Meet Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class Of 2019

The Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island


While input like applications may have steadied this year, Cornell students have unquestionably excelled after graduation. The Class of 2016, for example, earned $143,026 in starting pay, higher than their full-time peers at programs like Northwestern Kellogg and Duke Fuqua. At the same time, Forbes reported in October that Cornell MBAs enjoyed a pay gain of $70,400 over the past five years, as the average pay for the Class of 2012 reached $172,000. Alumni aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits of the Johnson MBA experience. In the 2017 Bloomberg Businessweek student survey, Cornell MBA candidates gave their school the third-highest marks for satisfaction – a further indication that the school is on the upswing.

For one, the school has completed the merger of its three business schools: the undergrad Dyson School, the School of Hotel Administration and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. This consolidation has enabled the program to pool the resources of the third largest business school faculty. In doing so, the program has torn down its traditional silos to better foster opportunities for students and faculty alike. “The new college enhances collaboration across these schools, providing more degree programs, faculty, resources, and expertise,” explains Johnson Dean Mark Nelson in a statement to Poets&Quants.”Whether the focus is solving real-world challenges or deeply immersing in a particular industry, each school offers something unique and meaningful for students.”

That wasn’t the only good news. In January, Johnson also received the largest gift in its history: $150 million dollars. According to Nelson, two-thirds of the gift will be set aside in the endowment for future investment that will “help provide enhanced scholarships, hire new faculty, and allow for the development of curriculum.” The remaining $50 million dollars will be applied to a challenge grant that could potentially triple this amount. Nelson adds that school investment has also enabled the program “to double our square footage with new buildings in Ithaca, NY, at the Breazzano Family Center for Business Education, and at the Bridge building on the Cornell Tech campus.”


Cornell’s crown jewel is unquestionably Cornell Tech, which opened in September. Located on Roosevelt Island, this $2 billion dollar, five acre campus aims to bring Silicon Valley to the East River. It is home to 300 graduate schools in engineering, computer sciences, law, and business – with the plan to expand this number to over 2,000. Johnson itself occupies 20,000 square feet in what is called “The Bridge,” an area replete with classrooms and workspaces, not to mention computer and research labs for activities like prototyping.

Cornell Johnson Dean Mark Nelson

Cornell Tech itself is a one-year degree program which opens with core courses held in Ithaca. From there, students move into cross-disciplinary teams in a startup studio environment where they partner with real clients to design solutions to a major issue like traffic congestion (Product Studio) or bootstrap to turn a concept into an enterprise (Startup Studio). Long-term, Johnson hopes to boost enrollment in the four year-old program to 175 students – with Ithaca enrollment holding steady at roughly 275 students.

In fact, Nelson is counting on plenty of synergies emerging between Ithaca and New York City. The end game is a “One school, two campus” approach. Notably, the school is already hosting weekend classes at Cornell Tech, even chartering a regular shuttle bus between the two campuses. This spring, Ithaca students can also take seven-week courses with Cornell Tech, with the plan to eventually roll out a semester in New York for tech-minded members of the class. There are even plans to broadcast online classes between the two campuses.

Such integration, Nelson believes, will offer MBA students with greater mentorship and guidance in increasingly-important areas as Cornell Tech grows. “New programs will enable Ithaca-based students to spend significant time at the Cornell Tech campus on topics like Fintech, Digital Marketing, and others,” he states. ”This initiative continues our construction of a dual-campus model in which students in our Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program spend summers in Ithaca, while students in our Ithaca-based Two-year and Accelerated or One-year MBA programs can spend some of their program at our facility on the Cornell Tech campus. This curricular innovation allows students to experience the best of both worlds – the richness of Cornell in Ithaca and exposure to a network of companies and Cornell-Tech in New York.”


Breakthroughs like Cornell Tech have snagged the headlines. However, if you asked the Class of 2019 to name what excited them most about a Johnson MBA, they will likely list an old stand-by: Immersions. After completing the fall core, first-years are freed up to complete hands-on immersions, a series of workshops, projects, live cases, and field visits in their chosen concentration. Here, students can choose immersions in areas like investment banking, strategic marketing, digital technology, and sustainable global enterprise. They also have the option to customize their immersion, with recent choices including health care, human resources, and hospitality.

The goal, of course, is for the immersion to simulate the all-important summer internship. “The immersions allow students to gain hands-on exposure to the roles they’ll have in their summer internships, giving us a leg up on some of our peers from other schools,” argues Tucker. This leg up, adds Ekwejunor-Etchie, stems from the nature of the experience. “The opportunity to directly apply classroom knowledge to real-time problems and get hands-on experience in my chosen field appealed to me — being able to walk into an internship already possessing the skills needed to do the job,” he says.

Over the past decade, Johnson has also emerged as one of the top MBA programs for sustainability. Anchored by the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, the Center is a leader in social good research, along with facilitating projects for students that have included leading companies like Barclays, Emerson, and MGM Resorts. For Viarruel, such resources are the ticket to broadening his ability to make a positive impact beyond his experience in finance.


Among the six new courses this fall at Cornell Johnson are two “intensives”: fintech and digital marketing

“In contrast to the more nonprofit mindset that most programs have, at Johnson the focus is on ‘developing competitive, profitable solutions built on rigorous business analysis of social and environmental sustainability challenges,’” he assets. “I really view these challenges around sustainability as core to being successful in business in the future. As my career progressed I found myself more and more interested in how I could apply my skills to address some of these issues. Being a “finance guy,” Johnson’s results-oriented and practical approach appealed to me.”

Perhaps the most underrated part of the Johnson MBA is Ithaca itself. The proverbial college town, it is the perfect getaway from disconnected urban life with its farmers markets and festivals. Home to over 150 waterfalls, the area is packed with nature trails and swimming holes. It is truly a city of four seasons, where students picnic, golf and visit wineries in the spring and fall and skate and ski over the winter. It may be rural, but it is hardly isolated; students are just a four hour drive from New York City (and an hour from Syracuse).

Such amenities, coupled with a small town atmosphere, tends to foster an MBA experience marked by close relationships between students…and Cornell is no different says Staley. “The tight-knit community was a key factor in my decision to attend Johnson,” she shares. “I not only wanted to build my professional network during my two years in school, but I also wanted to develop lifelong friendships. Though we have only been in class for a few weeks, I can already tell that is definitely achievable at Johnson.”


What else does the Class of 2019 hope to achieve during the 2017-2018 school year? Elman plans to pursue his passion, which is to shape the future of transportation – and hopes his classmates come along for the ride. “Most people do not think of Ithaca as a hub for transportation innovation, but students and faculty are performing fascinating research — across multiple disciplines — that has the potential to change the world,” he gushes. “One of my goals this year is to establish the infrastructure for MBA students to formally collaborate with engineering and computer science students, faculty, and industry leaders to solve real-world challenges facing the industry.”

Harrison Jobe, a tech fanatic who worked at National Public Radio and the New York Times before starting at Johnson, is looking forward to doing everything he couldn’t do before school. “Business school is a rare opportunity to get out of one’s comfort zone later in life — success will mean discovering new passions, traveling the globe, and making life-long friendships with incredibly smart and interesting people that I might not have otherwise encountered.”

While Tucker ultimately dreams of landing a dream job in product management, she ultimately has a bigger goal in mind. “I hope that after graduation I will be a Johnson “success story”: a powerful alumni resource for Johnson students and an aide to the admissions team throughout the recruitment process.”

To read profiles of incoming Johnson students — along with their advice on tackling the GMAT, applications, and interviews — click on the links below.


Student Employer Alma Mater Employer
 Shannon Boyle  Vernon, VT  Fordham University  U.S. Army
 Shawn Driver  Arlington, VA  Virginia Military Institute  U.S. Army
 Barbara Demetrio  Salgado   Sao Paulo, Brazil  Universidade de Sao Paulo  Itau Unibanco S.A.
 Dave Elman  Rochester, NY  Cornell University  Ernst & Young
 Ogbemi Ekwejunor-Etchie  Alameda, CA  University of Pennsylvania  Corning, Inc.
 Peter Ferrara  Washington, DC  Lafayette College  J.P. Morgan
 Harrison Jobe  Greensboro, NC  University of North Carolina  New York Times
 Christine Mbaye Muchemu  Nairobi, Kenya  Queen’s University  Bruce Power
 Lindsey Staley   Ithaca, NY  Barnard College of Columbia University  Mercer
 Gina Tucker  Los Angeles, CA  UCLA
 Alexei Viarruel  St. Joseph, Trinidad and Tobago  University of West Indies  RBC Asset Management
 Symone Williams  Boston, MA  Barnard College of Columbia University  Teach For America

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