Meet Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class Of 2023

People have flocked to New York for generations. The city is a symbol of freedom and a center of culture, finance, media, cuisine, and fashion. Here, you can walk the streets that double as movie sets.  In 300 square miles, you’ll find every imaginable nationality, language, and tradition. Status and romance, lights and energy, a place to make an impact and cement a legacy — New York is where you have everything in reach and you never miss out.

It can be easy to forget that New York is far more than the five boroughs. Just look at the Finger Lakes region. Stretching from Rochester and Syracuse in the north to Ithaca in the south, the Finger Lakes is a mad mix of farmer’s markets, wineries and festivals, all surrounded by rolling hills, picturesque paths, and towering waterfalls. On the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, you’ll find an Ivy League MBA powerhouse: Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. Think of it as an Ivy that caters to MBAs who want to get away from it all…but is still just four hours from New York City. Away from being stacked and packed, Cornell MBAs can focus, explore, learn, and network, supported by deep resources and world-class faculty.

“ITHACA HAS JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING I NEED”

Kielyn Jarvis re-located from big bad Boston to join the Cornell Johnson MBA Class of 2023. One reason, he says, is the Finger Lakes location.  “The uninterrupted natural beauty of the Finger Lakes region is a welcome reprieve from all the brick and concrete, the din of traffic, and the light pollution of city living,” he tells P&Q. “As an (amateur) photographer, I’m most excited to capture as much of that natural beauty as possible. I plan to bring my camera on every hike, to the waterfalls and hidden swimming holes, and to the wineries during my time at Johnson.”

Jarvis isn’t the only one indulging in Ithaca’s charms. Growing up near Los Angeles, Justin Liu became a U.S. Navy nuclear officer for a carrier ported in Japan. For him, Cornell’s setting enables the class for forge deeper connections. “Going to school in a major city can lead to students scattering off on their own,” he observes. “Ithaca has just about everything I need, and the Finger Lakes and nearby mountains offer a perfect medium to spend quality time with the Johnson community. We have already taken advantage of the several hikes and visited wineries and breweries by the lakes.”

Cascadilla Gorge on the campus of Cornell University

That doesn’t mean that Johnson MBAs are roughing it in the wilderness all alone. After all, Ithaca is home to nearly 31,000 people. That doesn’t count 23,000 students, with nearly 40% being graduate or professional students. The university itself employs over 1,700 faculty members across 16 different schools. At the same time, the MBA program maintains a dual campus model through its Cornell Tech campus. In this program, which P&Q honored as its MBA Program of The Year in 2017, multidisciplinary teams partner with top firms in New York City.

“Cornell Tech’s incredible Roosevelt Island campus includes state-of-the-art resources and facilities for Johnson students. Its location means direct access to midtown for networking with peers, alumni, and top recruiters,” notes Dean Mark Nelson in a 2020 interview.

THE PEOPLE AND CULTURE

Yes, Cornell MBAs can ‘detox’ amid four distinct seasons and outdoor activities galore. However, Johnson’s biggest calling card may be its culture. That was the two year takeaway from Ola Esho, a 2021 MBA graduate and U.S. Army veteran who ultimately landed her dream job at Deloitte.

“Have you ever met an insanely brilliant person who expects great things from you, but instead of feeling pressure or anxiety from their expectations you feel incredibly up to the task and capable,” she asks. “That is what Johnson feels like. When I visited the school for the first time and interacted with the students, faculty, and staff, I felt challenged to achieve more. At the same time, I felt it was a place that would equip me to achieve my goals. Around Sage Hall, there is palpable sense of passion, excellence, and community from everyone in the building. It was immediately apparent that this was a place where I could learn and grow and fail forward with the most supportive group of people. As cliché as it may sound, I chose Johnson because of its people and its culture.”

That trend continues with the Class of 2023, who continue Cornell Johnson’s penchant for diverse and accomplished classes. Take Gabriella Del Río-Dávila, a Puerto Rico native who took up ballet three years ago and can already dance on pointe. Before being a consultant for Nielsen IQ, she led campaigns for some of the most prominent bands in the food industry.

“[I] was driving successful brand activations and surpassing sales targets for Haagen-Dazs, Old El Paso, Cheerios, and other cereals in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, while being the youngest brand manager in General Mills LATAM team at the time,” she tells P&Q. “If I had to choose just one moment, it would be the launch of Lucky Charms Frosted Flakes cereal which disrupted the largest segment of the category and brought a 2pp value share increase to General Mills.”

Cornell MBA Students

FROM HARVARD TO CORNELL

In contrast, Tommy Ott was a company commander in the U.S. Army, where he flew UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. However, his first flight was far different than his day-to-day. That’s because he was an air medevac patient. “In my senior year of high school, my carotid artery was severely torn during an ice hockey game and had to be flown to a regional hospital for immediate attention in a specialized neurological trauma center.”

Then again, Kielyn Jarvis comes from competitors of Cornell Johnson in the MBA space. He spent 5 years with MIT Sloan and (more recently) 3 years with Harvard Business School. In his last role, he served as the online learning manager for the Harvard Business Analytics program. Here, he transformed the school’s three-day, immersions, where roughly 200 students head to Harvard’s campus for in-person learning and networking.

“The pandemic made an in-person experience impossible,” he admits. “This forced many participants to defer, which impacted our bottom line. Rather than mirror what we’d do on-campus, I took it upon myself to structure a completely different experience around the core academic components, more amenable to a virtual environment. I had to lean into my experience leading complex projects, managing distributed teams, and communicating effectively with multiple stakeholder groups (internal team, faculty, technical partners at 2U, vendors, and program participants). I was able lead six successful virtual immersions, refining operations with each iteration.”

And the best part of this transition? “It was a particular joy that an immersion coincided with my last week at the Harvard Business Analytics Program,” Jarvis adds, “and that I prepared my team well enough to run the immersion seamlessly without me.”

Cornell Johnson Classroom

PANDEMIC BECOMES A WAKE UP CALL

Natalia Rovira Rodrigues also left her mark in academia. She “spearheaded” the re-launch of Princeton in Asia’s fellowships for India, which provided work experience to two cohorts of students. By the same token, Sameer Jain established a maritime university that now trains over 300 cadets annually. At the same time, Nicole de Ovin-Berenguer managed a $6 million dollar kitchen in a New York City landmark. While Dr. Vanessa Nwaokocha’s research has been honored by the American College of Physicians Oregon chapter, she takes her greatest pride in her service as a practicing resident physician during COVID-19.

“To say that I was frontline and had a hand in saving many lives during what seems to be an unending pandemic is truly an achievement,” she explains. “How many pandemics does one live through? I’d like to also highlight my co-residents at PPMC and really all resident physicians around the United States because such a sacrifice so early in our career where we are overworked and severely underpaid is not acknowledged nearly enough.

Indeed, the Class of 2023 didn’t huddle at home to wait out the pandemic. Like Nwaokocha, many sprang into action. Sameer Jain started a foundation to provide mobile devices to low income children so they could take online classes. When India went into lockdown, Surbhi Vijay Bhavsar worked alongside a member of parliament to re-write his state’s Climate Change Action Plan. Still, the pandemic also served as a time to reflect on the careers and values. Kielyn Jarvis, for one, vowed to embrace the ambiguous and unknown in his career rather than evading risks and seeking safety. For Gabriella Del Río-Dávila, COVID-19 was a reminder that resting isn’t slacking.

“The first few months during quarantine, I learned to savor slow weekend mornings where I could read novels and enjoy stress free time without the pressure of always having to do something or be somewhere,” she writes. “Our society has taught us that being busy is good and that if you’re not, then you’re lazy and wasting time. The pandemic has taught me that there is beauty and value in resting and disconnecting.  I will carry this lesson with me as I begin my MBA journey. Career-wise, it confirmed that I need to work for a company that is flexible, empathetic, respectful, and understanding of their employees across all levels.”

Next Page: Interview with Dean Mark Nelson

Page 3: Profiles of 12 Cornell Johnson First-Year MBAs

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