Meet Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class of 2018

Members of Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management Class of 2018

Members of Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management Class of 2018

Few business schools have undertaken a facelift like the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. In the past three years alone, it has folded three schools into the College of Business, launched a new campus in New York City; and rolled out a new curriculum. While this transformation may have created discomfort in some circles, it has also positioned the program to make a run at the Top 10 business schools.


The Cornell Tech campus is a testament to the school’s lofty ambitions. Currently housed in Google’s Chelsea office, the program will move to a two million square foot facility on Roosevelt Island (aka “Silicon Island”) in 2017. Just three years old, Cornell Tech features a one-year tech-driven, studio-structured curriculum. Here, MBAs operate in cross-functional teams with engineering, law, and computer science students to develop solutions for nearby tech giants. In addition, they are given the resources to commercialize their own solutions. It is the centerpiece of Johnson’s plan to gain a foothold in America’s largest market, while offering a one-year degree that prepares students to enter its fastest-growing industry.

“Our strategy is to have a major business school presence in New York,” explains Dean Soumitra Dutta in an interview with Poets&Quants. “I want the world to say that New York City has three major business schools, not two. Yet our positioning has to be different than Columbia or NYU. One differentiating feature is our integration with engineering and the other is healthcare by combining with Weill Cornell Medicine.”

Artist's rendering of Cornell Tech

Artist’s rendering of Cornell Tech, a $2 billion dollar investment between Cornell University and New York City

The program will unfold over time, with New York MBA faculty expected to grow from five to 25 faculty members over the next decade according to Dutta. In the process, the Cornell Tech and Ithaca programs will become increasingly intertwined. “On Roosevelt Island in the Bridge Building, we will use the space to give students the choice to spend a semester in New York so we will have a dual campus in the same way that INSEAD has both Fontainebleau and Singapore for its MBA program,” Dutta adds. “We cannot leave the Ithaca programs in Ithaca alone. This will make the programs stronger. And the Cornell campus in New York will reshape the skyline of the city on the east side. Cornell will get noticed.”


Getting noticed hasn’t been an issue for Johnson. Earlier this year, it made headlines for merging the Johnson Graduate School with the Dyson School of Applied Economics and the School of Hotel Administration. The move enabled the school to open channels, pool resources, and increase choices.  “The goal really is to do things that other schools would not be able to do easily,” Dutta points out in a recent interview with P&Q. “Each of the three schools bring some unique strengths. The silos inside universities are pretty high and pretty strong. Faculty don’t come together naturally, but now that they are part of the same college, there will be a natural tendency to become stronger. I am seeing that happen as faculty come together and discover things they can do that they could not do individually.”

All that doesn’t even count the revamped two-year MBA curriculum that Johnson rolled out in 2014, the result of intensive benchmarking of peer schools and candid interviews with over four dozen corporate executives and over 1,000 students and alumni. Taking their advice to heart, the program infused the core and elective courses with stronger elements of leadership, data analytics and modeling, and critical thinking — the technical, strategic, and interpersonal skills that the market demands. “What has changed is the way we are doing things,” explains Vishal Gaur, associate dean for MBA programs in a 2015 P&Q interview. “In the finance core, students were solving problems using intensive tools. Now they are actually learning how to do things in practice, how to build and use the models they will use in practice.”


Judi Byers

Judi Byers

Such progress has also made an impression on potential MBA applicants. The number of applications for the Class of 2018, for example, jumped from 1,704 to 1,960, a 13.1% increase over the previous year. Overall, the program enrolled 284 students, up from 274 for the 2017 Class. Despite this increase, the program is actually harder to get into, with the acceptance rate dropping from 32.4% to 27.3%.

The 2018 Class also scored well academically. Average GMATs climbed from 697 to 700, with average GPA remaining relatively steady (3.36 vs. 3.35 last year). The percentage of woman also went from 26% to 31% for 2018. The presence of underrepresented U.S. minorities took a similar step forward, going from 10% to 16%.

“We’re very pleased with our Class of 2018 and the diverse perspectives they bring, representing 31 countries across the globe,” says Judy Byers, the school’s executive director of admissions and financial aid. “Two-thirds of this year’s class were undergraduate majors in business, as well as the humanities and we’ve experienced a 5 percent increase in the representation women as well as students from underrepresented populations.”

Beyond business and liberal arts majors, 17% of the class studied engineering as undergrads. Economics and international studies (10%) and science (6%) majors round out the remainder of the class. Professionally, the class is extremely diverse. Like many business schools, 25% of the class come to Ithaca after working in finance. However, consultants represent less than 10% of the class, behind both tech and government and non-profit (11%). “This year’s class also includes strong increases in students with backgrounds in technology (12%), consulting experience (9%) and sports and entertainment (4%),” adds Byers. “The range of specialties reflects the varied interests of this class and aligns well with the curricular flexibility to be offered by the newly launched Cornell College of Business. Through the CCB, MBA candidates will benefit from enhanced opportunities to integrate coursework offered in other academic programs at Cornell.”


Numbers only tell a small part of the story. Based on early returns, “driven” may be the best term to describe the incoming class. Emma Etheridge, a former pole vaulter, points to“fearlessness, grit and fortitude” being central to her DNA. Germany’s Kristina Köpke is also fearless —in the best way possible. “I would say I’m not afraid to share an idea and never afraid to listen to others.” Jeff Hughes, a Missouri engineer who re-located to London, considers his curiosity to be his biggest strength. “[I’m] committed to ending each day wiser than the last,” he shares. He’ll find a soulmate in Gianne Middleton, another Londoner, who is also devoted to daily self-improvement. “I’m happily a work in progress, under consistent personal, social, academic and professional construction!”

In this year’s class, you’ll find Goldman Sachs bankers sitting next to Navy SEALs and students from Ghana studying alongside natives of Montana. Each has plenty of tasty stories to digest. William Payne was an AAU and USATF Junior Olympian. Perhaps he should take a run with Bright Botchway, a natural athlete who was able to do a half marathon without any training. Brady Reece went from being a guy who was dropped from the Cub Scouts “for failing to make a proper kite” to graduating from sniper school. Whatever you do, hide your barbecue sauce from Michele Sandidge. “From pizza to French fries to chicken fingers, I put it on everything!”

Go to next page to read 12 in-depth profiles of Class of 2018 members.

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