All About the Kellogg MBAi, for Students Passionate About Business and Technology

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All About the Kellogg MBAi, for Students Passionate About Business and Technology
All About the Kellogg MBAi, for Students Passionate About Business and Technology

The Kellogg MBAi: Where business and technology intersect [Show summary]

Kate Smith, Assistant Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Kellogg School of Management, breaks down the school’s brand-new MBAi joint degree and how it prepares students for careers at the intersection of business and technology.

Interview with Kate Smith, Assistant Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at the Kellogg School of Management [Show notes]

As if its impressive portfolio of MBA programs (not to mention the pandemic) wasn’t enough to keep Kellogg busy, it also launched a brand-new program at the beginning of this academic year. Let’s catch up on what’s new at Kellogg and learn about its new accelerated joint MBA at the intersection of business and technology management.

Kate Smith is the Assistant Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Kellogg School of Management. Kate earned her own MBA from Kellogg in 1998, then worked in marketing for leading brands including General Mills, Quaker Oats, and Pepsi. She returned to Kellogg in 2012.

Let’s start with some basic information about the MBAi. First of all, what is it? Who’s it for? What’s the structure? And what degree do graduates actually receive? [2:05]

Thank you for opening on what is an exciting innovation here at Kellogg. We have just introduced this new program in the Kellogg portfolio of MBA options. The MBAi is a new joint degree. It has been launched by the Kellogg School of Management and the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University. The vision for this degree is that it is at the nexus of business and technology management.

The MBAi is building on a long legacy of innovation and collaboration between Kellogg and McCormick. The two schools launched, years ago, a dual degree called the triple M program, which provides rigorous business education integrated with a strong foundation in design innovation. The MBAi is a new specialized program that is meant for students with prior undergraduate STEM experience, and/or prior work experience in the tech sector. Examples could include having worked as a product manager, a data scientist, a software engineer, an R and D associate. We’re going to be building what I’d say is a real nice diversity of backgrounds leveraging tech and STEM expertise so that they can contribute that on a journey to accelerating their knowledge and foundational expertise at this intersection of business and technology.

It’s going to be a fast-paced, five-quarter program, which is (I think) very appealing in terms of the speed at which you can pursue and complete your MBA degree experience and immediately jump into what is a rapidly evolving tech sector. The curriculum will include the entire Kellogg MBA core curriculum, as well as technical courses in topics such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, data wrangling, robotics, computational thinking for business. That will also be complemented with the entire Kellogg MBA core curriculum. Students will have the opportunity to round out their degree with just a few electives, choosing between both Kellogg and McCormick.

This program is intensive, with a five-quarter format as opposed to our two-year program, which is a traditional six-quarter program format. There’s a little less flexibility on electives and more of an intentional design into the curriculum, integrating the aspects of data analytics, AI, etc., and weaving that throughout the curricular offerings.

The graduates will have one degree conferred by both Kellogg and McCormick. It’s a joint degree, so it’s different than a dual degree. Our current triple M is a dual degree, one degree conferred by McCormick, the MBA conferred by Kellogg. This is a joint MBA degree called the MBAi, conferred by us both together. You’re going to be going five quarters straight through, so you’re going to start in the fall, and you’re going to take courses for five consecutive quarters and graduate the following December.

You’ll have a work immersion experience concurrent with taking fewer courses over the summer quarter, so you’ll have something that’s analogous to an internship. You will have an internship experience, but we’re designing the curriculum in that summer window to allow you to progress. And you’ll take a couple courses flanking your internship over that summer quarter.

So the internship is over that summer quarter? [6:15]

Correct, so it’s the same timing as a traditional internship window in our traditional two-year offering for triple M students, who all pursue their internship over what is our summer quarter here at Kellogg. The students will secure a summer internship that aligns with their interests. They will have the support of our career management center team. They are a Kellogg student, so they’ll have all the resources of Kellogg available to them. They’ll secure that internship.

And if that internship happens to be in San Francisco, then San Francisco will be the base of the offering of the curriculum over that summer quarter because we have a campus based there. And if they are, let’s say, in New York, or if they take an international internship option, they’ll be working remotely. We’re able to leverage the beauty of this moment of asynchronous and synchronous learning environments and hybrid environments. They’ll be able to attend their coursework over the summer around their internship. And then the entire cohort will culminate with an immersion experience in San Francisco at the end of the summer quarter together. They’ll be doing that out of our home base, out of our San Francisco campus. It’s definitely a unique approach, to immerse these students deep into this AI tech sector.

How does it differ from the MBA with a focus on tech? [7:51]

Three aspects differentiate it: the curriculum, the degree you’re receiving, and the job or career opportunities that we believe are going to match with this program and the graduates of this program. Regarding the curriculum, we see the MBAi as the only top MBA offering. It’s coming with this accelerated format, which is unique. But it’s also going to have this comprehensive offering of course work and experience that wholly integrates AI, data, and data analytics, woven throughout that entire curriculum. Every aspect of their journey through this is going to have that as a common core, as opposed to just taking a few electives that might be at the intersection of tech and business strategy, for example.

The MBAi graduates will have the degree I talked about, conferred by Kellogg and McCormick. Graduates of the MBAi will be well-equipped to take leadership roles that are at that intersection of science, technology, and business within organizations where you could look at things such as technology product management, product digital marketing, and consulting roles that are very much looking to advance what’s happening right now in data analytics and AI, and trying to apply those concepts into business organizations, trying to solve real-time problems, and leveraging technology. The industry is evolving so rapidly, and what is happening in the space is moving at such speed. The inspiration that, I think, brought our two schools together to form this degree was the identification of the need for next-level depth in technology knowledge, if you will, among business leaders. It will definitely be a key component of the curriculum and the experience the students have.

If you are interested in technology and want to have what I call a more traditional MBA experience, you would select the two-year program. We have a tech management pathway. You can take courses where you can handpick those electives. There are a whole host of options that we offer here at Kellogg that would allow you to build that. You’d have your MBA foundation. You’d have a traditional summer internship without this more fast-paced approach. It would be more like a marriage of those two areas, whereas this is a full integration of AI and technology into the curricular experience within the MBAi.

Is the MBAi core the same core the MBA students take? [10:46]

It would be the same core, but those courses are going to have integrated data, technology, and AI principles woven throughout that entire core. It is designed uniquely for the MBAi cohort. They will travel together as a cohort. They will experience these classes, and they will have unique components that do not just sit side by side. They’re not identical to what the traditional MBA courses today offer.

Is that also a distinction from the MMM? [11:31]

The triple Ms actually are getting an MBA from Kellogg and a Master’s of Science and Design Innovation from McCormick. So they actually integrate and do take the same core classes with our two-year students, so that is a difference. The other component is the master’s of science and design innovation, which is much more about human-centered design thinking principles, and their application to innovation and entrepreneurship. There’s a divergence there that is uniquely separate in the McCormick offerings.

The MBAi is so focused on the impact of artificial intelligence, data analysis, and machine learning. On one hand, it’s an area of tech that’s going to impact everything. On the other hand, it’s a very narrow area of tech. Why did Kellogg limit the MBAi in this way as opposed to having a program that is more broadly about tech management? [12:12]

Kellogg believes that AI and analytics hold tremendous promise for the future of where business and organizations are evolving. We’ve seen the challenges that many organizations are facing today in figuring out how to deliver and scale successful business outcomes. What inspired this to be a more, I’d say, laser-focused offering was that the failure rate of AI and analytics projects is cited to be about 85% two years ago. Gartner, the prominent research firm, had studies saying that in terms of failure rate, the concept is there, but the application is still very much being figured out by organizations.

We believe that businesses need to be able to adapt and course correct to achieve a much higher level of success. They need new decision-making processes. Culture shifts might be necessary, and new organizational structures. Making these changes requires leaders who will have expertise in both business and technology. We’ve made this delineation, saying that we believe the MBAi program will develop future leaders who can drive successful business outcomes through the adoption of AI, technology, and innovation. We believe that this is going to be an expansively growing area that is worth being laser-focused on developing.

Our intention is actually to have a cohort that is probably no larger than our triple M cohort. Typically, the triple M program typically runs about 65 students a year. It is a narrower space, but one that we think will have a ton of interesting development potential. We’ve also seen the interest growing in terms of students wanting to drive in this direction. If you’re interested in this more immersive area and in AI’s intersection with business, we think it’s going to be a very exciting program for applicants to explore.

Professor Eric Anderson is the director building out this program here at Kellogg. He has had many, many conversations with organizations about this to inform our strategic decision to enter this space, as well as what kinds of roles organizations are looking to hire into. A quote was, “Some of the jobs have not even been created yet. They are being conceived as we speak,” being fleshed out. We’re trying to determine, how do we start to create new roles that will drive advancement in our organizations and leverage this technology?

You’ve convinced me. How can I apply? [15:28]

You can come to our website and look at our application. It’s live. Our round two deadline is open and posted. It’s January 6, 2021. On the application, you’ll see this is a Kellogg MBA program, so we are going to apply the same approach to evaluating who makes a great student for Kellogg.

There’s an “and” for this group in that we expect them to have some of that prior, demonstrated interest in technology and data analytics. We talked about the fact that a STEM background would be considered. The idea here is that you want people who are passionate about this opportunity and leading at the intersection of business and technology.

The application will have our traditional components, Kellogg’s two essay questions, which are both about leadership and about values that we care about in our community, and then a third essay question for MBAi candidates, which is in and around being able to talk about an experience that you’ve seen in the disconnect that currently exists between business and technology. That has been a fundamental issue for many: the two worlds have sort of grown up side by side, and organizations are trying to merge and understand how to bring those two together with leaders who can traverse both the business strategy and the technology development that their organizations are facing.

There’s also an opportunity for applicants to share information about their skills and their experience in coding, for example, or background in technology that they could bring to the class. They’ll have an opportunity to share those aspects in that application.

Do they need to take GMAT or GRE? What about good grades and recommendations? [17:17]

The traditional components of an application are all there, so you’re going to submit a resume. You’re going to answer the essay questions. You’re going to fill out some short responses on your background, your work experience, organizations you’ve been involved with, two letters of recommendation. We will have interviews that we will hold with the candidates. Kellogg uniquely also has a video essay component. Every aspect that is a part of our traditional application is there for the MBAi applicant as well.

Let’s say I’m really interested in the MBAi, and I’m really interested in the Kellogg MBA. Can I apply to more than one? [18:03]

Kellogg is unique in that we have designed over many, many years a portfolio of choice in how you pursue your MBA. We have two working professional programs, our evening weekend program, our executive MBA program. Within the full-time program, we have the traditional two-year, the one-year program, which is giving you credit for prior business coursework completed before you matriculate. And then, as we already touched on, we have two dual degrees: the triple M, and then a JD/MBA program. And now we’ve added an MBAi.

What we tell our applicants is you can only apply to one program in the application cycle. The reason we’ve constructed it that way is we want students to do the reflection and homework on, “What’s the right choice for you?” Because they are uniquely designed to meet different students at different intersections of interest, experience, etc. So in the one-year program, there’s no internship. There’s these differences that are intentional in their design, and we want students to understand that as they apply.

So if a candidate were in a position where they say, “I want to go to Kellogg for the MBAi, but if I weren’t admitted, I would love to get a Kellogg MBA,” you can let us know that either in the interview, or you can share additional information in a portion of the application. You can say, “I would love to be in this program. This is my number one choice. But if that weren’t to play out, please know I’m so interested in Kellogg,” so that we’re aware. But I encourage candidates to really do their homework on applying and not just make that the default response for all.

That is, to me, a unique student who says, “I have decided that Kellogg is where I want to be, and here’s the rank order of what I’d love to be considered for.” We have at times contacted an applicant who applied to one program and actually had the conversation and said, “You know what, I know you applied to this program, but your profile looks like you’d be great for this program. Had you thought of that?” And sometimes they hadn’t. Sometimes they hadn’t been aware. Sometimes they had. We definitely engage with applicants in that conversation if that unique situation arises.

Let’s turn for a moment to the Kellogg MBA experience today. How have the coronavirus restrictions affected the MBA experience at Kellogg? [20:49]

It is a unique moment for us all. Everyone is dealing with the pandemic and their own unique challenges and struggles as it unfolds. Similar to the adaptations that every person has had to make, Kellogg was very nimble. We really quickly made adjustments to deliver our educational offerings safely with the impact of COVID-19. I’m thrilled to share that we have been able to deliver our full-time program in a full hybrid format. We pivoted to virtual in the middle of March when everything in the United States shut down immediately and, shortly thereafter, were able to pivot to a full hybrid experience for students Kellogg’s unique in that our one-year and triple M students start in the summer. We were able to start in a hybrid format and have been able to maintain that hybrid format, which means we have students attending in-person and virtually, and students can choose if they want to be in-person or virtual, depending on their circumstances. We have a handful of virtual-only courses that have also been offered. 

The beauty of the global hub is that it’s enabled us to bring in students in a way we hadn’t anticipated because the requirements of social distancing in a traditional fixed-classroom environment imposed some pretty significant constraints, where you’re facing about a quarter to at most a third, usually around 25%, capacity in those fixed classrooms. When we built this up, we built a lot of modular, flexible classrooms, and it has paid out in spades in those classrooms because we have both fixed and modular, and they’ve been able to have their own table. The faculty are able to be at the front of the room. The technology is so advanced because the hub is so new. We’re able to include all the virtual students in the dialogue, so they’re on screen interacting with the students in the classroom. We’ve taken a very intentional approach to designing that classroom experience, as well as the co-curricular experiences with the very important focus on trying to dissolve the barriers that are presented in this moment by whether you’re in-person or virtually involved.

For example, in designing experiences for the students, they’ll break out into Zoom breakout rooms. It’s like you’re in the classroom, but if you’re in the classroom, and one of your classmates is not, we can bring you together in a virtual breakout room to have a breakout conversation like you might’ve had if we were breaking out in the classroom. We also have made some innovations. The faculty have started offering virtual office hours, so they can provide the same access to students that is harder to achieve with the constraints of physical proximity and whether you’re comfortable coming in or not because we’ve given everyone the choice on how they want to attend in this moment.

For example, Professor Harry Kraemer, who teaches managerial leadership at Kellogg, is the former CEO of Baxter, and he now has conversations with students both before and after class. He says, “I’m going to be there early. Come on in if you want to talk to me.” It’s replicating the “I’m here early for class” experience. We’ve also been able to bring in video content, so a lot of the faculty have started to pivot in this moment and integrate asynchronous video to help present concepts outside of the class time, and then in the class, to enable the dialogue. The video platform has definitely opened some opportunity areas.

The other example I’d give is we’re very aware that, in the organic community that you would have by being in that hub, the hallway chats, the bumping into each other at lunch, or getting coffee, whatever it might be, those aren’t there in an organic fashion right now at the same level, obviously. So we’ve introduced pods, and we rotate students through pods, so they have a chance with six to eight classmates to come together and meet virtually, but to have smaller group conversations that at least try to give them some of that experience. We’re rotating students that might have enjoyed those organic moments together. Lots of trying to be nimble and innovate to deliver on what is central to how important collaboration and community is at Kellogg.

We have highly involved clubs and extracurricular opportunities at Kellogg. A student was realizing that if you get to a certain threshold of students in a Zoom room, it gets a little hard to have those conversations. They’ve had that same approach, where they put four or five of us together with some topics. Each of us broke out and talked about the same topics, and then we all came back together, and people shared some of what their groups shared. It’s trying to build that connection and community, and students creating that on their own, as well as us creating that in the curricular offerings as well.

In light of the pandemic and the crazy end to last year’s admissions cycle, are you going to read applications with a slightly different perspective this year around? Are you going to be weighing certain qualities and attributes differently than you did before the pandemic? [27:02]

The current environment has challenged all aspects of our lives. We know that this moment is actually going to inspire and likely curate qualities that we admire and value in our student population: resilience, leadership, all of the aspects of being able to innovate, adapt, and face these challenges. At Kellogg, we look to build empathetic leaders who are both creative and collaborative. We know that many of these attributes will come shining through as they talk about experiences from the past year. Our admissions standards and criteria have not changed, so we’re not going to be evaluating differently, but we’ll be evaluating with empathy, understanding what the candidate is sharing in terms of the impact that this has had on them and their life.

We have three video essay questions that are each a one-minute response from students. I call it a quick elevator pitch response to a question. Over the summer, our application had already gone live as the pandemic was hitting. So I said, “How could we allow them to share? We know we’ll hear it in the interviews. When we get to the point of interviewing candidates, we’ll hear about their experiences.” We pivoted and adapted our video essay, their third video essay, so that they can share how this year uniquely has challenged them and how they’ve faced this challenge. We wanted to give them a place and an opportunity to share it. I think it will possibly show up in essays, in interviews. If someone has been impacted in their career with a disruption to working, we completely understand that.

Everybody’s been impacted in different ways, and I think that will come shining through as candidates are presenting themselves in their applications. “How did you deal with it? How did you face the challenge?” was the actual question we asked. Many of us are just working from an apartment, or from home, wherever you might live, or maybe where you live was disrupted, so you had to relocate to somewhere else because of different circumstances. How do you drive and make an impact in the organizations, or the areas of your life that you’re involved in, in this moment? We’re all doing it differently in so many ways because of the constraints we’re all facing. But the world is moving forward. Are you helping that world advance in ways that are benefiting the greater good of all of us?

Kellogg still requires either the GMAT or GRE, correct? Are there any plans to go test-optional? And what if you’re in a country where it’s very hard to get to the exam? [27:02]

Kellogg took a stance of high levels of empathy at the end of last year because the world was so disrupted. And we know that still, there are circumstances where that is the case. We do believe that access to testing has been addressed for the majority of circumstances. It might take you longer. There’s some constraints to get the test access that you like. As a result, we did make the decision to keep the test requirements in our application for this year. We have given applicants an extension in each round to submit the score later than the deadline. So you can submit your application by the round two deadline of January 6th without the test score, and let us know. We’ll work with a candidate if they are unable to obtain it. We would allow you to roll your application forward into round three. You’ll continue to be considered through this cycle. We will assess what access to testing is available by round three in the summer. By then, we’ll assess.

Right now, we don’t have any plans to make material changes. We’re just assessing, as we go, all the circumstances facing candidates. Our hope is that access improves. We’re hearing from testing organizations that they’re really getting close to 90% plus access again. It could take longer, but at least their test access has materially improved. We’re going to keep our finger on the pulse of how that plays out.

Can you touch for a second on Kellogg’s deferred admissions program for future leaders? [32:15]

Kellogg Future Leaders is Kellogg’s deferred enrollment option. It’s open to all undergraduates from anywhere, not just those from Northwestern University. It’s open to all, either undergraduates or master’s candidates with no prior work experience, so the expectation is that you completed undergraduate or immediately thereafter a master’s. Typically a one-year master’s candidate profile, but no significant period of work experience. The idea is that you’re applying with the option to enroll in a future term. Kellogg is flexible in offering that you can enroll anywhere between two and five years after you are admitted. You’ll specify what you’re preferring to start when you apply. What’s nice about Kellogg is this is being offered by many different MBA programs today.

We’ve structured it to keep it straightforward when you’re applying to the two- year program, which is the most traditional program we have. Let’s say you want to enroll four years from now. You love the job that you have, and you’ve reassessed whether you want to go full-time. We would let you pivot that offer into our evening weekend program. Or you could say, “I am interested now in this MBAi because of the path I’ve pursued. I really want to go in that direction.” We will allow you to communicate an interest in one of our alternate programs and work with you to determine if that’s the right fit at that moment. I think it really provides flexibility. No one knows what the future looks like for themselves. Right? But there’s the option that they know they can pursue their MBA at Kellogg. We were very, very pleased with our first year of the program. It was great, with great candidates, so it’s exciting.

If they are admitted through that program, they could go to the MBA/JD, the triple M, any of them. We’ll work with them. It’s not going to be just, “Yes, you can.” It’s going to be a, “Is that a good fit option for you?” But we will have that conversation to work with the candidate. And if it is a good fit option for their background, and with the MBAi requirements, I can’t just carte blanche say yes because we’re trying to look for that technology experience, but if you actually develop that experience on the way, you might be a great candidate to consider that, so we will work with each candidate one on one uniquely.

What advice would you give to someone thinking ahead to a full 2021 application? [35:28]

The advice I usually give is to invest the energy to get to know the schools that you’re considering. It’s just like taking a new role in an organization or a new job. You want to know that you’re going to enjoy that experience, that you’re going to thrive, that it’s going to give you the development that you desire. Right? So my recommendation and advice is to do the homework to get to know the school.

At Kellogg, we have a Preview Kellogg website you can check out. We have virtual events that you can attend. We have small student group chats right now available that you can sign up for, so you can talk to current students. We have master classes being taught by faculty that you could experience. We also have a virtual tour option. In a world where it’s hard for anyone to visit any campus anywhere, we’re trying to provide students with the opportunity and applicants with the opportunity to get the visit experience that unfortunately is not easily accessible to anyone right now. Talking to current students, talking to alumni, learning about the program, that is my advice.

What would you have liked me to ask you? [36:49]

I’ve mentioned already the virtual campus experience, so there’s that investment in getting to know us. I think taking the time for some self reflection. Any candidate who’s listening to this podcast, they’re likely considering pursuing their MBA. Take the time to learn and reflect and identify what your goals and motivations are. Then, that conversation I just had around why an MBA program is a good program for you, to have them really think and reflect on their motivations and where they’re going to thrive. People get caught up in worrying about, “Will I get in? What about the impact of other factors?” Control what you can control, which is you, and that process of reflection, getting excited and passionate about what you want to do, having those conversations, and then going for it. I like to have that conversation with any applicant because you’ll find a great program for you. We certainly every year see exceptional students who find that fit here at Kellogg. And I certainly hope that is the case for anyone who’s engaged their time listening to us today.

Where can listeners and potential applicants learn more about Kellogg’s portfolio of programs, and specifically the MBAi?

Sure. You can go to

Listen to the podcast interview!

Related Links:

Kellogg MBAi webpage
Leadership in Admissions, a free guide
Kellogg MBA Application Essay Tips
Accepted’s MBA Admissions Consulting Services

Related Shows:

Get a Kellogg MBA: An Interview with Dean of Admissions Kate Smith
MBA Life at UC Berkeley Haas, From Its New Executive Director of Admissions
An Insider’s Look at MBA Admissions
What MBA Students Can Expect at UCLA Anderson


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