By Kelly Kester (MBA ’20)
After making the deliberate decision to pursue my MBA full-time at DePaul, a family member sent me a congratulations card. Enclosed were words of encouragement from former first lady and one of my professional role models Michelle Obama: “Just try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zones and soar,” the card read. It was through this call-to-action that I stepped into DePaul’s MBA program with an open mind and heart, ready to embrace any challenge that came my way.
As we gear up for another quarter, it is easy to become overwhelmed by your to-do list. I recently attended a Women in Leadership Panel hosted by the MBA Association and the School of Hospitality Leadership, and was reminded by Michelle’s words of advice. The panel was the result of an event-planning project in the undergraduate course Event Production, taught by hospitality instructor Juan Mendez. As part of the project, students were challenged to work with the MBA Association – their “client” – and successfully plan the Women in Leadership Panel, preparing the selection of the panelists, invitations, registration and post-panel reception.
Three Chicago-based women in leadership shared their professional experiences for a group of 70-plus DePaul students and alumni:
- Terri Brax, co-founder & CEO at TeacherCare, Inc. & Women Tech Founders
- Sara Kearney, former senior vice president of operations at Hyatt Hotels Corporation
- Tiffany Kucharski, director of strategic partnerships at EvolveHer
When asked if the panelists have a professional role model, the vote was unanimous: Michelle Obama. Sitting in the audience, it was impossible not to be inspired by these women. I, among my fellow audience members, aspire to be in their chairs one day. Yet each panelist was so delightfully candid. Kurchaski shared lessons learned of simple freedoms from parenting: “Don’t limit yourself – why not have soup for breakfast?” Even in a crowded room, their words of wisdom felt personal.
As for professional advice, each panelist recommended a collaborative approach to ascending in the workplace. According to Brax, the need to embrace your true self and assist others in this mission rang true: “Help everyone to be a hero in their own story.” In addition, Kearney emphasized the importance of continuous learning and listening: “Keep your ears open often,” she said.
When it comes to future women-led events, Kearney said, “My hope that it is simply a panel of leadership.”
Kelly Kester is a full-time MBA student and works as a graduate assistant for the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. Kester also serves as president of the MBA Association.