An MBA degree opens doors. For Cynthia Frelund, it opened them a bit wider than they already were.
The Boston College grad was in the midst of a solid career trajectory, having already spent a stint with the NFL in a finance/strategy role before joining ABC Disney in a business development/strategy capacity in 2010. Soon she would jump to ESPN, where her tech development and innovation job would morph into an on-air gig at the network discussing fantasy football.
But it was before her on-camera breakthrough that Frelund, a native of Okemos, Michigan, decided to go to business school. A somewhat unconventional B-school applicant — her undergrad degree was a BS in biology — Frelund’s foremost concern was fit, and she had a definite idea of what she was looking for in a B-school. Eventually, what tipped the scales was good old-fashioned word-of-mouth: During her frequent cross-country travels for work, she had met many alumni from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and she loved what she heard.
“I really liked a bunch of alums that I had met on my road — I have sort of a nontraditional career path — and every time I came across a bunch of Kellogg people, they were all in love with the school and happy and they lit up when they talked about it,” Frelund says. “The prestige of the school is something that I was aware of prior to that, but when you start to do your investigation of where you want to go to school, you ask: ‘What does the network look like when you’re done? What kind of industries are people in? What type of opportunities will I have a chance to really investigate when I’m there?’ And every single person was just like, ‘I love Kellogg, it’s the best!’ And I’m the same way now.”
There was one problem: her aforementioned blossoming career. Frelund was doing what she loved, working with data in a high-profile field, and she was a success. She didn’t want to slam on the brakes and take two years off for a full-time MBA program. So she applied to Kellogg’s Chicago-based Evening & Weekend MBA program, from which she eventually received her degree in 2015.
‘WE REALLY WANT PEOPLE TO GO TO KELLOGG’
Cynthia Frelund. NFL Network photo
Northwestern Kellogg’s Evening & Weekend MBA program is ranked third by U.S. News, behind only UC-Berkeley’s Haas School and the University of Chicago’s Booth School. Kellogg’s program has more than 900 students, according to 2017 data, with an average age of 29 ½, an average undergraduate GPA of 3.4, and average work experience of six years.
Cynthia Frelund would have been in the sweet spot on the work experience front, having entered the Evening & Weekend MBA program with about six years’ experience in various roles in finance, strategy, tech, and, obviously, media and entertainment. And here’s where it gets really interesting for MBA watchers: Since getting her degree, Frelund’s career has really taken off. She moved back to a former employer and became first analytics expert for NFL Media, appearing regularly on a bunch of NFL shows and platforms including NFL Fantasy Live and NFL GameDay Morning.
Celebrity hasn’t lessened Frelund’s appreciation for her Kellogg experience. “I used to work in numbers, now I just do it on TV,” she says. “I’ve kept in touch with many of the people I was in classes with, and I think we’ve all kind of shared that same view: Whenever we get a chance to talk about it, we really want people to go to Kellogg.”
‘IT’S ABOUT BEING IMPACTFUL IN A WAY THAT TRULY RESONATES WITH WHO YOU ARE’
Frelund probably didn’t need to get an MBA. But after all, what is need, anyway?
“To me ‘need’ is hard, right? Because the word need — I don’t know who needs what,” Frelund says. “I know that for my life, I needed to take some space to devote the time to thinking about how I can be the best version of myself and be the most impactful to others in a way where I have a structure that other people can relate to. It’s not about monetization necessarily, it’s about being impactful in a way that truly resonates with who you are.
“Some of the things that are really interesting for me, especially when I was going through my journey, I would often be traveling from California or Connecticut or from other places because of the nature of my job — I was often not in town — so even when my career was taking me off to different places, I always felt grounded and centered in the program. I always felt everyone was really easy to talk to. All my professors genuinely wanted me to be the best version of myself and push myself and get the most out of the program. It never felt like a chore — it was like, ‘OK we get to do this now.’
“The best thing about Northwestern, the other students that were there with me, we had this awesome community of people who come from all over the world,” says Frelund, a marathon runner and former Pilates instructor who is involved with Bright Pink, a national nonprofit focused on preventing breast and ovarian cancer in young women. “People with such different backgrounds, from lots of different places — one of my good friends is in healthcare finance, which is not something that is interesting to me at all, on its face. But if I wanted to try to learn more, I knew 15 people I could ask, ‘How does this work? What does this mean? Can you help me understand it?’ It was a space where it was safe to ask questions of people who are not necessarily in my industry but that were going to serve me going forward.
“I am now located in Los Angeles, and I have met up with Kellogg alums from full-time, from part-time, and I actually get a chance now at the NFL Network to work with one of the full-time professors through the analytical consulting lab. And I get a chance to talk with current full-time students and we do projects with them, and I couldn’t love that more.”
Cynthia Frelund, a 2015 graduate of the Kellogg Evening & Weekend MBA program. NFL Network photo
Though Northwestern Kellogg has had some form of part-time business education at least since 1908, the modern-day Evening & Weekend MBA program traces its roots to 1972, when the school’s full-time MBA moved to Evanston, Illinois, leaving E&W behind in Chicago. Then as now, the top priority of the program is flexibility for working professionals “who are already juggling so much,” says Emily Haydon, senior director of admissions for executive, evening and weekend MBA programs at Kellogg.
“We’re really committed to making the program an amazing experience for working professionals,” Haydon tells Poets&Quants. “For example, students can customize their course schedules based on what works with their pre-existing professional and personal commitments.” That includes mixing and matching classes across the week, as the program’s cohort model offers courses from 6-9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon and 1:30-4:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Essentially, there are two programs, Evening, and Weekend, and students can move seamlessly between them.
“Students particularly enjoy the flexibility of adding on Friday afternoon and Friday evening classes to their course load,” Haydon says. “They really appreciate this option because it allows them to move through the program more quickly with just a short flight in and out of Chicago. Students also have the ability to take coursework in Evanston with the full-time MBA program, allowing for additional flexibility and the chance to network with full-time MBA students.”
More flexibility: The Evening & Weekend program has two paces, traditional and accelerated. With traditional, students need 20.5 credits to graduate, with one course equaling one credit; this includes nine core courses, “where our students are grounded with a solid cross-functional baseline of knowledge.” For students who already have a background in business and who have taken some of the business prerequisites, the accelerated pace is 15.5 credits; it leverages coursework in statistics, operations, marketing, and economics. It also offers “significant savings in both time and money,” Haydon says.
7 MAJORS, 10 ‘PATHWAYS,’ MORE THAN 100 ELECTIVES
There’s another big way in which the E&W program offers unmatched flexibility: its “tremendous amount of curricular diversity,” Haydon notes. “We offer seven majors and 10 distinct pathways, including the recent addition of three new pathways: Energy and Sustainability, Asset Management, and Technology Management,” she says. “Think of pathways as the sequence of courses that are centered around a particular skill set or industry. Majors are what you would more typically think of in a business school environment: strategy, finance, economics, marketing, managing organizations, operations, and accounting. The pathways, on the other hand, go into depth in other areas, including data analytics, entrepreneurship, healthcare, to name a few. Both majors and pathways are optional — we simply offer them to provide additional guidance to students that are looking how to best navigate our extensive curriculum of over 100 elective courses, dozens of experiential learning courses, global programs, and more.”
A RICH AND DIVERSE CLASSROOM EXPERIENCE
At a school like Kellogg, Haydon points out, because everyone is a working professional, the classroom experience is incredibly rich and diverse. “If you were a student right now, your classmates could include a strategy consultant from Ukraine, a manager from the energy sector in Kenya, a finance manager who joined us from GE health care from Brazil, and a whole host of professionals traveling in from Atlanta, Dallas, and San Francisco, just to name a few.”
If you were a student a few years ago, one of your classmates might have been a rising star in sports entertainment named Cynthia Frelund, who remembers the vibrant discussions that resulted from the diversity in her classes.
“It was the other students, it was the teachers being open — if you wanted to talk to anyone about anything, they’ll do it,” says Frelund, who quickly enrolled in Kellogg’s Master of Predictive Analytics program after earning her MBA, and who is currently in capstone for that degree. “They want to learn, too. I felt like, in a lot of ways, my professors were happy to learn from my experiences as well, which is a cool feeling because it wasn’t that conditional ‘I’m going to talk at you.’ It was a very connected community.
“I also think that when you’re in the part-time program you know that you have to focus: ‘Hey, we get this Saturday together, so my week may be busy but we are going to spend two hours and get drinks because we just had a lot of hours of class and it’s going to be fun!’ And in my experience, everybody takes that approach.”