First Gen: Inspiring Stories Of MBAs Who Beat The Odds

Stephanie Jordan

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

Class: 2020

Hometown: Moorestown, New Jersey

Fun Fact About Yourself: I won the Straightest Drive award at a golf tournament in Southern California. My team and I were shocked because I had one of the shortest drives at the event and likely one of the highest handicaps.

Undergraduate School and Major: Princeton University, Bachelor of Arts in Politics

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Director of Planning and Business Development, Beacon Accountancy and Business Services

What did your parents do for a living? My father is a realtor; my mother is his assistant.

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your

father? My parents both graduated from high school.

Which of your family members is your biggest inspiration? Why? My father was the oldest of eight (with two sets of twins!) with a Greek immigrant mother. His father died of a heart attack when he was only 10 years old. Despite these hurdles, my father helped his mother raise the family and eventually established a great career. He is hard-working and a great negotiator, and also loves playing in a rock band. My father taught me a lot about balance in life and being grateful.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? My parents always encouraged me to apply to college because they wanted me to have access to as many different opportunities as possible. Also, I was intellectually curious and craved that collegiate academic experience. Together, we really pushed for that dream, and my parents were the most incredible support system.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? The most amazing aspect of my undergraduate experience was the people – and I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to keep up.  Regardless, even among some of the most talented and intelligent people I’ve ever met, everyone supported each other.  We shared notes, job interview tips, studied together, and helped edit papers.  That sort of giving, learning environment is really important to me, and I actively try to help create it and seek it out in all spheres of my life.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? There were so many opportunities, classes, and activities that I always felt I was missing out on something.  I was constantly assessing the need to be deliberate and follow my passions versus taking a chance and trying something new. It was difficult to achieve a balance where I felt I could deeply study something, but also be exposed to the breadth of a liberal arts education.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? I had reached a point in my career where I had begun thinking, “What’s next?” That urge to keep learning and growing propelled me to research new educational opportunities. The MBA is an incredible opportunity to receive the formal technical financial training, leadership development, and business acumen necessary to be a better financial advisor.

How did you choose your MBA program? It was all about fit. When I started visiting prospective schools, I was blown away by my visit to Cornell. First and second years were already offering advice and sharing contacts and the school administration welcomed us with open arms and smiles (despite the unconventional snow storm in April!). I felt instantly that Cornell was a place with an earnestly supportive environment. A lot of programs spoke to their community, but I really witnessed it in action at Johnson.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? I felt the clock start ticking as soon as I received my acceptance to business school.  I spoke with alumni who advised me to take advantage of every opportunity in the program, and I’m determined to make the most of my time while recognizing how quickly those two years will pass.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first-generation student? Johnson has generously named me as a Forté Fellow, which in addition to the scholarship, also assists women in their efforts to pursue the best graduate management education possible.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? Mentorship is one of the most powerful relationships. My mentors opened doors for me that I didn’t even know existed. Don’t be afraid to seek out others for help or advice. When I was younger, I often didn’t want to reach out because people are busy, and I didn’t want to be a burden. What I realized was that I was honored to help when people called me for advice, and others feel the same way. Just remember that mentorship is a two-way street.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? It’s important to have a career that constantly challenges me to learn, think more creatively, and grow, but also one that centers on helping people. Financial advisory represents a significant challenge – using knowledge and experience in complex and specific scenarios in true partnership with clients to help them meet their goals. Finding the right corporate environment fit to provide comprehensive financial planning will be my focus as I start the MBA program.