As an undergraduate psychology major at the University of Texas in Austin (UT), Madeline Keulen was not sure of her post-graduation plans. She had interests in bioethics, law, working in the not-for-profit world and being an entrepreneur. “I was interested in everything under the sun,” she says now. “I was definitely not set on a path from Day One.”
One thing that was consistent in Madeline’s life: she diligently followed her curiosity. A native of Australia, she came to the United States as an exchange student from the University of Sydney and ended up transferring to UT. As a business minor, she spent time in the business school building and noticed a flyer for the Forté Foundation. Her curiosity was piqued, leading her to attend a Forté College to Business Leadership Conference as an undergraduate, and later to participate in a Forté Forum and the MBALaunch program.
Recently accepted to Harvard Business School’s Class of 2019, Madeline shares how Forté has impacted her journey from undergraduate liberal arts major to current consultant at Oliver Wyman to soon-to-be MBA student.
How did you first come to know about Forté?
As an undergrad at UT, I saw a flyer in the business building about an on-campus women’s MBA event with Forté. I researched to find out what they did as an organization and learned about a college leadership conference in Washington, DC. I applied and attended with three other women from UT. I was the only liberal arts major.
What motivated you to make the effort to attend the college conference in DC?
I wanted to learn how to navigate my career with a liberal arts background and how to best market myself. I also wanted to meet women who had similar ambitions – women who were in positions to provide insight into how they got where they were. Sometimes it can be hard to see how you can get from Point A to Point B unless you see someone who has already done that.
What were the top take-aways from that conference? What was your experience like there, and what did you learn about yourself?
It was an incredible experience to meet women from different backgrounds as well as corporate sponsors. It was really helpful to speak to women who were 5-10 years my senior and understand how they got into their positions. It was the beginning of creating my post-college path, and it was a great launch pad. It also helped me get organized and have a clearer vision about how to get my foot in the door and make connections.
You have said that Forté opened your eyes to the possibility of business school while in college. How did it encourage you to think about business school?
I had thought about post-graduate education, but not in the context of business. Forté helped me understand how liberal arts backgrounds can lend themselves well to business positions because it is about solving problems and analyzing issues.
In looking up profiles of women speaking at the conference and meeting women who were getting an MBA, I got a better idea of what an MBA actually was and what an MBA could do for my career. Career advancement and becoming a strong leader, for example.
Was your decision to pursue consulting influenced in any way by your experience with Forté?
A lot of business undergrads want to go into consulting, but outside of that environment, consulting is a black box and no one knows what it is. Going to the Forté conference, I learned it was about problem solving at a high level and helping organizations. I became incredibly interested in that kind of work and learned more about it as a result of attending that conference.
How did Forté influence your decision to apply to/attend MBALaunch?
Being exposed to Forté in college, the seed had been planted that I’d like to pursue an MBA. It was on my radar, and I attended a Forté Forum. At the snack table, I met someone who was participating in the MBALaunch who said good things about it and that it kept her accountable. Forté was a network I was in and already trusted, and it was helpful in sticking to my game plan. Lots of people talk about applying to an MBA program but don’t.
To what extent did MBALaunch help or support your decision to apply to Harvard Business School (HBS)?
I wanted to go to a top program, but I didn’t have the foresight and confidence. My decision was based on encouragement from peers and coaches. I see this a lot among women – there is a confidence gap. Some women, even if they are talented, do not feel as if they deserve things. MBALaunch gave me confidence and affirmed my decision to apply to HBS. It was a healthy process to go through – to aim high even if you don’t get in.
In talking to others who have been through the program, I understand that the networks that are established through MBALaunch are often very strong. Did you experience this, too? If so, how did you interact with fellow Launchers?
I agree about the network. It is fun to get to know other women alumnae from Forté programs and women in MBA programs and speak to them about their reasons for wanting an MBA. It was nice to have support and share what we were experiencing. Everyone was so willing to help and be a mentor. It was instrumental in helping me learn more and get the courage to apply to business school.
What would you tell someone who asked you: why does Forté matter?
Forté is a network of strong women leaders who are committed to changing the status quo and making an impact. It is important to have a community and network that consistently drives that message, especially when the popularity of women’s movements ebb and flow.
Do you see yourself supporting Forté in the future?
Most definitely. I talk to women in my organization now about Forté. As I begin my MBA, I look forward to talking to more women about it.
As you continue to progress through business school, how do you hope to influence others?
Partly it is what I do within my career. I enjoy engaging people and helping businesses through problem solving. It is very stimulating, and it is how I can add value and have an impact.
Another way is to help others broaden their perspectives and have mine broadened. I am fortunate to have a broad and diverse network, and everyone is always stretching each other’s thinking by virtue of having different experiences and viewpoints.