2022 Best & Brightest Business Major: Alex Kogen, University of Illinois (Gies)

Alex Kogen

Gies College of Business, University of Illinois

“In everything I do, I seek to lead through learning and learn through leading.”

Fun fact about yourself: I know the architectural style, original construction dates, and architects of nearly every building on the University of Illinois campus.

Hometown: Glencoe, Illinois

High School: New Trier High School

Major: Accountancy

Minor: N/A

Favorite Business Courses:

  • ACCY 405: Assurance and Attestation | Professor Dawn Kink
  • BADM 210: Business Analytics 1 | Professor Eric Larson
  • BADM 449: Business Policy and Strategy | Professor Joseph Mahoney
  • BUS 101: Professional Responsibility and Business | Professor Aimee Barbeau

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During College:

  • Business 101 and 302 – Section Leader and Course Manager
  • Business 199 – Course Assistant
  • Business 401 – Course Assistant and Website Developer
  • Business Analytics 1 – Associate Lab Instructor, Course Assistant, and Co-author
  • Business Administration 340 – Course Assistant and Website Developer
  • Center for Professional Responsibility in Business and Society – Assistant, Researcher
  • Illinois Cross Country Club – Former Treasurer and Current Member
  • Illinois Track and Field Club – Current Member
  • Gies Community Program – Group Leader
  • James Scholar and Chancellor’s Scholar Programs – Peer Advisor and Mentor

Awards and Honors

  • Campus Honors Program (Chancellor’s Scholar)
  • Edmund J James Scholar Program
  • Beta Gamma Sigma Business Honor Society
  • Dean’s List Recipient (all semesters)
  • List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Their Students

Where have you interned during your college career?

  • Colliers International | Summer Intern | Chicago, IL | Summer, 2019
  • The Kindness Connection | Marketing Intern | Northbrook, IL | Summer, 2019
  • Gies College of Business | BADM 210 and CPRBS Intern | Remote | Summer, 2020
  • Gies College of Business | BADM 210, BUS 101, CPRBS | Remote | Summer, 2021
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) | External Audit Intern | Chicago, IL | Summer, 2022

Where will you be working after graduation? Following graduation in May of 2022, I will intern at PwC in external audit and then pursue my Master of Accounting Science (MAS) degree at Gies and expect to graduate in Spring of 2023. Following this, I intend to work as an auditor in public accounting.

Who is your favorite professor? This is the most challenging question to answer. I have been incredibly fortunate to learn from and work with an assortment of passionate and inspiring professors and faculty members at Illinois. Professor Dawn Kink in the Accountancy department certainly stands out as one of my favorites. I have been fortunate enough to take both Accounting 304: Accounting Control Systems and Accounting 405: Assurance and Attestation with Professor Kink, who is an alumna of Gies and worked as a partner at PwC for 30 years. Professor Kink is committed to giving back to the university and inspiring others with her vast industry knowledge and experience. Accounting 405 ultimately sparked my passion for auditing. I have seen few professors who dedicate as much time and effort as Professor Kink in designing each lesson, paper, and project. Her priority is to see each of her students succeed. But what truly distinguishes Professor Kink is her commitment towards students outside of the classroom. My favorite moments were spent during informal meetings or “coffee chats” in which she shared experiences throughout her professional career such as working around the world, particularly in London and Zurich. In the spring of 2021, when everyone was exhausted from over a year of remote learning, Professor Kink came to the rescue with weekly emails full of comedic images and videos. The following fall, when recruitment season for internships arrived, Professor Kink was instrumental in helping me prepare for and guiding me through the entire process. In short, Professor Kink is everything one could ever ask for in a professor. She is passionate, caring, and dedicated to all of her students, regardless of the need or request. She is always there for us. I hope to one day follow in her footsteps and become a Gies professor myself, I certainly know where to turn for inspiration. She is a true testament for what it means to be an Illini!

What is the biggest lesson you gained from studying business? As all business students know, introductory economics courses cover the concept of opportunity costs. With each decision and each action we take, there are perhaps countless others we must forego. We all face opportunity costs every day of our lives. We cannot do everything. To a greater extent, we cannot excel at everything. We must make choices, and often these decisions are difficult. This coincides with one of my favorite poems: Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken in which the “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” symbolize life’s choices. In the end, I could have never imagined all the paths I would pursue in college and, for that matter, all the other paths I could have taken. If studying business has taught me anything, it is to think carefully as you make decisions, always forge ahead with confidence, and always pursue your passion as there is little time for anything else.

What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field? Never be afraid to ask questions, and never be afraid to admit you are unsure. Too often, we assume there is only one “right answer” and are afraid to speak up. For instance, accounting is often perceived as a “black and white” discipline. However, this is far from true. Sure, debits must always equal credits and so forth. Yet, there is a great deal of personal judgment that guides the profession. This applies to all other areas of business as well. Since there is often no exact answer, we must remain open-minded and inquisitive. In 1868, John M. Gregory, the first president of the University of Illinois, noted that: “It is much easier to learn and remember than to investigate and think.” While often challenging and less convenient, always question, investigate, and think. Once we embrace broad questions over precise answers, think critically about the world around us, and accept mistakes as an opportunity for growth, our opportunities become limitless.

What has surprised you most about majoring in business? At Gies, we have a saying: “More than business. Business on purpose.” At first, this expression seemed straightforward. I figured the overarching goal was to find my personal purpose in my career. During my time at Gies, that view has changed. As I see it, purpose is not some far off destination, it’s a journey. Purpose is not some individual pursuit, but rather a collaborative effort. Purpose is not some stagnant idea, it is the evolution of many ideas. What I found most surprising as a business student is the influence each and every one of us can have if we lead with purpose. With purpose, we can achieve incredible things. What we achieve is often unclear in the moment, but that is not the point. I look forward to seeing where purpose leads me and fellow Gies students towards next.

Looking back over your experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently in business school and why? When I look back, I wish I joined more clubs and extracurricular organizations, both within and outside the business school. Many of my roles and positions mentioned above occurred largely in an academic atmosphere. However, college offers far more. Often, my most cherished moments were the informal ones spent with classmates, teammates, and friends. Whether it be braving the bitter, cold, unforgiving wind while running with my teammates, planning a surprise celebration with fellow teaching assistants, burning the midnight oil with classmates before a big accounting exam, or sharing stories at the dining room table with my roommates, these are the moments I will most fondly remember. As with many other students my age, I believe that COVID-19 put these things in perspective, as we unfortunately missed out on many of these experiences for a portion of college. I will never take such experiences for granted again.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of? The academic achievement I am most proud of is serving as a Business 101 Section Leader for over three years. I sought to make a big impact, inspire others, and give back in any way possible. As a Section Leader, I believe I have accomplished this goal and more. Business 101 serves as the introductory course in the college and is the first experience for freshman and transfer students at Gies. To me, there is no greater honor than helping to positively shape students’ first experiences in college. I also strongly identify with the course’s mission around ethics and professional responsibility. Business 101 instills a powerful sense of values and leading with purpose. As a Section Leader, I relish the opportunity to show students how their actions can transform society and why the meaning of business is far more nuanced than the pursuit of profit. The most important aspect of Business 101 has undoubtedly been the people I met along the way. How do you teach a course to over 900 students each semester? In short, an excellent team, comprised of dedicated student leaders. If I can inspire even just one student, then my efforts are more than worthwhile. That instant satisfaction of sharing knowledge with others will never fade. Business 101 has allowed me to grow tremendously as an individual while giving back. For that, I am forever grateful.

Which classmates do you most admire? There are two classmates I most admire. The first is Emma Weber who now works at RSM’s auditing practice in Madison, Wisconsin. I first met her during the spring semester of my freshman year when we took a class in preparation for becoming Business 101 Section Leaders. Her passion, unwavering commitment, and incredible depth of knowledge immediately stood out. Throughout our years working together, she has been pivotal in transforming Business 101, Business 302, and research work at the Center for Professional Responsibility in Business and Society. Even after receiving her master’s in Accountancy, Emma continued to help manage Business 101 while working a full-time job. No doubt, Emma sets the standard in everything she does, and few have played such an enormous role in transforming Gies. I have always looked up to Emma and continue struggling to fill the enormous shoes she left behind.

The second student I most admire is Michelle Shen, a junior studying finance, computer science, and statistics. As her impressive list of majors demonstrates, few come close to juggling all the commitments Michelle manages on a regular basis. I met Michelle as a sophomore during our first semester assisting in Business Analytics 1 together. Five semesters later, Michelle remains just as dedicated and passionate as ever. Like Emma, Michelle excels in everything she does. She has now taught and developed multiple courses while simultaneously serving on executive boards of multiple finance and honors organizations. Michelle is one of the most dependable and disciplined people I have ever met. Michelle is also one of those few students who have played an instrumental role in transforming Gies. Michelle, thanks for always pushing me to aim higher.

There are of course many other fellow course assistants and students I would like to thank. Without them, I would never have accomplished anything I noted above.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? There are many people I wish to thank for my success. The adage “It takes a village to raise a child” certainly rings true here. My parents and grandparents have always supported me in every endeavor and constantly encourage me to be my best self. My parents, true to their profession as attorneys, also challenge every decision I make. While admittedly frustrating in the moment, I believe their questioning mindset has pushed me far harder, making me more disciplined and competent as a result. I also want to thank all my professors and faculty members at Illinois. I spent several years working with Professor Aimee Barbeau in Business 101 and 302, Professor Eric Larson in Business Analytics 1, and Professor Gretchen Winter at the Center for Professional Responsibility in Business and Society. Each one of them has been incredibly influential in shaping my academic and professional career while also encouraging me to pursue my interests. I am also incredibly grateful to the many accounting and business core professors I have taken courses with along the way. In particular, this includes Susan Curtis, James Dahl, Gregory Davis, Matthew Ehrlich, Mitch Fisher, Barry Hudek, Kevin Jackson, Dawn Kink, Michael Kustanovich, Joseph Mahoney, Candace Martinez, Rachel Schwartz, and Julia Shapland. I am also in deep gratitude for all my grade school and high school teachers. My fellow classmates are of course instrumental as well. Without all these individuals, I could have never achieved anything. Last but not least, I want to thank my three cats Daffodil, Mocha, and Bean for always disrupting my work and putting a smile on my face. They even managed to make me laugh during a midterm when they raided my room!

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. I hope to travel around the world throughout my career. I believe there are many incredible places to see and cultures to experience.
  2. I also hope to become a professor one day. As my above positions and interests show, I have a passion for teaching and believe there is no greater privilege than to mentor others.

What are your hobbies? Running, architecture, traveling, reading, and binge watching new TV shows during breaks. Cooking is definitely not a hobby of mine (just ask my roommates, I can’t cook to save my life and have set numerous things on fire).

What made Alex Kogen such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“Alex Kogen certainly caught my attention for his hard work, enthusiasm for learning, and excellent performance when he took my class, Business Analytics 1. It was a no-brainer for me to ask him to join the team as a course assistant. I am so glad he took the offer. But it is what he did next that is truly amazing.

He always represented the course well by maintaining high expectations while offering personal help of the highest quality. Students trust Alex to know his stuff and to show every bit of kindness in each interaction. Alex showed he knew his stuff by literally writing the book; he worked with me and four students over a summer to write a full 11-chapter textbook on business analytics with practice problems, datasets, and multimedia content. Then, he taught the course. He became an associate instructor, responsible for teaching weekly discussion sections to nearly 200 students over the course of two semesters and earned outstanding ratings for his instruction. If that was not enough, he migrated course content onto a completely new learning management system, adding his own personal touch to the student experience in the course. Alex has excelled at work often reserved for faculty though still a few credits shy of his undergraduate degree. Congratulations to one of our best and brightest, Alex Kogen!”

Eric C. Larson, Ph.D.
Teaching Associate Professor of Business Administration and Associate Head of Business Administration and James F. Towey Faculty Fellow



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