EdmistonWith graduation upon us, I have given a lot of thought to my MBA experience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In true business school form, here are the top five takeaways from the past two years.

I made friends.

I arrived in Madison not knowing a soul. Orientation changed that in just two weeks. I met so many people, some who have become my very best friends. At the time it was awkward, but now I’m thankful for the prompted table conversations, silly improvisation exercises and countless networking events. I am confident that many of these friendships will last far beyond my time in Madison. A number of classmates will be joining me in Chicago to begin our new career paths together. It was such a comfort to have them around as we navigated our internships this past summer, and now it will make my new city feel a bit more like home.

CBPM Class of 2018 Day 1 of Year 2

I learned about school spirit.

I attended a small private school for my undergraduate degree so it was exciting to attend my first football game at Camp Randall. My favorite part of the whole experience was the tailgate. I enjoyed stress-releasing, social time with my classmates enhanced by crisp fall air, the smell of grilled meat, beer in plastic cups and a sea of red on Regent Street.

Back when I was a prospective student, someone told me that Wisconsin was a great school because once someone is a Badger, they are always a Badger. This meant that a network of alumni existed that would be excited to talk to me and help me succeed. I have found this to be the case and have benefited from many informational conversations with alumni at companies that I am interested in. The love for UW runs deep and I am excited to continue this tradition.

I was inspired.

I can’t say I fully understood what the brand manager role entailed until I arrived at the University of Wisconsin and began attending applied learnings each week. We are so fortunate to hear from brand managers who have made great strides in their industry and improved the lives of consumers through quality products and meaningful media campaigns. My favorite applied learning presented the P+G “Like a Girl” campaign, which empowers girls to redefine what they are capable of and build confidence during puberty.

Outside of class, I was fortunate to attend a number of events spotlighting women leaders. For example, each year the Graduate Women in Business and Diversity in Business organizations hosted a panel of women to talk about empowering minority leaders in business. These conversations provided tools to deal with adversity and unconscious bias as well as the confidence that, like these women, I can overcome obstacles to reach my goals.

Kaitie ConAgraI found a job.

The Center for Brand and Product Management is fortunate to have so many recruiting partners come to campus for informational sessions and interviews. The whole recruitment process allowed me to get to know my fellow Brandies early in the MBA experience, sample a number of Madison restaurants and, most importantly, get to know potential employers. I remember walking out of the University Club after the Conagra informational session around 10pm, exhausted but excited by the prospect of working with all of the wonderful people I had just met. I thought back to that night the day I accepted an internship there. It gave me the confidence to make that decision because I knew I believed in the mission of the management team and would fit in with the company culture. I had a wonderful internship experience and am thrilled to join the Congara brand team full-time this summer.

I learned how to be an effective business leader.

Over the past two years, I have learned a lot about myself. I discovered new interests, such as entrepreneurial podcasts and locally sourced charcuterie, and learned management techniques that will help me be an effective brand manager. Working on a core team the first semester taught me a lot about creating a respectful space where everyone’s strengths are fully leveraged. Observing my classmates, especially the knowledgeable second years, allowed me to make a mental list of best practices that I have been able to test out and refine to fit my own style of leadership. The CBPM board meetings gave me the opportunity to gain new perspective from experienced professionals and practice communicating my point of view to company leaders. An especially meaningful conversation comes to mind with the board member assigned to give me feedback about my internship presentation. This board member recognized my strengths and weaknesses and encouraged me to continue to develop my own style of leadership in order to be my best self. It felt really good to have that one-on-one conversation with a person that I look up to. The small class size of the full-time MBA program at the University of Wisconsin has allowed for similar conversations and meaningful relationships with administrators, professors and classmates.

Class of 2018 Graduation Celebration

In two weeks, I will walk away from Grainger Hall with more than just a diploma. I have learned how to be successful as a brand manager, a new role that I believe will truly make me happy to go to work every day. I have also made lifelong friends, wonderful memories and learned a lot about the person I want to be.

Thank you, Wisconsin.