2023 MBA To Watch: Katherine Reilly, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Katherine Reilly

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

“A passionate die-hard friend that loves to challenge, learn, and grow.”

Hometown: Toronto Canada

Fun fact about yourself:  I am a huge Bruce Springsteen fan and have seen him on every tour since The Rising. During his 2023 world tour, I am going to be seeing him 3 different times, in 3 different countries.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Bachelor of Science (Hons.) Specialization in Biology – Queen’s University

Master of Science Cellular and Molecular Medicine – University of Ottawa

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? University of Ottawa – Research Associate

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? ZS

Where will you be working after graduation? ZS

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I have always been interested in community issues. Thus, when I joined Rotman, I embarked on many opportunities to add value to the Rotman community. In my first year, I was my section’s career rep. In this role, I supported classmates in their internship interviews and served as a liaison contact by bringing student’s concerns forward to the directors of career services, so that the recruiting process could be improved.

In addition, during the summer, I volunteered to be a member of the 6ix Squad (a student group that organizes orientation for incoming students). Here, myself and the other members organized and revamped a year’s old event (i.e. the Amazing Race Team- a scavenger hunt event to get incoming students to learn about the different locations around the university and Toronto). This resulted in a much better student experience. Lastly, during my second year I was VP Academics for Rotman’s Graduate Business Council, my focus was to ensure feedback from students in both the Full-Time and Part-Time programs was taken into consideration and meaningful steps were taken to improve the student experience going forward. I also bought student feedback forward for major initiatives being planned by administration, such as feedback regarding the redistribution of core courses. I also organized the first Returning Student Feedback Survey, for all returning Rotman Master candidates, as part of the GBC’s initiative to begin collecting data the student experience. The results of which were presented to senior leadership.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Like any professional school, Rotman has area that can be further improved. One of those areas is ensuring that students are able to balance an academic workload, as well as extracurricular events, career-related activities without sacrificing mental and physical health – especially in the first year. An idea that I had raised regarding the scheduling of core courses, was considered and adjusted by Rotman administration. To help build out support for the new schedule, I interviewed a wide range of students. It was clear there was overwhelming support for the change Almost all students felt that it would give  first-year students time to adjust to the MBA program, pursue the different activities that career goals require, and give time for students to take care of themselves.

I am incredibly proud of this work because I think it will really make an important improvement for the lives of Rotman students, especially at the point of program introduction and will enhance the opportunities for success, both in the program and for the rest of their working careers.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Starting a not-for-profit, Up4 The Challenge. Up4 The Challenge is an initiative where high school students are empowered to use power of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) to create positive social change. Working within the sciences, it is clear that there is a diversity problem in some areas, and a diversity retention problem in others.

I was introduced to my fellow co-founders, through a Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) event. We were both exploring different ways to tackle the diversity problem, I was focused on trying to show that there was more to STEM than just memorizing facts from a textbook. One of the co-founders was a design thinking engineer trying to design a program that would introduce a more empathetic design thinking approach in the classroom. Together Up4 The Challenge was formed, where we would run design thinking workshops with grade 7-9 students. Students would design solutions to problems that were local and close to home. None of the co-founding team had any experience starting a not-for-profit or running a business, but we were really driven and successfully launched our program. To date, we’ve run programs in Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto, and Hamilton. Beyond running programs in classrooms, we’ve been part of teacher education programs at the University of Ottawa and help build design thinking curriculum at McMaster University. The process of building out this initiative has been more of a marathon than a sprint but it has been a fun adventure.

Why did you choose this business school? I wanted a program that would challenge me and had a strong financial and quantitative curriculum. I also wanted a program that was open to being challenged, welcomed a diverse background, and had an internship opportunity built into the program.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I think my favourite MBA professor was Jan Mahrt-Smith. He taught Corporate Finance in first year and Financial Management in second year. I appreciated how, especially in financial management, he focused on our understanding of different financial tools, and being able to describe how these tools work and their limitations to a non-financial individual. It was probably one of the more ‘practical’ courses in the sense that I could actually envision using these skills in my future career. He was very open for the class to bring in experiences from either our internships or previous work experience to help bring certain concepts to life. While there are a lot of excellent professors at Rotman, Jan really stands out and anyone who has a class with him is lucky.

Another professor deserves a special mention: he has not taught me in a class, but I’ve worked with him over the course of my second year. Joseph Milner, the vice-dean of the MBA programs, has offered numerous learning opportunities as I interacted with him during my second year. These interactions will follow me for the rest of the career, and beyond. He is a deeply caring and thoughtful member of the senior leadership at Rotman, and the MBA program is lucky to have him at the helm. In general, I’d like to be more like him when I grow up.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? There has been a lot of courses I really enjoyed. One of the top classes was Business Analysis and Valuation. It was the first time I got to practice combining strategy and finance together. The way the course was structured when you were talking about strategy you had to include a financial component, and vice versa. It really solidified the importance of being able to capture the strategic benefits of different decisions within the finances of an organization.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favourite “Fun” tradition is an event called “The Amazing Race” and as a member of the 6ix Squad, we were responsible for this event. Due to the pandemic, the event had lost some of its vigor. The Amazing Race Planning Team collectively agreed that we had to bring back the excitement surrounding this event. It was a lot of fun to completely redesign the race, and to watch the first years really enjoy exploring Toronto.

My favourite “School” tradition is the emphasis on experiential learning in the program. In my second year, I was partnered with a Toronto-based not-for-profit East Toronto Family Practice Network (EasT-FPN), whose mission is to become the voice of family practitioners in East Toronto, to work on a board governance problem. Through this program, I’ve been able to see how an excellent boards function, the kind of challenge they’re facing, and how they are going about solving them.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I think one of the things I’d change is trying to take advantage of more of the international experiences. Rotman has a large number of different ways to gain more international experience. Due to a large amount of self-selection, I think that I never really explored those options. If I could jump in a time machine, I’d change that and look for ways to get more international experience

What is the biggest myth about your school? I always had the belief that the professors at Rotman would be fairly unapproachable. It turned out that was not the case. The professors were always approachable outside the classroom, and more importantly were very welcoming to having a stem cell biologist bring in weird examples from her past life.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? I was born and raised in Toronto, so it was nice to ‘come home’ for the MBA (as I was based in Ottawa for 8 years). The food scene in Toronto is really solid. With the pandemic restrictions lifting, it has been nice to get out to see live music again.

What surprised you the most about business school? I survived! But seriously, I think that business school really taught me a new language and put me in positions to challenge my own ways of thinking. I have new skills and ways to describe and analyze problems. I also have a deeper appreciation for what business means. I entered the program with certain stereotypes and going through business school has given me an opportunity to challenge those stereotypes in ways I didn’t realize would happen.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I think applying to a school that valued a wider-range of intellectual horsepower. I came to this school as a woman who spent 6 years working in a male-dominated research field, and came out of the experience with a lot of non-traditional skills. Rotman valued these experiences.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? An easy question! Definitely Onyinyechi Egunjobi. She was in my section which means I had the privilege of learning from her in almost every one of my classes during the first year. She’s originally from Nigeria, but has worked all over the world so she brings a global richness to everything she says and does. She also continuously pushes those around her to be better, think differently, and try to make the world a better place. She is truly using the MBA experience to looking at problems different and find creative solutions that truly address the heart of the issue and pushes everyone around her to do the same. Also, she is completing the full-time MBA program with a young family, which basically makes her superhuman.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I have never been great at bucket lists in general. Instead, I focus on things that I want to change and work towards that. One of the major drivers for me to enter the MBA program was to work for an organization that has been trying to measurably improve access to clinical trials and the diversity clinical trial participants, all to improve the applicably of clinical trial results. Not quite a ‘bucket list’ item, but something that I think is very important to prioritize in my professional life. I also want to continue to work in roles where it is an expectation that I must keep learning. In my first role, I went from a bench scientist to someone who could run multiple kinds of clinical trials. For all the roles I will hold in the future I want to continue to grow.

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

“Katherine has never been afraid of having her voice heard, but what makes her different is that she works hard to ensure that the voices of others are also represented. This drive for inclusion is what motivated Katherine to ensure that Rotman is a better school when she leaves than when she first arrived.

In her first year, she was interested in pursuing a more non-traditional career path and felt that she could improve the recruitment experience of these students, so she decided to run to be her section’s career representative. As a first-year career representative, she assembled a team to organize behavioural interviews sessions for her peers during the winter break when Rotman was closed. Katherine asked second year students to conduct the mock interviews, giving the first years an opportunity to practice and hone their interviewing skills for the upcoming internship recruiting after the break. She and the team also presented feedback from their classmates to the management team of Career Services to help improve programming for all students.

Heading into her second year, Katherine shifted her focus in making Rotman better for students from an academic perspective. Prior to the MBA she was a research associate and had never taken a university level business course, so she thought she could leverage this experience and her passion, ensuring the feedback from other students could be used to improve the academic portfolio. She was elected as VP Academics for Rotman’s Graduate Business Council and has worked tirelessly to ensure that the students’ perspective is being heard. She initiated and designed a pulse check survey for all returning students to get an idea of how all returning students were feeling. These results were then presented to the administration of the program. She organized feedback sessions between her first-year academic reps and the leadership of the full-time program. She also established similar feedback sessions for our Morning & Evening MBA students as well. She also worked with the directors and academic reps to improve the surveys to be used to provide the discussion points for these meetings. As VP Academics, she also participated on several Committees along with senior leadership throughout Rotman and faculty, where she would consistently bring forward the student perspective and tried to ensure that student feedback was collected on major initiatives being brought forward such as the proposal to change the grade scale policy and academic scheduling structure for the Full-Time MBA class to improve the students first year experience. A testament of Katherine’s commitment is when she was able to gain feedback from both first- and second-year students, who are all pursuing a variety of career focuses.”

Cindy Chong
Career Coach
Career Services
Rotman School of Management


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