It’s cliché but true: Change is the only constant.
Recognizing that success in today’s ever-changing business landscape has many faces, Northwestern University created a new joint degree program between Kellogg School of Management and McCormick School of Engineering: The MBA, Artificial Intelligence, or MBAi, focused on such topics as machine learning, robotics, computational thinking, fintech, data science, and artificial intelligence’s impact on driving innovation.
“There is high demand for leaders who can navigate technical complexity, and we are ready to equip our students with this specialized skill set,” says Eric Anderson, Polk Bros. Chair in Retailing at the Kellogg School and faculty director of the new program. “The MBAi program fills a need for leaders that can drive strategic innovation, while understanding the complexities and nuances of the technologies that enable it.”
The STEM-designated program consists of five quarters and promises to equip graduates with both business and technology skills. Plus, students get to gain real-world experience through a full-time summer internship in their fourth quarter and a Bay Area industry immersion to put their learnings into practice. The MBAi’s inaugural cohort will graduate this year.
To learn more about the experiences at the emerging intersection of business and technology for the first students of the Kellogg & McCormick MBAi program, Poets&Quants talked with two of them — and found that they have something in common besides their student status: Once graduated, both Katie Williamson and Jason Feng plan to apply their new specialized skill set to impact the greater good.
MEET KATIE WILLIAMSON
After graduating with a degree in economics and math from Vanderbilt University, Williamson worked as a management consultant at Bain & Company. There, she had the opportunity to work on a variety of advanced analytic strategy projects. While she always wanted to get a business degree, this experience piqued her interest in pursuing a degree that combined both business with technology. “Companies seem to need people who have both skill sets. I decided to get a higher education degree that would deepen the technical side of my skill set in addition to the business side. It’s exciting to be at that intersection,” she says.
She began searching for the right program. First, she thought about doing a dual degree in data science and business, but she couldn’t find one that focused on the intersection of business and technology in the way that she was hoping for. “I decided to apply to the Kellogg MBA program and just take a lot of electives that were analytics-focused. But then they released the MBAi program, and it sounded exactly like the program I’d been trying to design for myself through elective courses,” she explains.
She’s most fascinated by the application of AI across industries. “I’m interested in continuing to see how the tools and techniques of artificial intelligence can be used across a variety of different types of problems, responsibly,” she says. “We need to be mindful about how decisions will affect stakeholders.”
So far, Williamson says the MBAi has been a fantastic experience. “Whenever I talk to friends from home or past colleagues, I’m gushing about the experience. It’s been awesome to be part of the first cohort.”
MEET JASON FENG
Following Feng’s undergraduate degree in economics and his master of science in business analytics from University of Virginia, Feng started his first job as a consultant at IBM. There, he was able to apply analytics to a variety of different business situations. When he became interested in machine learning, he made the switch to working at eBay’s San Francisco hub, starting out as a senior business analyst and then as an associate manager. This made him become further inspired by the application of AI in startups. “Coincidentally around that time, Kellogg announced this new MBAi program. It seemed like a great way for me to continue to build up my technical skills with the unique curriculum that the program had to offer, as well as gain core foundational business skills,” he says.
“What was really appealing to me about the program was the shorter timeline and being able to go into an accelerated program focused on exactly those things I wanted to learn about.” Feng continues. “Plus, the potential of starting a full-time position earlier on was attractive.”
He also chose this program due to the school’s unique culture. “The more people I interacted with from Kellogg, the more I got the feeling that the student body was very collaborative, helpful, and team-based. It seemed like people wanted to give back and help other students, which also made it feel like a good fit for me,” adds Feng. “Here, you have plenty of opportunity to build out whatever student experience you want to have.”
In the future, Feng is interested in exploring how AI can be of use in the sustainability space; he says that so far, this MBAi program has opened up opportunities he wasn’t aware of before. “For example, this quarter I’m working for an impact investing firm exploring startups that use AI in the sustainability space,” he explains. “I’m becoming more interested in pursuing opportunities in venture capital or impact investing that continue to use AI to solve some problems for the environment and in health care.”
‘IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT HOW TO USE TECHNOLOGY EFFECTIVELY’
Williamson is confident that by the time her class graduates — and increasingly into the future — business projects will require advanced analytical skills. She believes that the ability for leaders to speak the language of business and technology will help to address problems and use technology to its fullest potential. “Companies are increasingly looking to machine learning and artificial intelligence to solve their business problems,” she says. “The ability to lead a team or organization to solve problems using these tools is critical.”
Williamson says that not only is it imperative that business leaders be able to translate business and technology to stakeholders, it’s also important to understand how to use technology responsibly and ethically. “It’s not just about how to use technology effectively,” says Williamson, “but how to do so responsibly and ethically. Being able to communicate both the business and technology side of things is the first step in being able to solve problems in health care, agriculture, or financial services.”
Feng echoes Williamson’s thoughts, adding that the innovative leaders of tomorrow are the ones that are able to understand and communicate effectively with different stakeholders about technology. “I think that’s what’s going to differentiate leaders right now,” he says.