2021 MBAs To Watch: Katarina Ernestus, New York University (Stern)

Katarina Ernestus

New York University, Stern School of Business

“A dedicated healthcare professional who wants to help people and loves traveling the world.”

Hometown: Westhampton, New York

Fun fact about yourself: I am a dual US and German citizen.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

SUNY Geneseo: BS in Communication Disorders and Sciences graduating ‘11

New York University: MS in Communication Sciences and Disorders ‘13

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I worked for Regency Integrated Healthcare as a Director of Rehabilitation.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Biogen in Cambridge, Mass

 Where are will you be working after graduation? Biogen in Cambridge, Mass

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Block 1 captain; VP of Events for Cannabusiness.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Looking back at my time at Stern, I am most proud of the work I completed during my Stern Solutions Project. For this class, I worked in a group of five with the nonprofit organization called The Last Prisoner Project. Our project was aimed at improving their fundraising so that the organization could increase it’s impact and improve their ability to advocate for criminal justice reform. What I thought would be a project that would improve my strategic thinking ended up being so much more. Over the semester, we met and spoke with a number of shareholders at The Last Prisoner Project and saw their passion advocating for incarcerated individuals. We were able to see their joy when their work and advocacy was able to free people that had been incarcerated for over 30 years. I am more proud than I can say that my team and I were able to create a strategy for their fundraising, which will positively impact the organization for years to come, enabling them to continue to fight for criminal justice reform.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When I first took over my previous position as Director of Rehabilitation, I was walking into a troubled situation. The skilled nursing facility’s rehabilitation department had been losing money steadily for two years and the rehabilitation staff in this nursing facility was notoriously difficult to manage. After a few fumbling attempts at managing, I got into the swing of things. My department became profitable my second month at the facility and even though it was difficult, I won the rehabilitation staff over.

Why did you choose this business school? Growing up, I heard of NYU Stern through my father, who also attended the business school in the ‘80s. My father always spoke of it so highly, that eventually NYU Stern began to hold a revered position in my mind. I remember walking to class for my first master’s degree from NYU in Communication Sciences and Disorders and seeing women walking out of Stern in suits and thinking that they would be going amazing places because they were attending Stern. So of course when I started applying to schools, Stern was at the top of my list.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor at NYU is Anat Lechner. I took her Managing Change course in the Spring of 2020, which was an interesting time to take a course about change. After my first class with Professor Lechner, I made an appointment with her for a brief discussion about my interests and future career options. I left her office an hour later inspired, optimistic, and with a roadmap for success. When COVID reached New York and we began online classes, Professor Lechner made sure we knew she was available to us, and she meant it. After I shared with her that a number of my former patients, staff, and coworkers became infected with COVID, she went above-and-beyond to make sure I had all the resources I could need.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Every year, students put on a series of skits about life at NYU Stern called Follies. Normally, this is in-person, but due to COVID, we had to transition to a virtual format this year. Many of us had organized zoom watch parties, so even though I was alone, it was as if I was watching everything with my friends. For the first time in weeks, I laughed without worrying if the supermarket will be empty again tomorrow, or if my mom would be able to stay safe during the pandemic. This is why Follies was my favorite tradition at Stern.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have started speaking with second year MBA students about their experiences on day one of my MBA. These students, though one year more senior in the course, have a wealth of knowledge and information that is vital for first year MBAs to be successful.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about my school I would say is that “NYU is for finance.” Yes, we have some incredible finance professors such as Aswath Damodaran, but Stern is also for those interested in other fields and is even expanding its offerings by adding a healthcare specialization.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised that there was such a collaborative atmosphere at NYU Stern. Having attained a separate master’s degree in 2013 from NYU, I anticipated the same competitive nature in both grades and the search for internships. What I found, however, was that Stern students are the complete opposite. The School has fostered a culture unlike any I have seen before. Every student, faculty member, guest speaker, etc. is willing to go above-and-beyond to help out a Stern student, regardless of whether or not they know them.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I was very open in my essays about my long-term and short-term goals. I let the admissions team really get to know me by being honest about my life leading up to my MBA dreams and what I hope to accomplish once I graduate.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Cortne Edmonds – a woman who is both intimidating and kind all in the same breath. She came into Stern with an extensive resume, currently serves as the president of the Management Consulting Association, is the VP of Professional Development of the Association of Hispanic and Black Business Students, takes any and all opportunities to be a teaching fellow or mentor, and will be going to McKinsey & Co upon graduation.  

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? COVID and the shift to online education were extremely disruptive. Students were uncertain about the future. As a result, they became understandably distracted. NYU has a number of resources for students and has held town halls to address any uncertainty that the students may feel.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I did not major in business, but became a Speech-Language Pathologist instead, working with the elderly in a healthcare setting. Simply stated, I wanted to help people but quickly realized that one healthcare worker can do little to make an impact on a large scale. My father and I often spoke of my dream of having a greater impact; he inspired me to go back to school and pursue business by telling me about his own similar experience, in which he received a PhD in Law, but transitioned into banking once he realized he didn’t love being a lawyer.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Working abroad and Employment at the Department of Health and Human Services

What made Katarina such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Katarina Ernestus is a second-year MBA candidate at NYU Stern. Katarina came to Stern with a background in Speech Language Pathology where she led the rehabilitation departments of three skilled nursing facilities. Her goal with attending business school was to one day leverage her newly acquired business knowledge to lead improvements for patient care. Katarina has started to do just that during her time here at Stern, taking on several student leadership positions and curricular experiential projects through which she has made a significant impact.

Katarina first began working with our office when she was elected to be a student leader for her cohort (block system). In this extension of the student government role, she represented around 60 of her peers and helped organize community-building activities. This block leader role is a critical part of the community building efforts for Stern, but took on an even larger emphasis as the School transitioned to remote instruction during the spring semester when the pandemic hit. Now in her second year, Katarina has continued her leadership efforts, playing an active role in various clubs such as Stern’s CannaBusiness and Women in Business (SWIB) clubs. As VP of Events, Katarina has helped plan and execute a variety of events aimed at educating, connecting, and engaging her classmates on the challenges as well as opportunities that face this nascent but rapidly growing industry.

Katarina’s biggest impact came from enrolling in one of our Stern Solutions experiential learning projects working with The Last Prisoner Project, an interdisciplinary non-profit effort aimed at drug reform in the US working to free cannabis prisoners, expunging their records and reintegrating them to society. The goal of this particular project was to look at various ways to increase funding for the non-profit so that the organization could increase its ability to advocate for criminal justice reform. Katarina and her team’s work culminated in delivering strategic recommendations and an implementation map for the non-profit to increase their fundraising and corresponding impact.

In addition to her incredible student leadership and project-based work at Stern, Katarina is thoughtful and well respected by all of her peers that she works with. She embodies Stern’s philosophy of using business as a force for good and embracing change. We can’t wait to see the impact she will have in the healthcare industry after Stern.”

Bryan Ramos
Executive Director of Student Engagement


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