Meet Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class Of 2019

Some of the MBA students in the Class of 2019 at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management

“Elite, but egalitarian.”

That’s one way to describe the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. An Ivy built on community as much as pedigree, Johnson is a program that draws students who are passionate yet grounded and open yet hungry. In the process, the program creates an environment where students simultaneously raise the bar and level the field – always bringing out the best in each other as much as themselves.

As an undergrad at Cornell, Dave Elman had grasped the value of community. After deciding to return graduate school, this consultant also wanted a program that fit – a “smaller, tight-knit community outside of a major city.” Although Elman was intent on striking out somewhere new, he decided to return to his alma mater for a social. And he quickly remembered what drew him to Ithaca years earlier. He felt “invigorated” by the “energy, enthusiasm, and friendliness” of his fellow MBA applicants. And he was stunned by how swiftly that faculty would connect him to alumni in his targeted industry.


At Cornell, his network – and his possibilities – seemed to accelerate. After that, the decision to return to Cornell became a “no-brainer.” “My interactions during the admissions process assuaged my hesitations and solidified my view that Johnson is a warm and welcoming community of ambitious, engaged, interesting, and accomplished individuals,” he says.

Shannon Boyle, a U.S. Army Commander and mother-to-be, enjoyed a similar experience – even attending a social like Elman. Initially, she was impressed by the school’s stunning architecture and the city’s scrumptious dining. On a second visit, it was the community – the students and faculty – who left the deepest impression on her.

Cornell Johnson students

“Their presence made the experience an unforgettable one — they both supported and challenged each other, and that relationship seemed tangible as I moved from the atrium for coffee to a class, to a Sage Social,” she shares. “Even though I was just a visitor, I felt immediately swept up into the community and could not picture a more perfect fit for me as I transitioned into my next chapter.”


You’ll find elite talent paired with a down-to-earth spirit across the Class of 2019. Take

Christine Mbaye Muchemu. By day, she is an engineer and project manager at a nuclear power station. Outside work, you’ll find her prepping for her next marathon – or 50K. When Elman wasn’t climbing the ladder at Ernst & Young, the “innately curious” and “adventurous” Elman was indulging in his passions: cars, fitness, ethnic food, and didgeridoo – an Aboriginal wind instrument. Then, there is Peter Ferrara, a former varsity baseball star at Lafayette College who has managed to sing karaoke on five continents. He also brings a serious side, a man who holds a master of finance from Cambridge University and has interned for U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Indeed, this is a class that truly embraces life – and its many risks and joys. Alexei Viarruel is bound to join Mbaye Muchemu along the Cayuga or Finger Lakes trails. He is obsessive about physical fitness. “I have run several long-distance races, triathlons, and adventure races and will play basically any sport involving a ball,” he admits. Lindsay Staley may have grown up in Ithaca, but she went on to become a professional dancer with the Nashville Ballet. Whatever you do, don’t take Symone Williams up on any dares. “I’ve swum with sharks in South Africa, bathed elephants in India, and held pythons in Peru,” she says. If you take her to Stewart Park, you’ll quickly discover her Kryptonite. “I’ve had a deep-seated fear of geese since the age of five,” she admits.

When the Class of 2019 start their families, they can thank Gina Tucker for the gift that keeps on giving (headaches, that is). “I was one of the children singing in the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song!”


This class may fit the “Elite, but egalitarian” mold, but perhaps its defining feature is its ‘Lead by example’ ethos. Ogbemi Ekwejunor-Etchie personifies this spirit. Four years ago, he was working for Corning when it purchased an overseas firm. Sure enough, he was selected to lead a team of American and South Korean engineers and technicians in building a new product line. He understood that meshing distinctive corporate mores and technical processes would be challenging enough. However, the differences in language and culture added a cement-thick layer of complexity to building a cross-functional team.

To achieve his goals, Ekwejunor-Etchie took the humble path. Overseas, he would “delve into Korean culture,” with the intent of setting the right tone for collaborating together. “I found that the easiest way to learn about the culture was through cuisine,” he professes. “Through the stories that accompanied each dish, I gained a deeper understanding of the perspectives my colleagues held. From the experiences of sampling homemade kim-chi to sannakji (live octopus), I leveled cultural barriers and showed that I was willing to do whatever it took to forge strong relationships, which was then reflected in our future interactions on the floor and in meetings. I believe this seemingly unimportant mindset, creating a dynamic team atmosphere, and investing time to understand the culture contributed to the successful completion of the objectives of executing our strategy.”

Cornell’s Big Red Marching Band helped to end the celebration of the $150 million gift

Ekwejunor-Etchie was hardly alone in leading by example. Barbara Demetrio Salgado, for instance, was considered such a “go-to” employee at her bank that it gave her a merit-based scholarship so she could earn her master’s in finance. Mbaye Muchemu was more than a go-to at Bruce Power Nuclear. She was the leader of her team – a team where she is the only woman and possessed the least industry experience. For her, leading by example meant occasionally showing vulnerability. “It was only by both being comfortable with being “uncomfortable” and by admitting when I did not know something that I was able to effectively lead and gain the respect of all the team members,” she admits.


The 2016-2017 cycle was punctuated by several major developments at Johnson, including the consolidation of three school and the opening of its Cornell Tech program. However, this news didn’t translate into greater interest from applicants. In fact, applications fell by 15.7%, going from 1,960 to 1,653. At the same time, the school’s acceptance rate rose to 30% as the Class of 2019 features seven fewer students in its 277-member class. That said, these numbers are technically a return to the Class of 2017’s profile, which had 1,704 applications, a 32.4% acceptance rate, and a class size of 274 students.

Beyond applications, many program numbers remained relatively consistent, with the average GMAT and average GPA staying the same. On a positive note, however, median GMATs climbed 10 points with the incoming class to 710. Like the previous class, the highest percentage of students majored in business as undergrads. However, this number slid from 41% to 35%. Humanities and engineering majors accounted for 28% and 20% of the class respectively.

Demographically, the class is slightly less diverse. The percentage of women fell from 31% to 27%, a slice that was still higher than the 2017 Class. International students maintained a 34% share of the class, a number consistent with the previous two years. Professionally, 25% of the class comes to Ithaca after working in finance, the same rate as the 2018 Class. Beyond that, consultants make up 16% of the class, up nine points. In contrast, technology dropped six points to 6%.

Go to page 2 to see in-depth profiles of incoming Johnson students.

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