Meet Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class Of 2020

Cornell Johnson College of Business Class of 2020. Jon Reis Photography


In recent years, Cornell Johson, winner of P&Q’s Inaugural Program of the Year award in 2017, has been grabbing headlines left-and-right. Three years ago, it began the laborious process to combine its graduate school of management with the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and the School of Hotel Administration. In the process, it emerged as one of the world’s largest business schools, including nearly 3,000 students and 150 faculty. Last year, the school also received a $150 million gift from H. Fisk Johnson, Chairman and CEO of S. C. Johnson & Son – and a 1984 Johnson MBA. With two-thirds of the gift earmarked to future investment in scholarships, faculty, and curriculum development, Johnson is poised for more breakthroughs like Cornell Tech in the coming years.

In the meantime, Johnson continues heavily into its full-time MBA program. This is particularly true in the areas of diversity and inclusion, says Dean Nelson. He cites the Sage Women program, a mix of new curriculum, club activities and events designed to help female students achieve success in a diverse workplace. The school has also launched a Fiery Topics Series, where the Johnson community –

students, faculty, and staff – come together to deliberate major issues. In addition, Johnson has made allyship and unconscious bias training mandatory for all first-years, with faculty and staff undergoing similar training. Such efforts, among others, resulted in the school receiving the T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More) Award from The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management in 2018.

Interior of the business school in Ithaca.

However, Dean Nelson notes, such programs simply reinforce the program’s strength: “a tight-knit and collaborative community that evolves into an exceptionally strong life-long alumni network.” It is a virtue that enabled the school to rank 3rd-best in Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2017 student satisfaction survey. It was also the virtue that stood out to Grace Ko during the recruiting process.


“Each of the current students I reached out to went above-and-beyond in helping me decide if Johnson was the place for me – and if they didn’t have the answers I needed, they were more than happy to connect me with someone else in their network,” Ko explains. “The tight-knit community feel was even more evident during Destination Johnson (DJ), a weekend-long event for admitted students, at which I was able to connect with current and prospective students, faculty, staff, and alums. Upon attending DJ weekend, I felt that Johnson was a special place where I could see myself grow personally and professionally with the strong support of a real community.”

Another advantage, Dean Nelson adds, is the scope of Cornell University itself. Cornell Tech is just the start. As part of the school’s “Any Person, Any Study” tradition, Nelson points out that students can “individualize their studies” by taking courses with the Schools of Law, Engineering, Computer Science, and Industrial and Labor Relations – not to mention coursework with Johnson in areas like hospitality, sustainability, real estate, and entrepreneurship. In other words, the full Cornell community makes the class size far larger.

That’s an added advantage for students like Delia Hughes, an entrepreneur who hopes to launch her startup in the food space. “Being able to access Cornell University and take courses across six different colleges was a huge factor in my decision. I plan to launch my food company while pursuing an MBA. Being able to access and work with professors and students from the Food Science Department, Agriculture School, and Engineering College will be a huge asset for my company.”


Perhaps the biggest allure of the Johnson experience – at least in the Class of 2020 – comes in the form of “immersions.” Think of them as preparation for summer internships. Each spring, students complete an array of classroom and field work experiences in their area of interest, which can cover anything from investment banking to strategic operations to data analytics. Students even have the option to customize their immersion, with recent choices including healthcare and hospitality. Thanks to these immersions, which include everything from a partner project to company visits, career changers can get more quickly up to speed in the industries or roles that they plan to pursue.

“I love the program because it has an intense first semester for the core, followed by immersions, which allow for specialization,” says Mercedes Moran, a theater buff who has already transitioned from engineering to strategy. “The curriculum related to emerging markets, digitalization, and sustainable entrepreneurship fits perfectly with the knowledge and skills I want to acquire. All of this is supported by amazing faculty such as Lourdes Casanova, who is one of the most recognized academics in emerging markets.”

Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

For Luis Carlos Sarmiento, a Cornell MBA was a deeply emotional choice. “My dad was a Johnson graduate in 1985 and it has been a lifelong dream of mine to get my MBA at Cornell. Ever since I can remember, the Cornell culture has been a big part of my family and upbringing. After my undergrad, I was determined to take every necessary step to make my MBA at Johnson goal into a reality.”


What’s ahead for the Class of 2020? Mercedes Moran, for one, plans to apply her financial prowess to serve those in need. “I’ve been working for several years in the financial services industry and have become hyper-aware that with the digital revolution comes opportunities and challenges for low-income customers. I am curious about how to open the financial system to them, as I am convinced that fair credit conditions and savings promote progress.”

Steven Van Vechten envisions a career in brand management at a CPG firm. That said, he is wise enough not to hold himself too tightly to those plans. “Though my current five-year plan has me climbing the brand management ladder at a CPG company, heavily investing myself in innovation roles, penetrating emerging markets, and landing an international job posting, I am also refusing to close any doors. Things are changing rapidly these days, and I know that taking a brief detour or exploring an entirely new path might turn out to be the best career decision I ever make.”

Then again, before venturing too far into the next, the class may want to take a page from Carlos Acevedo and just live in the moment.

“Before continuing my career in New York, I would like to sail through the Artic,” he says.

Student Hometown Alma Mater Last Employer
Carlos Acevedo Santiago, Chile Universidad Adolfo Ibanez Banco de Credito e Inversiones
Sarah Doyle Harwich, MA Johns Hopkins University EarthEnable
Serena Elavia New York City, NY Trinity College Finsbury
Delia Hughes Eastchester, NY Cornell University Atalanta Corporation
Alyssa Johnson Melbourne, Australia University of Sydney ANZ Bank
Grace Ko Seoul, South Korea University of Texas at Austin KKR Fiinancial Services
Mercedes Moran Mexico City, Mexico Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores Citibanamex
Yewande Salau Rosedale, NY Vanderbilt University Prep for Prep
Luis Carlos Sarmiento III Bogota, Columbia University of Miami WE Family Offices
Thomas Stelle Sag Harbor, NY Trinity College BBHG
Daniel Titterington Oklahoma City, OK U.S. Military Academy U.S. Army
Steven Van Vechten Canandaigua, NY Hobart and William Smith Colleges MMB Advertising

Meet the Class of 2020 Series

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