Meet Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class Of 2021

Class of 2021

P&Q: What is the most underrated part of your program that you wish prospective students knew more about?    

Pascarella: “I can’t think of a program that doesn’t tout its “unique culture”. For some, it’s become somewhat of a boilerplate comment. However, at Johnson, our culture truly is remarkable and resonates with students. We are a positive, inclusive and respectful program from which students learn and grow beyond even their highest expectations. Our Diversity and Inclusion initiatives have empowered the tight-knit community we live in each day. The pay it forward mindset of our students means that as a first-year, they will be blanketed with support and guidance from second years and alumni who consider it their passion to help make the next class even more successful than they were. It’s incredible to witness.”

P&Q: You are entering the sixth year of your popular Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program in New York City. What resources does your Cornell Tech campus offer and how can Ithaca-based students take advantage of them?

Drew Pascarella, Cornell Johnson director of MBA admissions. Courtesy photo

Pascarella: “Cornell Tech is an incredible asset for Cornell University and Johnson in particular. To have a reimagined applied sciences campus within the borders of New York City is truly game-changing. Our Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program, which has more than doubled in size since inception, is deeply integrated with the technical community on campus, which allows for a seamless, cross-functional educational experience for our students. Students are engaged in a studio-based curriculum, which is a unique differentiator and includes participation in a product studio for business development, a startup studio for entrepreneurship, and a big company studio for innovating with industry leaders. MBA students collaborate with master’s degree students from engineering, computer science, and law, replicating the team structures they will need to navigate in their careers.

Our Ithaca-based students benefit from Cornell Tech in many ways. In addition to having a “second home” in New York, our students can take weekend classes at the Cornell Tech campus. Further, the aforementioned FinTech and Digital Marketing Intensives are offered in New York, which allows Ithaca-based students to live in residence at the Cornell Tech campus for up to a full semester. And, our New York-based faculty teach in Ithaca, as well as our Ithaca-based faculty teaching in New York, providing an even broader array of excellent faculty and curriculum options. We love this unique two-campus opportunity we’re providing to our students, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive, and we have plans in the works to do even more cross-campus programming in the near future.”


Call it a ‘two campuses, one community’ model, with the STEM-designated Cornell Tech placing students in the center of New York City’s high tech and startup ecosystems. According to Tech: NYC, the ecosystem is valued at $71 billion dollars and home to 9,000 startups and 100 incubators. In 2018 alone, it generated $13 billion dollars in investment, capped by 735 venture capital deals. According to an October Accenture study, 85% of regional employers are planning to hire tech talent in 2020, with the tech sector already sporting 333,000 jobs. Such proximity gives students access to a network of founders, experts, executives, and venture capitalists, particularly as students partner with companies ranging from startups to Google.

“We have these sort of field projects that we send students out to so that when they are interviewing, they say, ‘Yeah, essentially I’m doing an internship for this client, ABC client, and we have a Fortune 500 that we serve,” Pascarella notes in a separate 2019 interview with P&Q.

Despite the easy access to New York City, Ithaca remains an unforgettable way to spend two years. It is an outdoor lover’s paradise, filled with breathtaking forests, waterfalls, lakes, and gorges. What is there to do in Ithaca? Just biking, hiking, kayaking, fly-fishing, ice skating, sledding, and snowmobiling…to start. In the Ithaca Commons, students can meet up for festivals, farmer’s markets, concerts, or clubbing – or just grab a craft beer or coffee (or dine at the world-renowned Moosewood Restaurant). In other words, contrary to stereotype, there is plenty to do in Ithaca.


The Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island is just across the East River from the Queens location where Amazon plan s to build half of its second North America HQ. Cornell photo

“If anything, there is too much to do during the MBA experience,” writes Christina Chan, a 2019 P&Q Best & Brightest MBA. “Also, Ithaca is a self-sustaining, vibrant community. With Ithaca’s youngest-ever mayor (himself a Cornell alumnus) assuming office at the age of 25, the city is full of youthful energy—there are numerous events and activities happening all over. From live music series to apple festivals, I was pleasantly surprised over the summer to find that Ithaca thrives independently from the Cornell community.”

Fernanda Carranza, a 2019 P&Q MBA To Watch, adds that the Johnson student body is very active, regularly planning visits to wineries or hikes along the gorges. Whatever you hear, adds Harrison Jobe, another 2019 MBA To Watch, don’t assume the weather is cold year-round. “Yes, it becomes cold in the winter and occasionally snows, but these are common attributes for all towns and cities in the Northeast. Ithaca is a wonderful city, year-round. There are literally waterfalls running right through campus—it’s stunning.”

For the Class of 2019, Cornell Johnson’s marquee attraction is the Immersion Semester, which takes place during the spring of their first-year. Here, students can choose their own experience from a menu of eight industries: Corporate Finance, Consulting, Digital Technology, Investment Banking, Strategic Product and Marketing, Sustainable Global Enterprise, Investment Research and Asset Management, and Strategic Operations (with students able to customize their experience as well). Designed to prepare students for internships, the immersion includes courses, coaching, projects, and site visits that provide a deep dive into industry nuances and best practices.


“From a nonbusiness background, I believed that it was imperative for me to have experiential opportunities incorporated in whatever program I attended,” says Imani Finn-Garland. “When I went through my undergraduate program, I had years of theoretical classwork, but once I completed my clinical rotations, I could apply the theory to help patients. Being able to apply business theories to fieldwork experiences before my internship will allow me to grow as a leader and hone the skills needed to excel over the summer.”

An ideal avenue for career changers and students looking to explore new areas, the Immersion Semester provides practical tools and experience that bridges theory and application. “I can’t wait to unleash the knowledge and skills that we will develop during the first semester on real industry problems,” adds Silvia Zamora.

The class is also looking forward to several activities. It goes without saying that class members have already indulged in Sage Social, a weekly happy hour with faculty and staff in the Dyson Atrium. Cornell Johnson also offers the Present Value Club, a student-run monthly podcast where students can sharpen their interviewing skills with faculty and thought leaders. Then there is eLab, an accelerator where over a dozen student teams work with coaches, mentors, and faculty to build ventures. Those aren’t the only extracurricular activities where students can gain hands-on experience, either.


“I am looking most forward to participating in Big Red Consulting, adds David Nguyen. “This is a student-run consulting firm that provides real-world experience to students by allowing them to gain direct client exposure through consulting projects for companies and organizations looking to achieve their business goals.”

Where does the Class of 2021 see itself in 10 years? That distance is hard for Natalie Kirchhoff to even fathom. Long-term, she hopes to be “making a difference [and] creating waves” – when she isn’t busy mentoring younger women.  Similarly, Pierre Demarquette is looking to purchase an existing venture – and build a culture around upending the status quo. To do that, he adds, he has found the right community to prepare him.

“To meet my objectives, it is my belief that Johnson is the perfect match with its diversity, creativity, and excitement.”

What led these professionals to enter business schools? Which programs did they also consider? What strategies did they use to choose their MBA program? What was the major event that defined them? Find the answers to these questions and many more in the in-depth profiles of these incoming MBA candidates.


MBA Student Hometown Undergrad Alma Mater Last Employer
Anshul Bakhda Hertfordshire, UK University of Oxford Soneva Resorts and Spas
Jefferson Betancourt Orlando, FL University of Florida Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Michael Callender Concord, MA Tulane University U.S. Army
Ciara Chen Zhejiang, China University of Maryland Goldman Sachs
Pierre Demarquette Paris, France Kedge Business School EFESO Consulting
Romain Faure Nice, France Glion Institute, Switzerland MGM Resorts International
Allyssa Ford O’Fallon, IL Dartmouth College Acclaim Technical Services
Imani Finn-Garland Warwick, NY Howard University Kaiser Permanente
Natalie Kirchhoff Columbia, MO Rice University Swimming Luxembourg
Elizabeth (Lizzie) Nelson Concord, MA University of St. Andrews UNiDAYS
David Nguyen Philadelphia, PA  University of Pennsylvania Charles Schwab
Silvia Zamora Guatemala City, Guatemala Worcester Polytechnic Institute Esmax Distribución Ltd.

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