In this series, we celebrate the truly impressive and diverse students who recently joined Kellogg’s Evening & Weekend Program. Today, we’re excited to introduce (from left): Paris Austell (Resident Physician of Otolaryngology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine), Varsha Nagaraj (Vice President, Change Management, Northern Trust Corporation) and Morrie Bossen (Vice President, Investment Specialist, J.P. Morgan Private Bank).
What are you most proud of in your professional journey? How did it shape who you are as a leader?
PARIS: I am most proud of graduating medical school with honors as an inductee of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society. As an underrepresented minority, I have overcome a multitude of obstacles to be where I am today. My experiences have led to a passion for mentoring. It is my mission to help as many students as I can reach their professional goals and reduce the disparities that minorities face in pursuing professional careers.
VARSHA: Early in my career, I had the opportunity to relocate and work on overseas assignments, which helped me gain a diverse perspective and taught me how to step out of my comfort zone. As a leader, I found myself receptive to different ideas, perspectives and boldly took unique risks. I successfully built diverse teams, increased productivity, developed motivation and gained a network of lifelong international relationships.
MORRIE: The work I’ve put in to continuously improve myself. In a prior role, I needed to become much more technical rather quickly, and I was able to accomplish that by seeking the advice of others and independent study outside of work. That technical background positioned me for my current role as an investment advisor, and the journey to get there is emblematic of my leadership style. I’m not afraid to seek input from many members of my team before reaching a decision.
As an incredibly accomplished and very busy professional, why was now the right time to get your MBA? Why was Kellogg the right school?
PARIS: I contemplated obtaining an MBA for two years before applying. I realized there would never be a perfect time during which my life wouldn’t have some level of chaos. I finally applied last fall and I am so glad I took the leap! Kellogg was the only school I applied to for many reasons, with the most important being their strong commitment to leadership development and emphasis on diversity.
VARSHA: I reached a stage in my career where my growth started channelizing itself into a specific path. I wanted to freshen up my career and redefine my skillsets, hence, I decided to pursue my MBA. Kellogg deeply values community, teamwork and is committed to developing women leaders in achieving their highest potential, hence, it was a natural decision that it was the right school for me.
MORRIE: I felt like I had built up a strong, yet specific, technical knowledge that would serve me well in making suitable investment recommendations for my clients. However, my business is so much more than just investments. One needs to focus on strategy, teamwork, communication and many other skills to succeed. I felt like an MBA from Kellogg, the school strongest in those areas of growth I was seeking, would positively impact the trajectory of my business and my career as a whole. Also, growing up on the North Side of Chicago, I always had a soft spot for Northwestern and I am very proud to now officially be a Wildcat!
If you’ve made a recent pivot in your career, can you share what drove you to make this pivot? Any advice for those looking to make a pivot or significant change in their career?
VARSHA: I have always been in the financial services industry but have made career pivots between products. Most recently, I made a pivot from investment reporting into change management, which had a significant learning curve. The interesting part of making this change was facing a whole new unknown area where you are no longer the subject matter expert. You will be surprised how curiosity builds your drive and exploring this area with a fresh perspective leads to discoveries, making you successful if you are willing to put in the work.
In your short time at Kellogg, how has your experience so far impacted your professional and/or personal growth?
PARIS: The few classes I’ve taken so far have already made a significant impact on my personal development. Having come from a medical background, being at Kellogg feels like learning a fun new language. I look forward to continued growth as I navigate the world of business.
VARSHA: I couldn’t have picked a better school than Kellogg to do my MBA, especially during a pandemic. Kellogg has done a fabulous job in ensuring students get the same level of experience online as they would receive in person. Our one-week induction program was online, but I connected with so many students during the breakout sessions with who I remain in touch, even though we are not in the same class today. Kellogg has equipped the professors and the staff with high-quality resources, which has allowed our online experience to be very efficient. There are so many different clubs at Kellogg and many events organized throughout the week that it’s not only helped me learn so much more outside of my expertise area, but allowed me to build a network outside of my cohort as well.
MORRIE: I’ve really enjoyed my experience so far. Despite the pandemic, and without meeting anyone in person yet (my choice), I’ve managed to establish many connections with my cohort via Zoom, including an awesome study group for my accounting class, which I look forward to keeping up throughout the program. I’m also taking advantage of the learning opportunities outside of class, like hearing from successful alumni on how they started and grew their business, or personal growth sessions, like how to manage uncertainty.
COVID-19 has changed how we learn, engage and grow. What have you learned or gained – that you might not have otherwise – during this time?
PARIS: As a medical professional, I have had a front row seat to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the importance of human connection. I treasure my personal and professional relationships more than ever before and look forward to forging more connections during my time at Kellogg.
VARSHA: The past year has been challenging to many individuals on a personal, professional and an emotional level. Studying with my classmates in Kellogg has shown that empathy exists in abundance and every member of the Kellogg community applies teamwork in our learning process. Pandemic or no pandemic, we engage as a team and grow as a family.
MORRIE: I’ve learned that we can not only continue to function but, through perseverance, excel — despite the most difficult of circumstances. Also, the sobering world of COVID has taught me to be more intentional with my time and clear with my purpose. This mindset not only led me to apply to Kellogg, but also helps me be more efficient at work and present at home.
What is your #1 application advice for students looking to apply to Kellogg?
PARIS: Be true to yourself! Allow the real you to shine through your application and interview because sincerity always pays off.
VARSHA: Be authentic in your application. It should reflect your overall journey, showcasing your growth as an individual and highlighting the values that have been instilled deep in you through your experiences.
MORRIE: Take the time to thoroughly research everything Kellogg: from the classes and professors to the extracurricular programs and clubs to, most importantly, Kellogg’s values. Ask yourself if Kellogg truly feels like a fit and, if it does, find ways to demonstrate that fit in your application. For me, the values of teamwork and service were important through Kellogg’s collaborative culture and Board Fellows program, but everyone is different and they should find the aspects of Kellogg that speak most strongly to them.
Why did you choose your particular pace or program?
PARIS: I chose the Evening & Weekend track for its flexibility. Upon admission, I was chosen to be a Drake Scholar for which I am beyond grateful and humbled. I can confidently say I would not be where I am in my Kellogg journey without it. I aspire to influence as many lives as Ann M. Drake has through her professional and charitable endeavors.
VARSHA: Quitting my job was not a feasible option for me. The Evening and Weekend Program allows me to apply my learning immediately into my day-to-day work life, while giving me the flexibility to pick the pace of study which benefits me the most.
MORRIE: The Evening program was perfect for me because of its flexibility. I am really excited about the prospect of designing my own curriculum and going at my own pace. The accelerated option allows me to dive into the content that is most interesting to me and still leverage the knowledge I gained from my undergrad coursework.