Meet the MBA Class of 2024: Maria Elisa Simas Donato, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Maria Elisa Simas Donato

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

“Curious and driven I love to learn/explore new things, help others, and meet new people!”

Hometown: Florianópolis, Santa Catarina – Brazil

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have lived in 9 cities in 3 different countries and visited 29+ countries. Because I love to experience new things, I seize every opportunity to do so.

Undergraduate School and Major: Materials Engineering at Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina – UFSC.

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Operations Associate at Spectra Investments – a Brazilian Private Equity firm with the largest AUM amongst LATAM’s funds of funds.

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of Northwestern Kellogg’s MBA curriculum or programming that led you to choose this business school, and why was it so important to you? For me, it was Kellogg’s culture and values: leaders who are passionate about helping others and deliver high impact with low ego. Every person I met during the application process— alumni, faculty, or students — embodied this value and the collaborative culture. It was important to me because I wanted to learn from the best and be surrounded by people I admire, ultimately becoming the leader I aspire to be. Also, I wanted to be in a school where people truly connect, and Kellogg’s community, with its values and culture, sets it apart.

Lastly, I was impressed by Kellogg’s finance curriculum and faculty. The opportunities the school has in this area really called my attention, such as Kellogg’s Venture Capital and Private Equity pathway, which includes a set of courses to prepare students for a PE/VC career, and the San Francisco Winter Immersion Quarter, where students can do a quarter in San Francisco while working for Venture companies. Since I got here, I have had many opportunities to gain exposure to the Finance industry, including mentorship and a strong network of finance fellows.

What course, club, or activity excites you the most at Northwestern Kellogg? It would be easier to list what doesn’t excite me. Kellogg has lots of fantastic opportunities in different fields of knowledge. I’m eager to try a little bit of everything, especially anything Finance related such as the Private Equity (PE) and Venture Capital (VC) Labs. These are experiential learning classes in which the student spends a quarter working with a PE or VC fund. It is an opportunity to try something different, connect with the industry, and learn by doing. Kellogg also hosts many networking opportunities for its students.

During my first month, I had the chance to participate in the Women in Finance Dinner, a student-led event with the participation of Dean Cornelli and many Kellogg women alums who work in Finance. It was inspiring to hear their success stories and advice on how to get there. Kellogg creates many opportunities for students to connect with many inspiring professionals. I have learned a lot on these occasions. The faculty is also outstanding, and the professors are always available to talk and help us. They are part of the co munity that you will have for the rest of your life.

What has been your first impression of the Kellogg MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far? Tell us your best Kellogg story so far. They are genuine, passionate, collaborative, and inclusive. Kellogg does an excellent job of choosing candidates with the right cultural fit. Everyone I have met so far was ready to help and interested to know me beyond my professional background or achievements. Before even coming to Kellogg, I felt I could ask and rely on second-years for anything I needed, and they did help me a lot. As I was coming from Brazil, it was hard to choose which building to live in, so one of my second-years volunteered to visit for me and sent me many videos so that I could see it for myself.

Kellogg’s Worldwide Exploration Trip (KWEST) is also an excellent example. It is a trip that integrates 20 incoming students and 5 second-years, and all our professional or background data is kept secret – nobody knows your surname, where you are from, or what you did before. The intention is to have deeper conversations and to create authentic connections with each person. In the end, KWEST was a memorable experience for me, and I have made friends that I know I can rely on and who will be there to cheer for my success.

What makes Chicago such a great place to earn an MBA? The cool thing about Kellogg is that most students live in Evanston, a suburb about 30 minutes north of Chicago. The town is beautiful, and everything is within walking distance, so it is common to meet friends anywhere in the city, and it feels like home. We have gatherings and small group dinners with other Kellogg students all the time, and we do create a community here. Furthermore, we have the most amazing building, the Global Hub, with a view of Chicago’s skyline from its windows. Going to Chicago from Evanston is also easy, which makes it convenient if you want to go to a different restaurant or attend a big concert. It also allows students to interact and network with hundreds of firms or even have experiential learning experiences like the PE/VC Lab. Kellogg has the best combo: college town experience with a big city next to it.

Kellogg is known for its team-driven culture. What quality do you bring as a teammate, and why will it be so crucial to the success of the MBA class? Empathy and inclusion. For me, good teams are those where people can feel like themselves and rely on each other. I always listen to other ideas and push others to contribute and speak up for their thoughts, making them feel empowered. I believe that by challenging my Kellogg colleagues and learning from their strengths, we can achieve great things together and become better professionals.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I would say that what I’m most proud of is the consistency I have had during my career. I have always pushed myself to the limit, delivered better-than-expected results, and explored the most subjects and challenges possible. Doing this allowed me to pivot my career twice and to be exposed to important projects with high impact. For instance, after four years and a half as an internal auditor at Itaú, LATAM’s largest private bank, I started a new role in a Private Equity firm and was promoted within two months. This meant a lot for me as I was able to start an entirely new function and excel at it, and I believe this was only due to my previous efforts to challenge myself as a student and professional.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point, and what do you hope to do after graduation? Pursuing an MBA has been one of my dreams since undergrad, and I wanted the entire experience: networking, academic rigor, and exposure to many brilliant people and opportunities. I chose to do it now because I felt I had enough experience to contribute to class and get the most out of it. Post-MBA, I hope to work in strategy consulting, which will help me get the knowledge and skill set I need to achieve my long-term goal – assisting entrepreneurs to achieve impact and growth through Private Equity or Venture Capital.

What is one thing you have recently read, watched, or listened to that would highly recommend to prospective MBAs? Why? I would recommend Mateo Chang’s podcasts about the MBA process (The MBA Wire). As an international student, I wasn’t familiar with the application process, and understanding how it works is essential. Or anything that maintains your motivation, especially during the GMAT.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Stanford, MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley Haas.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Northwestern Kellogg’s MBA program? First, take some time to truly understand your values, goals, and what you want to get from the MBA. This will help you know which school offers the best opportunities for your purposes and what is the right cultural fit. As I said, Kellogg Leaders are high impact and low ego, which tells a lot about the candidates they search for and the people you will encounter here. Talk to students and alums and observe if that is the culture you believe in. Second, do your homework. Spend time thinking about your best accomplishments, what makes you different from others, and how you plan to achieve your goals. Be as genuine as possible in your application. This will also help you during your recruiting process as a Kellogg student.


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