Johnson Launches Early Undergrad-To-MBA Pipeline

Cornell undergraduates packed the November launch of the Johnson Admissions Bridge, a preparatory program for students interested in transitioning to business school

If you’re looking for organizations or groups whose mission is to increase the number of women and under-represented minorities in business schools, you can start with the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which is closely affiliated with 18 top programs, or the Forte Foundation, which is itself a group of nonprofits and business schools striving to achieve gender equity on B-school campuses.

Taking a cue from — and reflecting the values of — both groups, Cornell University’s Johnson School of Business has launched a pipeline program from its own undergraduate ranks to its MBA program. The Johnson Admissions Bridge seeks to help undergrads currently enrolled at the school “understand the potential pathways and benefits of earning the MBA, introduce them to Johnson, and help them with test preparation,” says Judi Byers, executive director of admissions and financial aid.

“This is very early pipeline development, if you will, with the initial focus on Cornell undergraduates, and within the Cornell undergraduate community, focusing on the representation of women and also diverse underrepresented talent,” Byers tells Poets&Quants.


Jessica Lowery, Johnson Class of 2017

The program is a the brainchild of two Class of 2017 MBAs, Jessica Lowery and Mehrdad Moghaddam, Park Fellows in the Johnson Leadership Fellows program who had the idea to promote pathways to B-school early, including urging undergrads to take the GMAT or GRE exams before graduating in the belief that test-taking skills atrophy the further from school one gets.

Lowery’s interest was partly personal, the result of her own experience as an investment banker ten years out of school when she decided to take the GMAT and seek her MBA. “This comes as a result of her own experience working in investment banking,” Byers says. “She reflected on the fact that it took some time and some additional effort to prepare for the exam and to assemble all the materials, and perhaps if she had taken the exam while she was still in undergraduate studies and where she wasn’t having to prepare for it as a working professional, it would have afforded her some additional assistance in terms going through the B-school application process.”

For Moghaddam, the value of diversity speaks for itself. “This is really to develop a pipeline of underrepresented minorities and female undergraduates from the Cornell community for the MBA at Johnson,” Moghaddam said in a news story published at the Cornell website. “We feel that having diversity always makes the program more meaningful from the standpoint of just being exposed to different viewpoints and perspectives.”


Mehrdad Moghaddam, Johnson Class of 2017

A November launch event for the new program in November had more than 100 attendees, “almost standing room attendance,” Byers says. Students were informed of a boot camp for undergraduates this spring that will offer test-taking strategies for the GMAT, and 10 were awarded vouchers to take the test for free. Discussions are ongoing about establishing a repository of resources (including study guides) that would be available within the Johnson Office of Diversity & Inclusion, Byers says.

Johnson’s MBA programs — like most MBA programs — could use the help. According to figures from U.S. News and World Report, the No. 14-ranked program’s 671 students are only 27.5% female and 26.7% minority. Johnson reports a 5% increase in the number of women in the Class of 2018, to 31% of the total class, but it also reports that its minority ranks are at 15%, which would represent a big drop.

“Within our own community and our admissions process, we’ve been looking at ways to increase the representation of diversity in our own MBA program, with an emphasis on these two priority populations,” Byers says, “so for Lowery and Moghaddam this is a way to give back to the school and also look at attracting diverse talent to the MBA program — to really start to plant the seed in our own university community early on.

“We would like to think things are moving in a positive direction. It’s been a very conscious effort and a priority focus for us, where you look at the class that got underway in August and the class that is getting ready to graduate. We also increased the number of Forte fellowships in support of women, and we have a number of other initiatives — so not only are we finding ways to engage more regularly with members of these audience segments, but we are also finding other levers and resources that we can make available to support those already in the program.”


Of course, Lowery and Maghaddam will graduate this spring and move on. So it will fall to Byers and Johnson staff to keep the program going, and to make it an integral part of the

“They were the leading force behind this initiative,” Byers says, “but one of the things I’m doing as they look ahead to graduation is transitioning the program to the admissions office and building on that. We have a number of partner programs that are geared at MBA prep or pipeline development — for example, we work closely with the Forte Foundation on a couple of their programs.” She adds that the school also is working with the Graduate Management Admission Council, administrator of the GMAT test, in putting together materials for students.

Byers makes a point of saying the Johnson Admissions Bridge is only “initially” a Cornell program — hinting that it could very well serve as a model for other schools.

“I see great opportunities to connect some of the dots across the industry in terms of prep programs and pipeline programs that already exist,” Byers says. “For us, this Johnson Admissions Bridge is a great way to do that.”


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