MBAs love big: big cities, big projects, big dreams. Still, many long for a personal touch — that extra moment invested or unexpected courtesy extended: those traditions that bind individuals together and communities who look out for each other. That spirit was exactly what Jake Frego was seeking three years ago. As an applicant, he told himself, “If a personal touch is evident while I am only a candidate, the school must devote that much more individualized attention and resources to its actual students!”
That started at the top at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Frego had scheduled an evening call with Dean Idie Kesner, not knowing she’d just returned from China, a 14-hour difference. Despite the jet lag, Kesner made time to answer all of his questions. While her pitch was powerful, it was the person who left the lasting impression on Frego.
“My decision had already been cemented. Her personal sacrifice made her the type of leader I wanted to follow, and I checked ‘Accept’ for Kelley.”
SMALL MBA PROGRAM, HUGE ALUMNI BASE
The word got out about Kelley’s personal touch during the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, with applications climbing by 61% — 20 times the average increase at Top 25 full-time MBA programs during the same period. One of those first-years, Madelynn Kuerschner, had already majored in marketing as a Kelley undergrad. And she was more than ready for another go-around.
“While I researched and spoke with numerous MBA programs, Kelley was the only program that really resonated with me,” she tells P&Q. “As someone who went to Kelley for an undergraduate degree, I knew the rigor, support, and experiences Kelley would provide me in an MBA. I wanted my MBA experience to be challenging and exciting, and I knew Kelley would offer me both. So, with that, I only applied to Kelley and it was the easiest and best decision I have made during my MBA journey!”
You could call the Kelley MBA the perfect mix of big and small. The Class of 2023 itself features a modest 157 students, perfect for getting to know everyone and building life-long friendships and networks. At the same time, Kelley boasts one of the highest-ranked online MBA and undergraduate business programs. That translates to a lot of faculty expertise in a lot of fields. Case in point: In October, the Kelley School ranked 3rd among public business schools for research according to U.S. News, which weighs both the volume of citations and range of publications. At the same time, Kelley School alumni number 123,000 across 105 countries.
THE KELLEY CLAP
If you ask alumni, it is support more than scope that sets Kelley apart.
“The relationship between professors and students is highly collegial,” observes Frego, A P&Q MBA To Watch who graduated in 2021. “I suppose that I had been expecting a continuation of the ‘undergraduate’ model, in which students appear for a lecture and then file out at its conclusion. Instead, it is extremely rare for a Kelley class to end without the professor and an MBA interacting afterward, whether to relate a professional experience, clarify a point, or show a card trick (yes, this has happened). Furthermore, Kelley professors have met us out for dinner, participated in charity auctions, and even attended morning workouts at 6 am. They respect us as colleagues, and we respect them for their expertise, humility, and commitment to our success.”
In fact, Kelley students respect faculty so much that they follow a tradition: the Kelley Clap.
“At the end of every class, we clap to applaud the act of learning that has taken place, writes Justin M. Speller, another 2021 grad. “At first, I thought it was going to be very awkward in each class clapping for each other. However, doing our Kelley Clap gives me a sense of pride for my peers and the professor and is a great way to get pumped up after the lesson has taken place.”
BLOOMINGTON: THE PLACE TO BE
The personal touch doesn’t end there. Nearly three-quarters of Kelley MBAs come to Bloomington to switch careers. Not surprisingly, the school devotes a career center specifically to MBAs — one that consistently ranks among the five-best in the world according to alumni and student surveys conducted by The Financial Times and The Economist. At the same time, students receive two years of one-on-one sessions from certified career coaches — a service that remains available to MBA alumni as well. Even more, the Kelley MBA lays the groundwork for students’ summer internships and career transitions through its Academies. Basically, the academies provide first-years with career-specific, hands-on experience through coursework, client partnerships, and research projects. In the process, these experiential learnings expose MBAs to the language, requirements, trends, and subtleties inherent to areas ranging from marketing to consulting .
“Through the Academy experience, students are able to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it in real world settings,” explains Tobi Ojo, a spring grad who joined Discover Financial Services. “As a member of the Capital Markets Academy, I had the opportunity to network extensively with industry professionals, which gave me additional insights on possible career paths. My capstone project focused on researching a company, building a financial model, and pitching that company to the investment committee of our Value Fund. The investment committee actually invested real dollars into the company I pitched based on my recommendation. It’s hard to find a program that will give you that kind of real-world experience in your first year of business school.”
Experience and community, a personal touch rooted in the Midwestern values of hard work, friendliness, and clean living. Forget cornfields and casseroles. Think wide open spaces and a slower pace — safe and inexpensive — where people are always eager to help. Bloomington itself is a quintessential college town, full of energy and activity — everything accessible along the B-Line Trail. And you don’t get hammered with snowstorms and bitter cold in Bloomington all that much, either. Best of all, there is always something to do there.
“The wide variety of international food options, abundance of tailgating and variety of outdoor activities make Bloomington the perfect place for two years,” adds Justin M. Speller. “I am SO thankful I went to school in a college town because of the close bonds I have made with my classmates. When I talk to friends at other MBA programs, they always talk about how disconnected they feel because there are too many people in their program. Some of my other friends go to school in big cities and because they are all spread out, they end up never really feeling at home in their programs. Coupled together, Kelley and Bloomington foster an environment for MBA students to not only achieve professional success but form lifelong relationships.”
BEER CLUB: MORE COMMERCE THAN CHUG-A-LUG
Those relationships aren’t just formed with students. At Kelley, families get the VIP treatment too says Jim Dyer, a first-year who was previously physical therapist from the Chicago area. “Returning to school with a wife, a 2-year-old daughter and a 4-month-old daughter made family support a high priority. Kelley has excellent resources for spouses, partners and children including Kelley Kids Club and Kelley Partners Club. Spouses and significant others have the opportunity to join any of the clubs through the school, so they are able to network and find great resources to navigate their next chapter as well. I knew in order to pursue my professional goals it was important to find a place that was equally memorable for my wife and children.”
Dyer isn’t the only member of the Class of 2023 with a non-traditional background. Daniel Hammerschlag moved to Scotland to earn a Master of Science in Distilling. He has since handled seemingly every beverage-related role including bottling, sales, and product development. He has even served as a production head and flavorist. Not surprisingly, Hammerschlag is looking forward to being part of Kelley’s Beer Club.
“It differs from the beer clubs I’ve seen at other MBA programs, which are more akin to beer sharing programs, by focusing on the makers of the beverages and how the industry functions. With my background in that industry, I think it will be a great way to not only relax with classmates but to share with them my expertise and why the industry interests me. I wanted to make alcohol to bring people together and now I get to benefit from it as well.”
MEET THE CHOCOLATE LADY
Akua Obenewaa Donkor prefers chocolates — so much so that she was nicknamed “The Chocolate Lady” in her native Ghana. One reason: she was the founder and CEO of a chocolate manufacturer. Another reason: she channeled revenues back into supporting education in the communities where she grew cocoa to reduce dropouts.
“I launched the “I Love to Read” project as part of my company’s corporate social responsibilities,” Obenewaa Donkor tells P&Q. “Our fund-raising methods include mounting chocolate sculptures at shopping malls to request for donations. With the support of the urban and corporate communities for this project, we raise enough money to reach many communities with books and school supplies every year. At other times, I celebrate my birthday with these children. In 2018, the project finished the structural facility in one of these schools…Impacting the cocoa farming communities in Ghana positively always reminds me of how much I enjoy social work and I am proud to say that children in these communities now have better learning opportunities because of me.”
Looking for leadership? Eric Bukstein helped Uruguay’s largest retailer reduce costs and increase flexibility by expanding their procurement process to international partners. At the same time, Josh Kuiper, a special operations officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, led his team through what he calls “a fast-paced, complex, ambiguous combat environment in Afghanistan.”
Upon arrival, my team was relegated to a mission that did not match our extensive capability, resulting in frustration throughout my team. We gradually built meaningful relationships with key decision makers, pitched our capabilities to anyone willing to listen, and worked tirelessly providing value anywhere that we could. We developed a particularly novel concept of employment, convinced our bosses of the efficacy and aggressively implemented the concept. My team went from being largely unemployed to conducting strategic combat operations spanning multiple provinces throughout Afghanistan…and we laid the groundwork for multiple teams to follow.”
Next Page: Interview with Kyle Cattani, Kelley MBA Program Chair
Page 3: Profiles of 12 Kelley First-Year MBA Students