The Cornell Connection: Why I’m Thankful To Get An MBA During The Pandemic

Sample Hybrid Class. This is a class called Core Leadership Skills in a VUCA world, taught by General George Casey

Happy holiday season from Ithaca! It’s getting chilly in upstate New York, so we’re all starting to hunker down for the winter. Honestly, it couldn’t come at a more perfect time for all of us.

At Cornell, many first-year MBAs are submitting their internship applications, while several second-years are signing offers and helping first-years with recruiting. We also just wrapped up final exams and course pre-enrollment for next semester. Now, the dust has temporarily settled and we all get a much-needed chance to BREATHE, catch up with our lives, and reflect on our MBA experience.

I had a chance to do exactly this when I was recently cleaning my apartment (much overdue unfortunately!). My mind drifted to what a crazy year 2020 has been and how my Cornell MBA experience has provided stability, inspiration, connection and so much to be thankful for –

despite all the uncertainty we feel from the news. In true Thanksgiving fashion, I want to share the five core reasons I am most thankful for my Cornell MBA experience and why receiving my MBA during the pandemic isn’t as bad as it initially might seem.


I’ve always considered the Johnson community to be vibrant and energetic. That unique atmosphere is reflective of the beauty of our campus and our Ithaca surroundings. I could not have imagined how each of us would cope with a pandemic. Despite this, we still maintained a commitment to keeping our sense of sanity and community, always taking time to look out for each other.

I remember the day the pandemic became major news. I was leaving Sage Hall when I was flooded with texts from my classmates about whether school was shutting down. I immediately turned around and walked back to school and chatted with our administration only to find the rumors were true. Johnson was suspending all classes for at least three weeks.

During the Spring semester, it would have been easy for students to isolate themselves from school and our community. However, the opposite happened at Johnson. From the time we disbanded for our four-week hiatus, students started inviting us to participate in a variety of virtual activities that helped us stay connected. They ranged from fitness and cooking classes to expert lectures from our faculty and industry practitioners like Bain & Company’s Hernan Saenz and former four-star general George Casey.  On the Student Council, we thought the initiative to create all this content was amazing, so we developed calendars to track the activities and implemented a newsletter called “The Daily Brew” to keep the community informed of what was happening each day. This initial exposure to virtual life helped us prepare for the reality of our hybrid Fall semester.

By the time we returned from summer break, we already had some experience drawing virtual crowds and keeping the energy reasonably high. I remember earlier this year when we hosted Student Council president elections. My co-chair and column co-contributor, Marisa Werner, decided to play upbeat music by Michael Jackson to keep everyone engaged before we started the meeting. It turned into a mini dance party of sorts, and I loved seeing various classmates of mine switch out their Zoom virtual backgrounds and deliver their best old-school dance moves on camera. I was left asking for more after seeing one of our 1-year MBA representatives, Marc Vainrib, pull out a few Sprinklers and Carltons on camera. Immediately before we needed to start our session, there were around 50 people dancing!

This is just a microcosm of the kind of enthusiasm and camaraderie we foster. The faculty also set the upbeat and engaging tone by providing stimulating classroom discussions. In my financial markets an institutions class taught by Maureen O’Hara, we found some pretty catchy music videos run in Jamaica addressing inflation in order to aid our discussion. Faculty also make a point to pop into Sage Socials, where we play trivia, solve murder mysteries, carve pumpkins, and show off our pets to take a break from our academics each week.

Varun Ramadurai


The pandemic also ushered in another blessing in disguise: we spent more time with the recent alumni. Working from home enabled our alumni to easily join our classes in order to offer insight into our discussions more frequently than ever before. In one week, I remember talking to multiple Johnson alumni such as a executives at Corning and Trip Advisor about various growth strategies and M&A initiatives they pursued. These conversations proved invaluable to my learning experience and these alumni also were generous enough to have conversations with me even weeks after my class sessions.

We also benefitted on the recruiting front, where recent alumni donated their time to conduct extra informationals and mock interviews. The most involved alumni were from the recently graduated class of 2020. This happened because several companies delayed Fall 2020 start dates to either winter 2020 or spring 2021. While I’m sure the members of the class of 2020 weren’t thrilled to be starting their full-time jobs late, they showed us what the Johnson community is all about as a large portion of them chose to give back to the program to help enhance the Johnson experience. I personally benefitted from this generosity as incoming Bain and Deloitte consultants, Priyasha Chaturvedi and Gina Stella, spent several hours each week with me either preparing for interviews or reviewing my resume during my re-re-recruiting process.

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