Sunday, May 6, 2007

Day at Kellogg (1/2)

As I was procrastinating to update my blog, I got some comments asking for my promised DAK post. Thanks for that. It's good to know someone actually reads this stuff.

In my defense, I've been rather busy since returning from DAK, as I've rented out my apartment and had to rush-move back in with my parents. I can now save some money and I don't have to sell my place when leaving for Kellogg, and all I have to do is keep mentally sane during these last four months. So far things have been uneventful and, dare I say, pleasant, but of course it has only been two weeks.

Alright, Day at Kellogg. It was great.
I suspect that DAK was bigger for me than for the average attendee. Not only would this be my first visit to Kellogg, but also my first real-life view of an American university of any kind. I had nothing but Hollywood and glossy b-school brochures to develop an image in my mind of what a university campus would look and feel like.
My taxi ride from O'Hare to Evanston took me through some not-so-impressive suburbs of Chicago, but an early stroll through Evanston the next morning proved that Evanston, at the shore of Lake Michigan, is actually quite a pretty town. I walked along Sheridan Road, alongside the Northwestern University campus, saw the NU arch, and some nice buildings. Not bad.

Then, all of a sudden, I stood face to face with the Jacobs building.
While the building is not exactly impressive in itself, standing in front of it was definitely a big moment.

For years I had dreamed of attending a top US business school, with no idea how attainable this dream would be. For years I had challenged friends and family who were skeptical of the merit of a top-10 business school or my ability to get in one. After tons of school research, months of self-imposed rest deprivation for the GMAT, frustrating moments of writer's block on essays, I had become an expert on b-school admissions, yet even after the euphoria of the acceptance e-mail, b-school had somehow still remained a bit.... intangible.

Until now.

This is it. I made it. I actually made it!

As I regained my composure and walked in, I was welcomed by first-year students, got my welcome pack with complimentary Kellogg t-shirt, and was directed down to the atrium for breakfast and to meet the people in my 'DAK section'. After a nice talk with a fellow admit and his 'JV' (Kellogg speak for accompanying partner, who can join Kellogg's Joint Venture club and are invited to many events) I got tapped on the shoulder by the one other Dutch admit, whom I had met a couple of weeks earlier.

We later headed into the "OLC Forum" (a theater-like room for speeches etc.) for a welcome speech from the Admissions Director, which included a traditional 5-10 minute segment listing remarkable accomplishments of admitted students. "One of you... [insert remarkable experience here]". Too many things to remember, but the point was well made -- this was an impressive group of people.

We then had more speeches on academics, student diversity, Kellogg values, etc. but as the school was sold on us I felt a bit like the converted being preached to. I was already committed to enrolling. The real meat for me was the career sessions and mini-classes.

The first mini-class for our section was Statistics, by professor Scott McKeon. This guy definitely lived up to his top reputation at Kellogg, as he was nothing short of fascinating. This probably sounds unbelievable, and I was equally skeptical when our section leader said that 'stats had been his favorite class', but now I understand why. He led us through a number of interesting experiments, including a bizarre one that appeared to undermine the basic truism of a 50/50 chance when flipping a fair coin.

It was also pointed out that students' favorable opinions of him have contributed to his career at Kellogg, as Teacher/Course Evaluations (TCEs) are a key aspect of performance evaluations. I'm sure other b-schools also place emphasis on student input, but I can imagine that this is disproportionally so at Kellogg. I thought it was a nice real-life example of Kellogg's 'student-run' culture.

The second class for our section was Innovation by Andrew Razeghi, who was also amazing. He was one of those guys who can tell a story in such a way that you can't wait for the next word to come out of his mouth. When I saw the course title "Creating an Innovation Mindset" I was expecting some fluffy talk about the importance of 'fostering creativity in the corporate culture', similar to the drivel that pervades popular business literature, but instead Razeghi took us back down to earth and debunked the myth of the first-mover advantage, and demonstrated that success is easy, but sustainable relevance is nearly impossible. I realized that I shouldn't judge classes by its name and that I've probably got a tough time ahead making choices between a great number of absolutely top-notch classes.

The third mini-class was on teamwork and negotiation and was, much to my surprise, disappointing. Compared to one of my all-time favorite books, Secrets of Power Negotation, the negotiation bit was fluffy, and the teamwork element consisted mostly of a couple of poorly driven points about the importance of listening in teams and the average lifespan of teams. 12 months, 24 months, who cares. For a moment I thought that the fact that our section leader introduced the professor by the wrong name (she may have been substituting, I don't remember) and the fact that she looked like a first-year student, were both signs that this was not coming out of Kellogg's top-5 bucket, but then she stressed that her class was one of the most popular at Kellogg. I didn't really know what to think of it, but then again I wasn't going to let one class spoil my enthusiasm.

OK, enough for today, I'll post the rest separately.


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