How a focus on growth made space for “hard skill” lessons
The best business leaders tackle a dilemma from every angle. They understand the legacy of an organization as they drive toward its future, and they have the technical business skills to take on complex questions. For Erin Johnson ’22 MBA, that foundation came from the Evening & Weekend MBA Program at Kellogg.
Erin came to Kellogg as a nontraditional student — she had all the “soft skills” and industry knowledge she needed through her career and degrees in higher education, but she wanted the “hard” business skills to advance. Erin needed to dive into analytics, finance and organizational management. At Kellogg, she found the space to do that, and it was the school’s push for personal development that gave her the freedom to jump into the challenge.
We talked to Erin about her unique path to an MBA, the space she found to develop her technical skills and how the flexibility at Kellogg allowed her to catapult her career.
What first brought you to Kellogg?
I first moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy, where I completed a master of science in higher education administration and policy. At the time, I was 10 years into my career, and I was wondering where I was supposed to go from there. What do I do now? Am I in the right field?
A typical path would send me to a doctoral program or maybe a law program, but a lot of my daily work was around organizational challenges. I decided my next step should be an MBA.
Your career and academic path are unique. Why was an MBA the right choice?
An MBA was an excellent complement to the research focus of my master’s degree. My path may seem a bit unusual for higher education because most people don’t have MBAs, but I’m in a strategy role at a university. It puts me at the nexus of innovative change and important education-based work. And it gave me an understanding of the business operations and organizational framework side of things.
Why did you choose Kellogg?
I was very intentional about choosing Kellogg, and I don’t know that I would’ve gotten an MBA at any other place.
As someone coming from an education and social impact background, it was really important for me to find a place where I would feel at home and not totally alienated or different. I wanted to be at a school that had a robust social impact presence; a school that was focused on the development of students as leaders and as people.
What did you set out to do when you started at Kellogg — and did you get there?
I came in focused on getting tangible, concrete, quantitative skills, and I did that. I took electives in analytics, finance, and accounting, which I never thought I would. Though these weren’t my strongest skills when I started my degree, the school’s focus on growth allowed me to take electives in subjects that would challenge me, like analytics and accounting. It allowed me to focus on my progress, as opposed to sticking to areas I was sure I could succeed — and that brought me even more growth.
Was there any piece of the program that resonated with you from the start?
Since I wasn’t coming from a quantitative background, I liked the core curriculum at Kellogg. I knew I would be jumping into a lot of subject areas that were brand new. I'd never thought about accounting in my whole life, so I had a lot of nervousness about the quantitative aspects of the MBA program, though I was there to learn them. The school’s core curriculum was perfect.
Were there any aspects of the program did you not expect?
I didn’t fully appreciate or understand how many unique and experiential offerings would be available to Evening & Weekend students. I had the opportunity to study abroad at an exchange program in Copenhagen. I did an experiential consulting lab. There are so many opportunities.
You knew you wanted a part-time program. How did the evening and weekend experience play out for you?
Throughout my time at Kellogg, I was both an evening student and an out-of-state weekend student. I started off based in Chicago and then moved away for a job opportunity and continued my education. That alone is pretty cool. There’s an opportunity to fundamentally change your schedule.
You had to shift your schedule for a new job. How did that go?
It was seamless. In fact, Kellogg was an important, valuable constant during the years when I experienced a lot of change. This program can be adapted for expected or unexpected changes. That’s a really key benefit. My job opportunity was unexpected, but I could change formats. I also took a term off to relocate. I didn’t have to worry about school, and I know a lot of my classmates similarly adjusted their timelines for things happening in their lives.
Were there any particular resources at Kellogg that made it so easy?
I will shout out the Career Management Center, which was alongside me the whole time. They helped me through quitting a job, considering new roles and thinking about relocating. There is a student life team as well, and every student gets an academic advisor.
It really helped me to have this stability because, on top of all the other changes, I didn’t have to worry about whether I would be able to graduate or finish. It could have been an additional panic. Instead, it was, “Ok. Great. Here are your options.”
It sounds like that support was key to your success. Is that typical at Kellogg?
It really is. We have peer tutors. We have professors who go out of their way to meet with you to make sure you understand the content. I was surprised at how easy it was to take advantage of these things, at how easy it was to ask a professor to take the extra time to talk through a topic or jump in during their office hours. People are very ready to help and support you.
What type of spaces do those experiences build?
I really felt like it was a community I could be a part of, and I think most Kellogg students will probably share something similar. Even at recruitment events, you immediately find welcoming students, staff and faculty. It’s just the people and the feeling of being there — a real sense of community. They’re just good people.
Kellogg, as a whole, has found a way to foster this caring community. In any school program, you run the risk of a cutthroat and competitive environment, but that’s not this place. That’s not my experience of it.
How did the faculty help you become a business leader?
The faculty at Kellogg tend to be those that want engagement and interaction. They want to build community and rapport with the students. They want to make their lessons relevant. They also have a lot of experience in the field and bring that to class. They go out of their way to meet with students. I have had great one-on-ones to talk through something or share additional thoughts. The faculty at Kellogg roots for you.
What lesson from Kellogg have you carried with you?
It’s not about a grade. It’s about what you learn, what you’ve accomplished and how you’ve personally progressed. For me, that meant being able to see and celebrate my own accomplishments. I’ve gained a better perspective on focusing on my own achievements rather than some outside marker that tells me I’m doing well.
I’ve learned to appreciate my growth and journey. My whole Kellogg experience has been about knowing who I am, being comfortable with myself and learning to articulate what I believe in.
My growth is mine, and I’m progressing. That lesson made it possible for me to jump into some classes that were more challenging academically and feel confident that I could get through them — mainly because I knew where my resources were if I needed them.
It’s the confidence that you can do it. And you’re not doing it alone.
Take control of your career with a Kellogg Evening & Weekend MBA. Find out more about the application process.