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Real Humans of Northwestern Kellogg’s MBA Class of 2023

kellogg mba class of 2023

Michael Manzano, Northwestern Kellogg’s MBA Class of 2023

Age: 32
Hometown: Sarasota, FL
Undergraduate Institution and Major: The United States Military Academy, Comparative Politics Major
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 9 years, U.S. Army Special Forces Officer

Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
I joined the military to lead diverse groups of people and make a difference in the world. As I watched Covid-19 uproot our way of life, I saw how organizations with strong leaders fared much better than those without. I realized my leadership experiences in the military could provide value in the private sector, but I knew I needed to further my business education if I wanted to make an impact outside of uniform. I saw business school as the best way to sharpen my analytical skills, gain perspective on new industries, and further develop my leadership abilities. It was the perfect decision for me.

Why did you choose Kellogg? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Coming from a non-traditional background, I knew I wanted to attend a school rooted in academic excellence and experiential opportunities where I could apply what I was learning in the classroom to real life problems. There is no doubt Kellogg provides both. Most importantly, though, I wanted to join a community that embraces diversity and believes in the importance of collaboration. Kellogg’s culture is driven by those tenets, and it became clear after a handful of conversations with student and alumni that the entire Kellogg community is bought into that culture. I knew this is where I wanted to be.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2023?
I think my leadership experience provides a source of value to the Kellogg community. The military has quite literally entrusted me with peoples’ lives for over ten years. I’ve developed and led teams throughout the United States, Afghanistan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Mongolia. No classroom can replicate the pressure and stakes of decisions I’ve had to make while leading teams of 100+ people in combat. While I certainly have a lot of room to grow as a leader, I hope to share some of the lessons I have learned along the way with my classmates here at Kellogg. 

Tell us a fun fact that didn’t get included on your application:
I have played the cello since I was ten years old. I am not expecting an invitation to Carnegie Hall anytime soon, but I have my cello here with me and still enjoy playing. 

Post-MBA career interests:
I plan on recruiting for technology and general management rotational roles in the Seattle area. Many of the companies in the Pacific Northwest are solving the world’s most challenging problems, and I want to work with cross-functional teams to be a part of those solutions. 

Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:
– What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
I spent a lot of time before the application process reflecting on what I value and why I was applying to MBA programs. I attended a few career transition workshops, I journaled, and I spoke with family members and professionals across a wide range of career fields to hear their perspectives on why they chose the paths they did. Developing a firm grasp on my values helped me immensely since those questions repeatedly came up throughout the application process and continue to play a prominent role in my decision making as I prepare for recruiting. 

– What is one thing you would change or do differently?
I would have been nicer to myself. It sounds silly, but applying to MBA programs while working a full-time job and maintaining relationships is a stressful process. There will be days when your test studying feels futile or you don’t think you stack up to other applicants. When those thoughts pop into your head go get some ice cream or take a walk. Thousands of people every year feel the exact same way. You’ll get through it. Just cut yourself some slack. 

– What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
I absolutely would have skipped the GMAT if I could, but building and sticking to a defined schedule is what got me through it. At the end of the day, there are no shortcuts when preparing for the standardized tests. You simply have to put your head down and work hard.

What is your initial impression of Kellogg’s students/culture/community?
Incredibly diverse, welcoming, collaborative, and humble. Kellogg is known for its team-oriented culture, and it absolutely shows in every conversation I’ve had with professors, faculty, and other students. No one here is ever alone. If you are struggling with a class or personal issue, you will find a group of people lined up to help you. It is a testament to Kellogg’s culture and the type of people it attracts. 

What is one thing you have learned about Kellogg that has surprised you?
I have been pleasantly surprised with how involved partners can be at Kellogg. My partner is already involved in multiple clubs, and I am pretty sure she has more friends than I do. Neither of us have any roots in the Chicago area, so it is really special that the two of us can attend Kellogg events and make new friends together. 

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your personal application or admissions process in any way? If so, how?
I think in a lot of ways the Covid-19 pandemic made the entire admissions process more accessible. With in-person visits suspended during my class’s application cycle, MBA programs across the board did a great job of hosting numerous virtual events for prospective students. I conducted virtual tours of the facilities, had video chats with current students, and even attended mock classes. While I am thrilled we are attending classes in person this year (with safety measures), I do not think applicants should feel pressured to visit each campus they are applying to if it is cost or time prohibitive. We are all happy to connect with you virtually and help you through the process.

What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
Not being able to do it all. There are so many unique opportunities here at Kellogg – professional and social clubs, leadership development programs, community service – you really have to be deliberate in what you choose to be involved in. 

What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year?
The chance to explore! I have been wearing a military uniform my entire adult life. I would not trade my experiences for the world, but I am incredibly grateful to start my transition in a place that values my past contributions and is willing to provide me with every resource I need to find my next path.

Posted in: Real Humans of MBA Class of 2023, Real Humans of MBA Students

Schools: Northwestern / Kellogg

About the Author


Lauren Wakal

Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.

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