Meet The Cornell Johnson MBA Class of 2017

Members of the Class of 2017 at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management

Members of the Class of 2017 at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management

It’s Marketing 101: Get out into the field. Talk to customers, prospects, and leaders. Learn about their day-to-day. Share their aspirations and identify their struggles. Once you’ve absorbed all that, sit down and design solutions that ease their burdens and help them compete and grow.

Sounds simple, right?

Consult any MBA case study: The devil comes with the time, commitment, and detail involved. Priorities change. Budgets dwindle. Sacred cows get threatened. Passions cool. That’s why change is so difficult to sustain. And it’s why the recent curriculum reforms at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University are so remarkable.


Picture this: Three years ago, Johnson embarked on the path less traveled. Recognizing that forces like emerging markets, evolving technologies, and changing expectations were remaking business, the school chose to revamp its entire curriculum. But this was no half-hearted exercise – the kind that produces some dusty report and a handful of new electives. Instead, the school interviewed over 1,000 executives, recruiters, faculty, students, and alumni to benchmark themselves. While you might expect areas like bootstrapping, coding, and sustainable business to get heavy play, stakeholders actually sought reforms in far more fundamental areas: Leadership, communication, critical thinking, and (of course) teaching quant skills through more experiential learning.

Despite being a Top 15 MBA program with a reputation for academic rigor and research excellence, Johnson evaluated their program top-to-bottom. In the end, they acted on the feedback. In particular, the program threads leadership throughout the fall semester core. And it reinforces those lessons with a required hands-on leadership course in the second year too. Along with requiring data analytics, Johnson also offers eight immerson learning courses in the spring semester, giving students field work experience before their all-important summer internship. As a result, full-time MBAs are able to focus on electives for much of the spring semester and the second year. And such improvements don’t even include the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA. This separate one-year MBA program focuses on technology commercialization in New York City, where students study analytics, design thinking, and entrepreneurship before partnering with leading tech firms on projects.

Bottom line: Johnson practices what it preaches. It developed a curriculum that balanced students’ need for practical experience with employers’ need for employees with strong decision-making, technical, and soft skills. In other words, Johnson graduates enjoy academic and hands-on training in areas where employers want in a high ceiling hire. And this approach really appealed to Mitch Brummer, who joined Johnson’s Class of 2017 after his rise to senior consultant at Deloitte. “The commitment of the Johnson faculty and staff to continuously analyze and improve the curriculum was very important to me,” Brummer writes. “Johnson recently made a significant update to the core curriculum — based on many factors including student and alumni feedback — which gave me faith that the school was really looking out for the best interests of its students.”


Amanda Soule Shaw

Amanda Soule Shaw

Adrian Carabias is a first-year who was most recently the manager of the Mexico-USA Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council for Mexico’s Ministry of Economy. He observes that “the business concepts you will learn in your MBA will be fairly similar among most reputable MBA programs; what really makes a difference is the type of people you study with and the environment you live in during the two years of your MBA.” By that measure, both the Class of 2017 and Johnson itself pass with flying colors. Comprised of 274 students – down 10 students from the previous year – the Class of 2017 includes decorated bankers, consultants, engineers, news producers, and fund-raisers (not to mention a Naval Surface Fires Officer – think cruise missiles – who has advised two commanders in the I Marine Expeditionary Force).

Not content with resting on their laurels, the incoming class has hit the ground running since arriving on campus says Amanda Soule Shaw, the assistant dean for student services. “The Class of 2017 has really embraced its place in the Johnson community in just a short few weeks. Even in the midst of our rigorous fall “core” and preparing for the job search, they have sought out opportunities to start new student organizations, become active members of existing groups, and explore all that Cornell University has to offer. Returning second-year students continue to remark on the Class of 2017’s enthusiasm and positive attitude about Johnson and what lies ahead – this class is a great addition to our community.”

Academically, the 2017 class brings a 700 median GMAT to the table, the same score as the previous two classes. The school’s median undergraduate GPA – 3.37 – exceeds the previous two classes, which came in a 3.34 and 3.3, respectively. In a year when the percentage of women jumped at programs like Kellogg and Wharton, Johnson’s incoming class only includes 26% women, down two points from the 2016 class. However, at 35%, the percentage of international students eclipses the 2016 and 2015 classes, which each enrolled fewer than 30% international students. Following a trend, the percentage of American minorities fell for the second consecutive year to 26%, with underrepresented minorities accounting for 10% of the class. Overall, the class is represented by 28 countries and averages five years of work experience. 7% of the class also arrives from the U.S. military, up two points from the most recent graduating class.

Go to next page to access student profiles of this year’s incoming class.

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