Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University
“Proud Utahn, service-minded, and curious to hear your travel stories.”
Hometown: Hurricane, Utah
Fun Fact About Yourself: I have a bee tattoo that represents two core values: Community and Industry.
Undergraduate School and Major: Utah State University – Organizational Communication and Business
Most Recent Employer and Job Title: William & Mary, Director of Development
Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? The Johnson MBA is more than a business education. It is an opportunity to test out something new. You are encouraged to seek opportunities outside of your comfort zone. The core and immersion learning ensure you have the necessary business acumen. Beyond that, you have the flexibility to explore and grow. You can take courses across campus, at Cornell Tech in New York City, or participate in an international trek. Students tailor the experience to their individual interests, but you’re not doing it alone. In addition to a close-knit first year class, the second year students are coaches and mentors to help you succeed.
What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Active! And, I don’t mean physically – though there’s oodles of hiking to do around Ithaca – I am talking about hustle. My classmates are curious and ambitious, which means they are serving in leadership roles and participate in multiple clubs. Or, they might be interviewing an expert for the Present Value Podcast. Or, they’re pitching CPG products in a clever new way as part of “Battle of the Brands” (which is a blast, by the way). Johnson students are actively pursuing their passions in an encouraging, supportive environment.
What club or activity excites you most at this school?
Clubs: Big Red Consulting, to gain hands-on experience working with a consulting team, and Johnson Allies for Women, which helps male allies be more action-oriented in the fight for gender equity.
Activity: The core class Critical and Strategic Thinking with Professor Risa Mish. I sat in on her lecture during Johnson Means Business. It is no surprise to me that she is an award-winning professor, and I am looking forward to more.
What was your initial impression of Cornell Johnson? How did it evolve as the recruiting process continued? Initially I was intimidated by the “Ivy League” brand because I am a first generation college graduate with a non-traditional professional background. I talked to a Johnson alumnus at an MBA admissions fair. He connected me with a current student with a similar professional background. I met more Johnson students at the ROMBA Pre-MBA Conference and on-campus at Johnson Means Business. Each interaction helped me feel supported, welcomed, and confident about my decision to pursue an MBA. When I visited campus, I fell in love with Sage Hall, the Finger Lakes, the waterfall you cross to get to campus, all of it.
Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: The joy of being a fundraiser is helping people. I am most proud of my work over the past two years as a major gifts officer, during which I helped donors establish six new endowed scholarships. Every year in perpetuity someone’s life will be a little better because of it.
What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? It did not occur to me to pursue an MBA. When I was promoted to director, my mentors encouraged me to consider some kind of graduate program to continue advancing in my career. I approached my search by looking at a broad spectrum of options – nothing was off the table during my early exploration. I considered different degree programs (not just the MBA) and the various formats (full-time, online, part-time). That process helped me understand the marketplace of graduate programs and where I can best pursue my ambitions and interests.
What other MBA programs did you apply to? None – I submitted one application, and it was to the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.
What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? I spent the most time on two questions: Why an MBA and Why Johnson. They aren’t trick questions, and I wanted to answer them for myself too. Business school is an opportunity to think about the macro-level direction of your life. For me, that necessitated a great deal of reflection and journaling. I also took the opportunity to talk about my ideas with colleagues, and mentors – really anybody who would listen to help me better articulate my ambitions. By the time I got to the interview itself, it was a natural conversation.
How did you determine your fit at various schools? I used Poets & Quants, actually. I started by researching programs online. I also attended an MBA admission fair and the ROMBA Pre-MBA events. My first priority was career outcomes – would this program help me be successful long-term? I also preferred a smaller program and a college town atmosphere.
The best tool I found in evaluating culture and career fit is talking to students and recent graduates. I kept notes on 40 one-on-one conversations, but I had more casual chats with well over a hundred people, and that is across several dozen programs. I found those conversations gave me the best opportunity to ask specific questions and get a good sense of the personality and caliber of the school.
What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? The first time I met a refugee, I was on a train in Budapest. This was in 2015, and I was traveling by myself. I had heard about solo-travel and was curious to try it out. I had never even been abroad before, but I jumped at the opportunity to spend 15 days in Europe.
I landed in Budapest at the height of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. I met a refugee family traveling through Hungary on their way to Germany. We were on the same train, and a woman asked if her family could sit with me – she had her two young kids, her sister, and her father. They were from Damascus. We tried speaking through the language barrier. When we didn’t understand each other, we just smiled and laughed. When the mom bought sandwiches from the café car, she bought many extras and passed them around to other families.
As I said in my fun fact, my bee tattoo represents community and industry. What that means to me is doing all that I can to make myself useful in the service of others. When I think of that family, I am reminded that we’re all on this journey together (even when we think we’re going it alone). That perspective is going to carry me through business school. My Johnson MBA isn’t about just checking a box; it’s an opportunity to gain new skills and to hone my existing talents so that I can become a more effective leader.
DON’T MISS: MEET CORNELL JOHNSON’S MBA CLASS OF 2022