Empowering connections boost an international student’s MBA journey
Alejandra Villamil ’23 is making the most of her time as a student in the One-Year MBA Program at Kellogg within the classroom and opportunities outside the four walls. She reflects on her growth as a business leader and how she’s bringing her Latin American culture to life.
Tell us a little bit about your professional background and what motivated you to get an MBA at this point in your career.
After graduating as an Industrial Engineer from Universidad de los Andes in 2015, I joined StratCo, a management consulting firm with operations in Colombia and the region, and after a little more than four years I left consulting to join Uber’s strategy team for the rides business where I stayed for three years. These seven years of business experience taught me many skills that I wanted to complement with a strong leadership-based curriculum to set me up for future success as a business leader.
In addition to that, I see an MBA as an opportunity to have a pause in my professional career and connect with different people to learn from their very different experiences. I’m using this time to also reflect on what I want to pursue next before seeking more challenging roles.
You’re originally from Colombia; why did you decide to attend Kellogg?
Going to a business school was a big decision for me, as it is for most people, and I wanted to make sure I made the correct choice. After considering multiple options I chose Kellogg mainly for the quality of the program, the professors, the culture I would be surrounded by (don’t underestimate the importance of this) and the flexibility it provided me with. It was very important for me to be able to create meaningful relationships with the people I am surrounded by, and at the same time, to feel that I was in the best place to improve myself. I found all of these and much more during my time here, and I know I am barely half done with my program.
How did you determine the One-Year MBA program at Kellogg was the right fit for you?
The One-Year Program at Kellogg was the place where I found the flexibility that I wanted. Having a business background, I felt confident about reducing the number of core classes I would take during my MBA, such as marketing and statistics. Instead, I was able to dive into my electives after the first quarter.
Additionally, from my experience at Uber I knew I wanted to go back to the tech industry, where I was coming from, so an internship for me would not be as relevant to my job exploration as it might be to other people that are changing both industry and role.
Also, very importantly, I felt much more comfortable having a pause of only one year from my professional career, and this program allowed me to have a similar MBA experience under a more sound timeframe.
After I joined I had another great surprise: more than half of the one-year students are international, which is a very high number for any MBA program in the United States, making it much more diverse and global than I even imagined.
With a few months into the academic year, are there any courses that you're finding particularly insightful? What about them is compelling?
During the summer term that the one-year MBA students have, I had a class on Leadership which gave us a solid introduction to many concepts that I was looking for in my program such as the importance of building a brand, the principles of negotiating and how to create and maintain networks.
This fall I took a course that does a deep dive into some of these concepts, Selling Yourself and Your Ideas, and next quarter I am taking Personal Leadership Insights (PLI) which is the staple course at Kellogg to listen to your inner voice and guide your leadership development.
To add some fun, I would highlight courses that take you out of your comfort zone so that you can maximize your learning in a very safe environment. For me it was Executive Presentations, a class where we had improv lessons from a professor with a vast experience in public speaking (including experience in the famous Chicago Second City), and where I could push my boundaries to feel more comfortable speaking in a second language.
You’ve taken on additional responsibilities aside from your curriculum. Why was it important for you to get involved with a social club like the LatAm Club during your one-year program?
The time in the one-year program flew by so fast that I initially thought I did not want to take any leadership roles in any club, as I needed to choose well where to invest my time. But at the same time, part of choosing where to invest my time was knowing what I wanted to do for Kellogg. Part of my motivation to do an MBA was to come back to LatAm to give back and after some consideration I found the LatAm club to be a great place to do that while I am still studying. Through the club, we are able to bring new ideas on how prospective students are welcomed to the program, how alumni can connect afterward, and of course, everything in between.
Being an international student, how do you feel KWEST, a social and community service global immersion program, has helped you ease into the Kellogg community?
KWEST is an experience where you travel together with 25 immediate new friends to an international or national destination. In my case, my trip to Portugal allowed me to get to know people from the Two-Year Program plus their JVs (a very Kellogg way to say partner) in a very dreamy and fun environment. Then, when I came back for the fall quarter I not only knew my dear one-year peers but now I had friends in all sections who I wish I would see much more.
As an international student, I saw how this thing that looked just like a trip but is much more than that. It helps bond people together and also motivated me and three other friends to plan a trip to Colombia during our Thanksgiving break. We brought more than 80 people to my amazing country.
Any advice for prospective MBA students who are in the process of deciding where to attend?
Absolutely! I would encourage prospective MBA students to make a list of all the things that could add up to their experience including academics, the professors, the student life, the people they will be surrounded by and even the city. Then understand how every program adds up against those things you value through conversations with current students as well as alumni and do extensive program research looking at schools’ websites. Finally, I would encourage them to think about what would keep them excited about doing the program every day.
However, if you are looking for best-in-class academics, meeting amazing classmates studying together in a dreamy faculty building and getting a strong network, I would suggest Kellogg. We are all happy to share why this was the best place for us, so don’t be shy and definitely reach out!