Meet Northwestern Kellogg’s MBA Class Of 2025

You come for the people. That’s the real difference. Business school is all about being around the right people, the kind who’ll support and challenge you – and ultimately bring out your best. During recruiting, their alumni are the first to return your calls. When you visit campus, you find your fellow recruits are fun-loving team players just like you. That’s when you know a community is for you – and you can’t wait for the next two years to start.

The Kellogg School of Management boasts a number of advantages. Their marketing, entrepreneurship, and technology programming is second-to-none. Evanston is College Town USA, safe and friendly along picturesque Lake Michigan, with Chicago just 40 minutes away by train. In the end, people are the school’s biggest draw. On paper, it may appear that Kellogg seeks the same student profiles as peer schools: innovators, risk-takers, and collaborators who are dynamic, adventurous, and growth-minded. Still, there is something distinct about Kellogg MBA students. Maybe it is a sense of fellowship honed by participating in over 200 meeting during their time in the Global Hub. Then again, it could stem from the expectation – enforced by students – that everyone contributes to the Kellogg experience. Either way, Kellogg classes are known for a shared mission and value system that produces a camaraderie that lasts long after graduation.

A STUDENT-DRIVEN CULTURE

“It sounds cliché, but I chose Kellogg for the community,” explains Lauren Cziesla, a ’23 grad. “Coming from a non-traditional business school background, I knew I wanted to be somewhere where I would be surrounded by positive, outgoing, and friendly people who had a diverse set of experiences from which I could learn. Kellogg, with its “high impact, low ego” mantra, fit that bill perfectly. I was impressed with every student and alumni who reached out prior to my commitment to attend and could tell that Kellogg was a community where people were eager to help and genuinely cared about one another’s success.”

First-year Alejandro Mestre witnessed these qualities modeled through Sammy Goldstein, a ’22 grad, whom he met at a seminar. Through Goldenstein, Mestre experienced what Kellogg’s “student-driven culture” really involved.

“[It is] one where students are teammates, not competition; where students are taught how to elevate the whole room vs. solely themselves; where students are challenged, but supported. Sammy stayed in touch with me throughout my application process, supporting me at every step. She demonstrated the type of support I could expect from Kellogg students during my time at Kellogg and beyond.”

Kellogg students © 2023 Jason Brown / JB Creative

THE CRUCIBLE MOMENT

The Class of 2025 was also exposed to the Kellogg character during student orientation, or CIM (Where Culture Is Made). As part of the orientation, students participate in the “Crucible Moment” tradition. Over dinner, eight-member learning pods share their personal stories, from life-transforming events to favorite travel destinations. For Phillip Cox, who describes his first-year classmates as “inclusive and passionate,” the Crucible Moment was an exercise that reflected how being open and vulnerable can fuel lifelong bonds.

“I was worried at first about how others would judge me from sharing things that were so personal,” Cox admits, “but I was taken aback by how encouraging and supportive everyone in our group was. Despite being eight strangers, we shared how these personal pivotal moments in our lives have truly shaped who we are as people and leaders. The dinner was filled with tears, laughs, and nothing but warm energy. It was also really inspiring to see how each of our experiences fueled our passions in our personal and professional lives and how everyone was supportive of each other. I left dinner with seven new incredible friends and an appreciation for the welcoming Kellogg community that I can call home.”

Ana Sulakvelidze, a senior analytics engineer before joining the fall class, describes the Crucible Moment this way: “I laughed and cried that evening, and most importantly I made some great friends.”

And those Kellogg friends, adds Martha Wong, are often refreshingly different than themselves. “As someone who was an undergraduate business major and spent six years in finance, it has been a new experience to be around people who don’t know or care what EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization) is. There is so much to learn when in a group of people with such diverse backgrounds.”

A SECRETIVE “KWEST”

Of course, many class members had the opportunity to connect before orientation through KWEST – or the Kellogg Worldwide Exploration Student Trips. Think of it as the business school equivalent to the Magical Mystery Tour. MBAs meet up at the airport to travel to a five-day summer trip to one of 30 unknown destinations. Early on, students can’t share their names, let alone details about their careers, education, or personal backgrounds. Instead, they get to know each other more deeply and organically.

During his KWEST trip to Medellin, Colombia, James Griffin went by the name, “Jovial James.” Over the trip, James and his 25 classmates (and 5 second-year MBAs) drove ATVs through the mountains, attended a soccer match, and even enjoyed a spa day. The trip was so satisfying, Griffin adds, that he joined his “KWESTee Besties” for a trip to Mexico City in November. For Brandon Fazal, the best part of KWEST was the ‘Big Reveal’, when students could finally share who they really were.

“Our Big Reveal took place at a waterfront restaurant, where each student had a walk-up song to a center seat and described their background after a round of guessing from the crowd. Concealing these aspects of our identities until halfway through the trip allowed students to form deeper connections, in addition to adding a layer of fun and challenge in guessing others’ backgrounds. I was initially skeptical of this tradition, but it truly was a highlight of my experience so far. Even better than bonding during KWEST is having a group of 20 friends back on campus to continue spending time with!”

That momentum has continued into the school year, adds Fazal. “Kellogg students are among the most high-energy, open-minded, and friendly people I’ve ever met. The first few weeks on campus have been very exciting–everyone on campus is open to chatting and making plans, such as small group dinners or weekend trips to Chicago. On top of meeting fellow first-years, I’ve had conversations with several second-years and alumni during my application process and for internship networking. I find that the cheery attitude and willingness to help extends across everyone at Kellogg.”

Kellogg Global Hub

WHAT MAKES A KELLOGG TEAM?

When it comes to fostering community, each class member brings something unique to the Kellogg team. Martha Wong trumpets a positive attitude and an ability to help others stay composed – qualities gained from being the oldest of five children. A native of Georgia, Ana Sulakvelidze has spent over a decade working in the United States – a background that enables her to help other international students navigate American social norms. By the same token, James Griffin learned how to take on different team roles during college. Academically, he led his school’s Educational Investment Fund. As an athlete, he served as a bullpen catcher, where he was expected to help pitchers prepare for game action.

“My role on a Finance group project will be very different from my role on a Marketing group project,” Griffin elaborates. “When I work with a team on a Finance group project, I take the time to walk them through examples of how our academic lessons play out in real-life (from the context of an ex-banker/private equity investor). When I work with a Marketing team, I ask my talented ex-marketing colleagues to do the same.”

As a Marine Officer, Zachary Queen worked with foreign militaries. As a result, he brings the ability to operate across varied cultural backgrounds to the class. Add to that, his military training has sharpened his interpersonal skills.

“A couple of years ago, I participated in an incredible program called the “Better Arguments Project” – a civic initiative to bridge divides through improved communication techniques. During the program, I learned how to listen empathically, appreciate unspoken context, and communicate with an intent to understand. I think these skills…will add value to my teams at Kellogg.”

How deeply is the concept of teamwork ingrained within the Class of 2025? Many define their long-term success according to it. For Martha Wong, that means joining her peers in saying “Yes” to new opportunities. In Catherine Malloy’s case, success hinges on being able to take full advantage of her classmates’ talents.

“The hallmark of a successful two years at Kellogg is graduating with a strong community that I can lean on for support throughout my career. In speaking with multiple Kellogg alumni, many have mentioned how whenever they are at a crossroads in their career or need an outside perspective, the first people they reach out to are their classmates from Kellogg – even 20+ years after graduating. As someone interested in entrepreneurship, I know that the strength of the Kellogg network will prove invaluable when thinking about potentially launching my own venture. I’ve already seen the strength of the Kellogg network play out within my own Section, as we’ve carved out dedicated time each month to discuss our long-term career goals and identify tangible ways that we can help each other.”

Kellogg Orientation

FIGHTING COVID-19

Now, to borrow a KWEST term, it’s time for the ‘Big Reveal’. Before Kellogg, Catherine Malloy helped boost revenue by 60% in The RealReal’s Trust and Estates business unit. Fun fact: she is slightly famous – or at least her former digs are.

“My apartment in New York was used as a filming location for a Netflix holiday show, Dash and Lily. After getting a knock on our door from a location scout, my building in the Lower East Side was quickly transformed from a historic tenement building to a festive winter wonderland for two days in the middle of September.”

In contrast, Phillip Cox is a Level 2 Wine Sommelier who studied Bioengineering at UCLA. During COVID-19, he helped Moderna build its mRNA process development team. “This team was tasked with developing, optimizing, streamlining, characterizing, and transferring a scalable and robust mRNA manufacturing process for this new SARS-CoV-2 spike protein sequence that would meet world-wide demand and yield billions of doses each year…We were tasked with rapidly opening up Moderna’s first international manufacturing facility in less than 4 months. Our team was successful in enabling the expanded world supply of our COVID-19 vaccine at the height of the pandemic in 2020.”

AN AGENT OF CHANGE

Alejandro Mestre came to the Class of 2025 from the Archdiocese of Chicago, where he served as a strategy and analytics manager. More precisely, he says, he acted as “an agent of change recalibrating the Church for the 21st Century.” In addition, he was appointed to the Archdiocese’s Strategy Council, where he was the youngest member of a 15-member team consisting of c-suite executive. Mestre wasn’t alone in shouldering big responsibilities. Most recently, Zachary Queen held the position of Tactics Officer-In-Charge at the U.S. Marine Corps Training Command.

“I was selected as the 2022 Instructor of the Year for Marine Corps Training Command, comprised of 17 different schools and thousands of instructors.” Queen tells P&Q.

At ZS Associates, Brandon Fazal helped to build the firm’s Food and Beverage practice, with his research still used to boost client performance today. James Griffin made a similar impact at Aurora Capital, where his two-year track record includes “two platform investments, ten portfolio company add-ons, and two full-company sales.” When Chibuzo Ikonte wasn’t busy crunching numbers for McKinsey, he was building out a popular website, Chibuzo’s Basketball Analysis.

“I take great pride in my website and the projects done as they are my intellectual property (i.e., they belong to me) and they represent the manner in which I have been able to blend the skills built at McKinsey (e.g., analytical, conceptual problem solving, strategic thinking, effective communication) along with my storytelling capabilities to analyze the NBA. Being able to effectively illustrate my passion for basketball through the skills that working at McKinsey equipped me shows me how I’ve used my career to add value to my passions outside of work.”

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