• Chicago

Cushman & Wakefield Chicago WIN Panel: Continuously Learning: Women Pursuing Higher Education

By: Gina Dardi, WIN Co-Chair and Sr. Manager, Global Communications and Alex Brody
WIN Co-Chair and Associate Broker

Last week, Cushman & Wakefield’s Women’s Integrated Network (WIN) Chicago Chapter held its quarterly board meeting that included the panel discussion “Continuously Learning: Women Pursuing Higher Education.” The panelists provided personal insights from their road to higher education.


  • Kelly Hackett, Vice President, GOS, Enterprise Solutions
    • MBA Candidate, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
    • MCR (Master Corporate Real Estate), CoreNet Global
    • Bachelor’s, Butler University
  • Andrea Hargrave, Director, Business OperationsWIN
    • MBA, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
    • Bachelor’s, Oberlin College
  • Erica Ruder, Director, Strategic Consulting
    • MBA, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
    • Bachelor of Arts in Economics, University of Michigan
  • Aixa Velez, Director, Global Corporate Communications
    • Master’s, DePaul University
    • Bachelor’s in journalism, University of Wisconsin-Madison


  • Brett Abrams, Global Director of Operations, GOS
    • Master’s in accountancy, DePaul University
    • Bachelor’s in commerce, McGill University

Selected questions and answers from our panel are below.

 How did/do you find the time to pursue a graduate degree while working?

  • Kelly: I am pursuing my MBA currently while working full-time and it has been interesting. I hadn’t written a paper for 15 years. I try to do my work in the evenings. I try to leave weekends open for friends and family, but It’s a balancing act. I found I had to cut back in certain personal areas, or things I consider spare time/me time. For example, I haven’t been able to run as much as I’m used to, but I’m in a good spot now and I’m focused on getting where I’m going.
  • Erica: The process teaches you time management skills. You must be very dedicated and protective of your time. Being a working mom, those skills have come in handy.

Three of our panelists have or are pursuing an MBA. What are the benefits of getting an MBA?

  • Andrea: Having an MBA makes me more conscious of choosing projects that have a clear value proposition for Cushman & Wakefield instead of spending time on things that don’t. It gave me a way to describe and frame my own value in a way that I haven’t before. I was “all in” when I did my MBA. I was involved in activities at school and took networking seriously. I joined the golf club because I didn’t know how to golf. I stepped out of my comfort zone to build my network. Now, I have a vast group of professionals who I can call when I have a problem in business. They give me new perspectives.
  • Aixa: I think of my graduate school network as my own personal Board of Directors. I still leverage that network to bounce ideas off of them even years later.
  • Brett: The networking aspect of graduate school is huge. It helps not only if you are looking for a job, but it broadens your horizons as you progress in your career.

 How did you approach your graduate degree differently than your undergraduate degree?

  • Aixa: I was much more strategic about it, especially the networking aspect. I knew who I wanted to meet, and I took a law class because I wanted to understand the structure of contracts.

 What classes did you like?

  • Erica: I purposely didn’t take any real estate classes because I wanted to supplement my career. I had an entrepreneurial class like Shark Tank where we came up with ideas for businesses, which was great. I also enjoyed strategy classes and my industrial supply chain class. That work has been helpful when working with companies to develop real estate strategies.
  • Andrea: Nonprofit Management. When the Cushman & Wakefield Foundation was started, Adam Stanley knew I enjoyed that class, and it opened doors here.
  • Kelly: I’m enjoying learning about marketing and customer segmentation. I find a lot of synergies and am thinking more about how our team can be more strategic about who we’re pursuing.

Any advice on what you would have done differently?

  • Kelly: I honestly don’t think I would have done anything differently. I think it’s good that I took time to work for a few years before starting graduate school. It’s a big investment, and I needed that time to see how another degree was going to be useful.
  • Andrea: I went to South Africa for two weeks when I was in school, so DO that. I do wish I would have stayed in touch with more professors and administrators though. They are such unique and interesting people. Another do: I bought a leather-bound book, and for each course I wrote a few key learnings. It has been such a great reference for me over the years.
  • Aixa: Make sure you know why you’re going to grad school. Working full-time is a lot of work when you’re going to school at the same time. Make sure you can answer your own question about why grad school and why now. Everyone’s answer will be different.
  • Erica: Immerse yourself in as much as possible. It’s a huge time and financial investment, so make sure you get everything you can out of the networking and extracurricular activities.

What were your goals going in and did you achieve them?

  • Kelly: Networking and expanding my knowledge of how corporations work. Going through the IPO at Cushman & Wakefield was very interesting because I was learning about that process in school at the same time.
  • Brett: To be at the executive level at this firm, I think you need an advanced degree to open that door, so yes.

 Gina Dardi is the Senior Manager of Global Communications and Marketing at Cushman & Wakefield. Dardi is a member of the global marketing team and leads corporate marcomm initiatives for the Global Occupier Services (GOS) business.



Alex Brody joined Cushman & Wakefield as an associate broker specializing in industrial tenant representation with a focus in multi-market portfolio services for local and national corporate accounts. Her client industries range from manufacturing, distribution, logistics, and diversified firms.

  • Chicago

© 2019 Cushman & Wakefield, Inc.