2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Aku Acquaye, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Aku Acquaye (She/Her)

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management and McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University (MMM)

“Bubbly, warm, ambitious, and driven.”

Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fun fact about yourself: I solo traveled, for the first time, to SE Asia (Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) after a friend dropped out 5 days before departure.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Barnard College of Columbia University, Bachelor of Arts in Political Economics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Nielsen, Associate Client Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Boston Consulting Group, Chicago

Where will you be working after graduation? Boston Consulting Group, Strategy Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: 

First Year Director of Social, Black Management Association (BMA)

Vice-President of Alumni Relations, BMA

Black History Month Committee 2022, BMA

Kellogg Admissions Interviewer

Kellogg Co-Lead for the Cross MBA DEI Conference

Co-Founder and Co-Lead for the Inaugural Kellogg Cross MBA Black Yacht Week

Black Effect Awardee 2022

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of starting Kellogg Black Yacht Week, the first cross-MBA yacht week centered on the Black experience, alongside my co-captain Meheret Morrison. Black Yacht Week was nothing more than a lofty aspiration in March 2022, but over the course of 6 months Meheret, myself, and our committee (Mbere Monjok and Lacey Johnson) spent countless hours and many late nights crafting what we hoped would be a memorable experience that centered Black joy, strengthened relationships within the diaspora, and ultimately prioritized rest and rejuvenation. I’m most proud of our ability to handle the logistical challenge of coordinating with Turkish vendors (while based in the U.S) all while juggling a full-time academic workload and eventually a summer internship at the same time. On Sept 3rd, 63 MBA students and their partners descended on Bodrum, Istanbul for a memorable week of networking and cultural exploration.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m most proud of starting the diversity, equity, and inclusion committee on my team while at Nielsen. Through monthly Diversity Dialogues, I co-led discussions on confronting bias to managing a multi-generational team to white privilege and optical allyship. Although it was emotionally taxing at times to prepare these discussions on top of my full-time job, I knew I had to approach this growing moment as an opportunity rather than a burden. I knew if I didn’t start these difficult conversations, no one else would feel as impassioned to do so. If I didn’t take the first step, what culture would I be leaving behind for professionals of color after me?

Additionally, prior to Kellogg, I started a passion project known as Young, Gifted, Non-Dominant that focused on connecting diversity opportunities in business, finance, government, academia, STEM, and other fields to undergraduate students of color through a small, colorful booklet that transformed into a vibrant online community of 1,000+ members. During the summer of 2020, many college students lost internships or interview opportunities due to COVID-19. Over the course of seven weeks, my team and I hosted five professional development webinars on topics ranging from applying to law school to pursuing a career in software engineering that was attended by 250+ college students and post-0graduates from the U.S., Colombia, Spain, Ghana, and Nigeria.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Kellogg because of the MMM program (and the amazing community!). I believed it would equip me with the skills necessary to pivot into design and innovation consulting or product management. The MMM program is a dual degree program that provides a business education (through an MBA from Kellogg) integrated with a strong foundation in design innovation (through an MS in Design Innovation from the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University). My junior year of college, I took a course called Human Centered Design, taught by the former CEO of Frog Design, that introduced me to the world of ethnographic research and design thinking. Upon completion of the course, I knew this was the industry I wanted to work in, but unfortunately got rejected or ghosted by all the entry level jobs I applied to in this space. I always knew I wanted to go to business school, but it was imperative for me to find a program that would equip with the skills and opportunities to build a portfolio that would help me be a competitive applicant in this space.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I really appreciated having Professor Shana Carroll as my Personal Leadership Insights (PLI) professor. PLI is a 16-person course that uses small-group discussions and one-on-one coaching to help students understand where they’ve been and determine where they’re going in their careers and in life. Professor Carrol led each class with a calm and caring presence, encouraging each of us to reflect on our leadership style and the importance of defining and communicating our needs and wants with those we care about. Her willingness to be vulnerable with the class about her own leadership journey provided the gateway for others to feel comfortable enough to do the same.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Research, Design, Build is the signature MMM course that you take the Fall quarter of your first year. It introduces you to the main principles of design thinking, including creating a research guide, interviewing consumers, prototyping, and iterating on solutions. It was the first time since college that I had the opportunity to walk through the whole design thinking process, this time with a client partner. It’s truly a lesson in being comfortable with ambiguity and trusting the process as it’s not intuitive in the first go, but provided me a glimpse into what a career in this space could look like.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Black History Month at Kellogg! I am extremely proud of the BHM Committee, and what we’ve been able to pull together each year with limited resources. This year’s committee knocked it out of the park, hosting thoughtful events with Monique Rodriguez, CEO of Mielle Organics, Sam Acho, NFL veteran and ESPN analyst, and Bryan Myers, President and CEO of [solidcore]. We then capped off the month with a showcase of student and local talent at our take of a ‘Block Party’. It was truly incredible!

Last year, as a member of the committee, I spearheaded the first BHM Valentine’s Day candy gram fundraiser that centered Black love on valentine’s day cards. Over the course of a week, Kellogg students competed with one another (through the section experience) to see which section could send out the most valentine’s day cards. The competition went on to raise over $2,000 for the non-profit Social Works Chicago.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? There actually isn’t anything I would do differently about my MBA experience. Coming into business school, I had a clear vision of what I was hoping to get out of it from an academic and social perspective, and I feel as though I’ve achieved those outcomes. If anything, I would have taken more ‘whale’ (highly coveted classes that cost a lot of bid points) classes my first-year, so that my bid points would stretch further my second year. I’ve sent one too many messages to Academic Advising about my qualms with bidding for courses, ha!

What is the biggest myth about your school? I personally don’t know of any myths about Kellogg to debunk. I think what you see is what you get: a community of ambitious, quirky, thoughtful leaders who value personal connections and keep work-life balance at the forefront of their experience.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? I love the Evanston bubble and how close all my peers live to one another. Kellogg is really big on small group dinners, game nights, or pool parties. Because the majority of people live within 10-15-minute walking distance of each other, it makes it really easy to foster community early on.

What surprised you the most about business school? How challenging it would be juggle academics, recruiting, extracurriculars, and one’s social life. I was extremely involved from an extracurricular standpoint in undergrad and thought my academic/extracurricular workload mentally prepared me for business school. But business school is truly a different beast of its own and prioritization and level setting expectations is essential to not burning out early on.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Being very clear about my ‘Why business school’/’Why Kellogg’ motive in both my essays and my interview. I had done extensive research on Kellogg, went to multiple info sessions, and spoke to various students so when it came time to write my essays, I knew exactly how to articulate why Kellogg is the best fit for me and my long-term professional goals.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Emi Rosanwo. Emi is the embodiment of the best qualities of Kellogg: warm, brilliant, adventurous, and community-oriented. From the beginning of our time at Kellogg, Emi is known for developing friendships over food, crafting multi-course meals for those lucky enough to be invited into her home. She is also a talented actress and screenwriter! Emi starred in Special K last year as a cast member, and this year can add screenwriter to her resume as one of the three main writers of the play (which is so cool!).

Emi and I go way back as we were the only two Black women in our MMM cohort of ~65 people (our numbers have grown exponentially this year though!). She was/is my safe space, and I’m grateful to have been on this journey with her.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I’d love to help scale a start-up from a hyper growth stage to IPOing on the stock market.

BCG offers a yearlong ambassador program to work in an international office, and I’d love to do a stint in Singapore or Copenhagen, particularly Singapore because they have an innovation and design studio, known as Digital Ventures, based out there!

What made Aku such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Kellogg students are driven and ambitious, but Aku’s unique and positive attitude makes her stand out. Aku and I met in 2021 when I was working as the Club Coordinator in the Office of Student Life. From the beginning, I picked up on her passion for building community, setting trends, and fostering DEI events for all students at Kellogg.

As a Black Management Association (BMA) member, Aku contributed to the student organization’s growth by implementing new events that tightened the organization’s bond even more. She served on BMA’s Black History Month Committee, where she spearheaded the first Black-centered Valentine’s Day Fundraiser that raised over $2,000 for Social Works Chicago in 2022. She also worked with local Black Chicago artists to display their work in Gies Plaza during BHM 2022.

Aku’s passion for innovation also complements her desire to build community. In the summer of 2022, she co-founded Kellogg’s Inaugural Cross MBA Black Yacht Week in Turkey, which consisted of 60+ Black MBA students from across the top 20 business schools in the world. The newly founded organization captured the moment via Instagram: @Kelloggbyw

I am amazed at how much thought Aku puts into her work. As she implemented new organizations and events, Aku went above and beyond to provide a diverse and inclusive environment for all Kellogg students and, most certainly, her MMM peers. At the end of her first quarter, she hosted a workshop for her MMM cohort to reflect on how everyone was adjusting to being students at Kellogg; this provided an opportunity for open, honest dialogue on how each student was dealing with imposter syndrome. The event also focused on giving new students a sense of belonging.

Her extensive contributions to the Black community culminated in her being nominated as the inaugural first-year Black Effect Awardee by her peers. We are privileged to get a sample of what Aku’s future will look like when she leaves Kellogg. She will continue to build mountains while at the same time taking others along the journey with her.”

Jarvis Broom
Assistant Director, Office of Student Life


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