What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your life?
For me, it was admitting to myself that I am gay. I came to that realization while writing an admissions essay. I initially wrote the essay with coming out as my biggest challenge, but for me it really wasn’t. An admissions consultant basically pointed that out to me. Once I admitted it to myself, I was 90% of the way there. I came out in 2005 – it was the year after I graduated from college. By that point, I was thinking if you don’t like it, then whatever.
I was glad I got to reflect on that time. Not just to get into business school, but for my own personal life. That reflection period allowed me to be even more candid with classmates who did not have exposure to somebody who was gay.
I’ve had a lot of conversations with people and they thank me for being comfortable with myself and being able to share that with them. It allowed me to be candid no matter what I was doing.
What extracurricular activities did you participate in while at Cornell?
I served on the student council as the technology chair. I was also a member of the Johnson Admissions Group (JAG), essentially a group of second year students who have been selected to conduct first reads and interview applicants. I was a member of Alpha Business, the LGBT club, the marketing club and the high tech club. I didn’t hold a position in some of those, but I wanted to be in the loop and on the email list, especially for events and speakers coming on campus.
I also took on some side projects that I just had a passion for, like getting new Johnson merchandise in the Cornell store. That was a long process with a lot of politics involved. When you visit other schools as a prospective student or for case competitions as an MBA, you get swag. I had more apparel from other schools than my own. Luckily, Johnson is the place where if you have an idea, then you will get support and can run with it. I teared up when I finally saw the items on display. Now we have shorts, polos, hoodies, v-neck sweaters, hats and jackets.
Was the MBA experience worth it?
Yes, it was totally worth it. Those two years were the most incredible time in my life. When I was a applying, I didn’t take into account the impact my classmates would have on my experience. It humbled me – I’ve learned so much from them and they don’t even realize it.
I also got opportunities to do things I would never have fathomed before like traveling around the world on the treks abroad, pitching ideas to venture capitalists and speaking with executives and CEOs. On Johnson’s Europe trek we heard from top business executives on how they do business in their countries, we learned about the eurozone from a European perspective and how business practices differ from country to country. We visited Germany, the Czech Republic, Brussels and Paris, to name a few.
The trek to Japan and South Korea really stood out to me. I wouldn’t have gone on my own because of the language barrier. We visited Samsung Electronics, Hanwha Chemical and the Hoshino Resorts hotel chain. We stayed in the Hoshino hotels and got to see in practice the operations that the CEO talked about – the massages and hot springs visit were a nice perk.
Any final words?
My big takeaway? If you think you don’t have the “it” factor, don’t let that hold you back from applying to whatever schools you want to attend. Regret is worse than rejection.