Success beyond borders: How one travel-loving student is customizing her MBA to fit her leadership journey
Victoria Alao lives big — and nothing can force her to shrink. She presents complex data to her international regulatory team by day and posts carefully chosen, colorful outfits on social media by night. She’s traveled to 56 countries, and many of them on her own. She relies on the attention to detail she honed while studying biochemistry to ensure the safety of food products around the globe, and she relies on her charm and candor to connect with her colleagues and peers.
She carries her whole self wherever she goes, and that includes the classrooms, clubs and experiences in the part-time Evening & Weekend MBA Program at Kellogg. In truth, Victoria’s refusal to dim her light is what made Kellogg such a great fit. Here, she has found a space where individuals come together to celebrate their differences, relying on one another for newfound perspectives and supporting each other in their journeys toward success.
In the school’s inclusive, stimulating and bright community, Victoria has thrived.
Framing an education with flexibility
Victoria’s love of travel has kept her moving, and she’s managed to work her MBA into this brimming life. In her search for an MBA program that would be her best fit, Victoria sought out an academic journey that would be flexible and customizable. She found it at Kellogg.
Driven by its students’ needs and goals, the part-time Evening & Weekend Program gives every participant the opportunity to build an individualized experience, pulling from more than 300 class options to create a schedule that works for them. Victoria, who will graduate in 2024, has squeezed every drop out of this flexibility. “I’m going to take advantage of this ability to go to school, work at the same time and also do something that I love,” she said.
Some quarters, she stays in Chicago and travels less because she wants to take in-person courses on campus. Other quarters, she fits her travel in between class days. This summer, she took Kellogg courses remotely in Mexico, along with a pop-up class in Chicago.
“It’s been a blessing to have that flexibility,” Victoria said.
Capturing immediately applicable lessons
There are certain courses she always tries to take on campus — ones that are boosted by in-class interactions and conversations. One of these classes, Leading and Managing Teams, became her favorite of the program. She came to Kellogg to grow her network and learn how to bolster her management, strategy and collaboration skills, and this course brought those lessons in spades. On top of that, it was information she could apply right away.
During the quarter that Victoria was enrolled in the class, she was set to present a database she’d created at work to stakeholders in her company. She needed to demonstrate its value and use, but she also needed these stakeholders to voice their thoughts on the process. She’d learned from her professor that to get honest and thoughtful interactions, people need to feel prepared. She briefed stakeholders ahead of time on the content and sent them the questions she planned on asking. With that groundwork, she got useful, pragmatic feedback from the group — and she learned the impact of empowering people in business.
Lessons like this are the norm for Victoria at Kellogg, where professors bring their real-world expertise to the classroom. “They are really learned, highly educated, highly skilled professors,” said Victoria. “It’s a prestigious school, so it’s expected, but the level of expertise that they have and the amount of time that they put into actual research outside of the classroom is phenomenal. Then they take that knowledge and use it to teach us.”
Victoria knows that the secret of her professors is not just their knowledge. It’s also their accessibility. “The professors are really receptive. They have an open-door, open-email policy,” she said. “I can send an email. I can ask for coffee chats. Sometimes we have lunch. You can see them walking down the hallways and stop them to have a chat.”
The support Victoria feels from her professors extends through the entire Kellogg community. Her cohort has supported one another through the joys of finding new jobs, the sorrows of losing family members and the struggles of navigating complex academic quandaries. With every challenge and celebration, the group becomes closer.
“There is an immense level of support,” she said. “Kellogg does such a great job with curating their cohorts so it’s a group of people who would have everyone’s back.”
Kellogg students are much like the Kellogg academic experience: approachable and impressive. With that potent combination, students push one another to heights that they otherwise wouldn’t attain. They all strive together toward their individual goals, and they do it with encouragement, kindness and dedication.
“Everyone at Kellogg is just so accomplished and so talented and so smart. Just being around that group of people is really motivating and stimulating to me,” Victoria said. “It’s been such a powerful experience.”
Searching for a human-centric career
The student-centric environment has solidified something Victoria has known about herself for a long time: She wants to work closely with people. At the moment, she’s a regulatory manager for a food manufacturing company. She ensures that the products that leave the facility meet either FDA regulations or the international regulations where they are being sent. It’s a job that requires her impeccable attention to detail and provides her the freedom to do what she loves, so she’s grateful for it. Still, she is excited about the growth of her career.
Victoria landed in the role because her Nigerian parents insisted that she become a doctor, lawyer, engineer or pharmacist. A first-generation American who arrived in frigid Chicago from sunny Nigeria at age 15, Victoria chose doctor and studied chemistry to get her on her way. During her first internship at a doctor’s office, however, she fainted at the sight of blood. She decided she’d made the wrong choice and got a job in regulatory work.
As she’s grown personally and professionally, she’s learned more about her skills and passions. “I love dealing with people. I love being creative,” she said. “That was what made me want to attend business school, so I could take these classes and expand into strategy initiatives while staying true to myself.”
She’s still on that journey, but she knows it will involve all these lessons she’s drawn from her Kellogg community.
Pulling back the curtains on MBA life
Victoria isn’t one to keep these dynamic experiences to herself. She knows the power of seeing what’s possible, and she takes to social media to share her life — the glamorous outfits and fantastic trips, but also the transformation of an MBA student. She wants prospective students to know those things are not mutually exclusive. “A lot of people don’t realize what you can get from an MBA. A lot of people just think that it’s a prestigious school, so everyone probably has their nose up,” she chuckled. “We’re pretty cool, thank you very much.”
The content creation doesn’t take away from her academic pursuits or her professional journey. “When you enjoy what you do, it just becomes like second nature. I enjoy content creation, and I enjoy being at Kellogg. Everything works well with my job,” she said. “I don’t have to dim down my creativity.”
For prospective students who aren’t sure they’re the right fit or don’t know if it’s their time to pursue an MBA, Victoria has some advice: “Just do it. Just put in your application. It’s probably been the most rewarding experience of my life.” From someone who’s stepped foot in more than a third of the world’s nations, that’s a major endorsement.