2022 Best & Brightest Business Major: Kayla Gonzalez, University of Illinois (Gies)

Kayla Gonzalez

Gies College of Business, University of Illinois

“Trust the process. Go the extra mile. Life’s best when you smile.”

Fun fact about yourself: Believe it or not, each time I’ve attended a live sporting event my team has always won!

Hometown: Mundelein, Illinois

High School: Mundelein High School

Major: Supply Chain Management & Marketing

Minor: N/A

Favorite Business Course: BADM 420: Advanced Marketing

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During College:

  • Gies Admissions Team Member
  • Dean’s Student Advisory Board
    • President
  • Gies Community Program
    • Liaison Coach
  • Association of Latino Professionals for America
    • Philanthropy Committee
    • Fundraising Committee
  • ALIVE College Ministry
    • Small Group Leader
    • Hospitality Team
  • New Student Programming
    • Orientation Leader
  • Alpha Phi Omega

Honors and Awards

  • James Scholar
  • Multiple time Dean’s List recipient

Where have you interned during your college career?

  • Aesthetics & Wellness for Women, LLC | Libertyville, IL | Summer 2019- Marketing Intern
  • Mars Inc | Remote | Summer 2021- Strategic Sales and Business Operations Intern

Where will you be working after graduation? Upon graduation, I will be working as a sales associate for Mars Inc.

Who is your favorite professor? My favorite professor is Dr. Nehemiah Scott. I’ve been fortunate enough to have Dr. Scott as a professor for two supply chain courses. He is a wonderful instructor and a fantastic storyteller. I most appreciate the ways that Professor Scott cares for his students and their learning journey. His support and encouragement are genuine and heartfelt. Professor Scott has taught me to think of supply chain management as a system that enables me to serve others’ needs and contribute to their well-being. This lesson has radically transformed the way I view my education and inspires me to utilize my business knowledge as a tool to change the world.

I will always be thankful for his advice when I embarked on my first entrepreneurial endeavor (MaSKed). Not only did he share practical business recommendations, but he also cheered on our efforts at every stage. Professor Scott has made a lasting impact in my undergraduate career, and I’m extremely grateful for his commitment to teaching and empowering future business leaders.

What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field? I highly recommend that you take the time to talk to current business students and ask them any questions you have about classes, career choices, and why they are satisfied with their education. Gies has many options for high school students to connect with current undergrads- I help with this initiative as an admissions team member. It’s a great opportunity to be open and honest about your curiosities and concerns, and even form a connection with an undergraduate student.

I would also advise students to think about what problems they care about and would like to see solved. You may be surprised by the opportunities in business that connect to your passions!

What has surprised you most about majoring in business? I’m surprised by the level of empathy that business relations require. Business is all about problem-solving and relationships, and what I’ve discovered is that both require high levels of empathy to provide effective solutions. Problem-solving involves understanding people’s wants and needs as well as caring about them. It all starts with listening and putting people first. Empathy is an essential ingredient for innovative thinking.

Looking back over your experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently in business school and why? In hindsight, I would have utilized resources such as the Margolis Market Information Lab more often. Gies College of Business has amazing learning tools and training for students to develop analytical skills. While these elements are also a core part of our curriculum, I wish I could go back in time and participate in more workshops.

What business executive do you admire most? Jay Shetty who is famously known as the “monk turned entrepreneur” is a phenomenal example of a purpose-driven business executive. Like most, Shetty’s journey to success was riddled with many stumbling blocks (40 corporate rejection letters, financial distress, and career dissatisfaction); however, what is most impressive about his journey is the way he applies mindfulness to his life and corporate practices. I really appreciate the ways that Shetty uses his platform to share invaluable skills about leadership, entrepreneurship, and meditation.

I’ve learned much from his podcast On Purpose about the importance of mastering the mind, gratitude, discipline, empathy, and intentionality. I deeply admire the way that he incorporates these tools into his daily life and teaches others to do the same.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of? I am most proud of the start-up that my roommate and I founded in 2020 called MaSKed. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we taught ourselves how to use a sewing machine and made over 100 cloth face masks that were shipped all across the country. At the time, we noticed a great need in our community for reusable coverings that could be used for everyday tasks to save surgical masks for essential workers. We sought to fill a need and support a charitable cause by donating 25% of our profits to Feed the Frontlines Chicago. From the beginning, we longed to make an impact beyond profit, and the choice was easy to partner with our local community to make a triple impact by keeping people safe, supporting local businesses, and helping feed front-line workers.

Starting a business in the midst of a pandemic was challenging. Like many, we faced supply constraints and endured many hardships that come with starting a business. MaSKed pushed me far outside my comfort zone and led me closer to defining my purpose.

While it was a difficult adventure, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have fond memories of sewing into the night and my family members knocking on my bedroom door to keep quiet. I have many more stories like this that enriched my entrepreneurial endeavor. I am so proud of the good work MaSKed accomplished, and I’m eternally grateful for the support we received.

Which classmate do you most admire? I most admire Jessica Oswald. Jess is not only an incredible student, she is also my roommate, best friend, and future maid of honor. Jess is unlike any other person I’ve ever met. Her diligence, drive, and high standards have propelled her to the top in many environments. I most admire Jess’ commitment to growth. Over the past four years, I’ve witnessed her dedication to personal development as she seeks knowledge through books, people, and podcasts. I’ve also seen her attain remarkable professional achievements such as her full-time offer at Amazon. Jess’ kind heart and thoughtful spirit shine wherever she goes. I am lucky to have such a wonderful friend in my life.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I most want to thank my mom for my success. My mom has been my number one supporter in everything. I appreciate her unconditional love and encouragement as I navigate life’s challenges. I thank my mom for teaching me about faith and service, which are the values I cherish the most. These guiding principles have challenged me to stand for what is just and true, and most importantly to treat people with respect and kindness. My mother is the best model of strength and perseverance in my life. She has overcome many life trials yet remains joyful and optimistic. Thank you mom for setting a great example and inspiring me to work hard and strive for excellence.

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

My dream is to own a culinary incubator. I was fascinated by this concept when I first visited Avanti in Denver, Colorado. The idea is to provide a space for restauranteurs to test their menu and concept while simultaneously supporting their efforts to raise capital and open their own restaurant one day.

I want to start a charity that operates on the principles of kaizen.

What are your hobbies? Hiking, cooking, trying new restaurants and watching NBA TV. Over the past two years, I’ve done several miles of hiking in Colorado- Lions Head trail is by far my favorite. I’m a huge foodie, so I always look forward to trying new restaurants or recipes. While I mostly enjoy being active, I also like to relax and watch NBA TV whenever my favorite teams are playing (GO BULLS!)

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

“Kayla Gonzalez has been an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022 because she is an outstanding leader with strong critical thinking and interpersonal skills. Her ability to move in different social circles and earn the trust and admiration of a truly diverse group of her fellow students, professors, and administrators is a just a small part of the footprint she will leave at Gies College of Business.”

Jewell White
Assistant Dean, Access and Multicultural Engagement



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