Now, I am looking for environments where leadership recognizes the importance of employee wellness. I am also cognizant of the inequities at play in the workforce — I am fortunate to have career opportunities that keep me safe, when so many do not.

COVID highlighted the fragility of life. I think that too often, it’s easy to get caught up in feeling like I am not doing enough and comparing myself to others. This can devolve into a pattern of feeling of inferior and having imposter syndrome. Thus, I spent time reflecting on where my energy should be directed and how I can be my authentic self.  Now, I embrace my nontraditional path and the valuable lessons I have learned and know that I don’t need to chase a life that is someone else’s to live. What matters to me are my family, friends, partner, and making an impact in whatever career I have.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? I wanted to build a solid foundation in business fundamentals through classes like finance and accounting, as well as meet dynamic individuals with varying skillsets, who I knew would represent the type of colleagues I would work with in the future.

I am interested in VC and emerging company work with an emphasis on underrepresented founders. One option is pursuing law to specialize in this area and to develop relationships with VCs and entrepreneurs. Alternatively, consulting would be a great post-MBA step for me because it would strengthen my business acumen and set me up to be a strong business leader. I am passionate about agriculture, so would like to be involved in the industry in some capacity long-term—whether it be for a traditional Ag firm, an agtech startup, or even on the economic development/nonprofit side.  I love that Kellogg has a robust social impact curriculum that will prepare me to be an impactful, purpose-driven leader–regardless of my career path.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied to programs that I selected based on experiential opportunities and culture.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Northwestern Kellogg’s MBA program? Kellogg is incredibly focused on culture and wants active, engaged students, so I would recommend getting involved in your communities—whether it be through work, cultural groups, or volunteering. This will demonstrate that you can jump right into Kellogg’s community-centric culture and will help authentically craft your story—lean into whatever makes you, you!


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