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A Conversation with Northwestern MSC Student, Gretchen Baker

Gretchen Baker is an Executive Development Advisor for Executive Education for the  Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She advises professionals who are interested in attending executive education programs on marketing, sales, and leadership that can support their career development. She is also responsible for marketing the programs and driving enrollment. Gretchen values building diverse cohorts and believes in the importance of fostering close relationships with others.

At what point in your career did you enter the MSC program and why was this the right time for you?

I entered the program last fall (September 2016). Previously I worked in advertising, marketing, and I did a little bit of PR, but then I became a mom and left the workforce. However, I continued thinking about what’s next? Along the way, I became a certified coach and worked one-on-one with clients. As much as I loved certain aspects of coaching, I missed being a part of a group. That brought me to Kellogg, initially in the HR department. When my current job opened, I found it interesting because it involved marketing, coaching, and being a part of a team and I thought it’d be a great fit with my experience. I love it here, but I’m still thinking, “What’s next?” When the next opportunity comes along, I want to be ready for it.

Why was Northwestern MSC the right program for you?

What was most appealing for me was really getting immersed in learning again and, at the end, having a degree. One main feature that attracted me to the Northwestern MSC program was the change management class. I was intrigued by change management as a way to utilize coaching skills and learn how to support people going through a change. Even here, I think about how I could evolve the job I’m in now.

How have you grown from the program?

One huge challenge is that in my job, I write from a business perspective, things like emails, memos, PowerPoint presentations, documents, but to write academic papers has definitely stretched my thinking and writing skills. It’s a challenge being back in the classroom, but I’m a firm believer that you don’t grow or evolve unless you make yourself uncomfortable and are willing to fail. Even if I do everything I can but don’t get the outcome I want, I always find something positive in the experience.

What is something you’ve learned that you’ve been able to apply to your professional and/or personal life?

In the ‘Leadership & Decision Making’ class with Paul Arntson, I bridged the gap between theory and real experience. A year ago, my team was going through a challenge. We had recently added new members and felt that the dynamic of the team was being disrupted. There were cases we reviewed in class that I found applicable to our situation. In particular, an article on identity issues in teams. The class challenged me to look at our team with a different perspective, and explore what I can and cannot do as a leader in a situation like that. What I learned has changed how I view and engage with teams.

What was your favorite aspect of MSC at Northwestern?

I’m all about relationships, so I love getting to know this great group of people who I would not have the chance to cross paths with otherwise. My cohort’s individual stories, which several of us presented in Paul Arntson’s class, are extremely powerful. When people share their stories with you, you can’t help but admire and respect what they are doing and that they are here in the program. Everyone has a challenge of some sort that they deal with and a vision for their future.

I’ve also discovered that I love these classes. I’m learning about myself, expanding my thinking and trying new things.

Can you speak to the importance of diversity in your cohort?

We have different reasons for taking the program and we have different backgrounds, are of all ages and stages in our lives and careers. At every stage in your life it’s easy to find yourself surrounded by people who are similar to you. It’s great being in this diverse environment with different people who are here for the same reason: to learn. I love that.

Are they any interesting or unique projects that you worked on during your time in the program?

In Paul Arntson’s class, we were randomly assigned to a team and throughout the quarter we worked through case studies together. Each week a different person would act as the group leader and our meetings were videotaped. During the week we would view the tape, evaluate our performance on what we did well and make recommendations on what we could do better. One week, the assignment was to watch another group’s video and make similar evaluations and recommendations. This provided some of the best learning of the class! When you’re in your own group and bubble, it’s easy to think what you’re doing is right and the best way to get things done. However, by watching another group’s video, we  picked up some new ideas and ways to improve our own leadership.