Vanessa Debra, Northwestern Kellogg’s MBA Class of 2024
Hometown: Laurel, MD
Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of Pennsylvania, BS in Economics
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 3 years in CPG innovation, 2 years in retail corporate strategy
Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
In my previous roles, I spent a lot of time working on growth strategy and innovation projects and enjoyed the work that I was doing, but felt like there was a lot of untapped potential for businesses to be more inclusive of a broader range of consumer groups when crafting strategies or driving innovation and I wanted to be a part of that shift.
Why did you choose Kellogg? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
I chose Kellogg largely for its MMM program, in which students earn both their MBA and an MS in Design Innovation in two years. The program felt perfect for someone with my innovation interests and desire to put people at the center when crafting strategies. In addition, I was drawn to the strong sense of community at Kellogg. Not only did I have the opportunity to interact with many Kellogg students through the application process, but also I was blown away by how many Kellogg students and alumni reached out once I was accepted and how much I connected with them.
What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2024?
I’m one of a handful of classmates from my incoming class that worked in CPG and retail right before starting at Kellogg. The one thing I’ve learned from business school already is how powerful it is to have input from a wide range of career backgrounds.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself that didn’t get included on your application:
I moved to Minneapolis in the middle of the pandemic to start at my pre-MBA role!
Post-MBA career interests:
Pursue a strategy role that puts me on the path to my inclusive innovation goals
Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:
–What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
Have genuine conversations with as many current students as possible. I was fortunate to be in Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), which is an MBA prep program for under-represented minorities, and through the program, I was connected to a supportive network at every MBA program I was considering.
–What is one thing you would change or do differently?
I thought I needed all of the answers before I applied to business school and was shocked when I came to Kellogg and found out that many of my classmates were very unsure about their post-MBA goals. While I’m glad I did so much research to clarify my career goals, I put a lot of pressure on myself to “have it all figured out” when so much of the MBA experience is to do just that.
–What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
The GMAT! I took the GMAT 4 times over the course of a year, which was a grueling process I would have loved to avoid. I sent a cold request on LinkedIn to someone in the MLT network, and he told me took the GMAT 7 times, which helped me push myself to take it a 4th time and get a score I was really happy about. Having a virtual stranger be so open and vulnerable with me about how the process is hard for us all really encouraged me.
What is your initial impression of the Kellogg students/culture/community?
Kellogg students are so kind, friendly, and supportive! Kellogg has a way of selecting genuinely kindhearted people and I’ve seen this to be extremely true throughout my time here.
What is one thing you have learned about Kellogg that has surprised you?
Kellogg students love a costume theme! It’s very common for second years to pass down boxes full of costumes to first-year students because of how frequently costumed events occur. It’s a ton of fun and I enjoy seeing how creative my classmates are.
What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
Making the most of my experience! I’ve heard these two years can fly by, and there’s so many interesting classes to take, great people to meet, trips to go on, and ways to become involved in the Kellogg community that it’s impossible to do absolutely everything.
What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year?
I’m excited for the culmination of the MMM class Research-Design-Build. It’s one of the key experiences of the MMM program in which we spent the quarter conducting research, designing concepts, and ultimately presenting a solution to our client partner. I’m in the middle of it now so I’m excited to see how our final recommendation comes together, and also the recommendations of my classmates.