Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University
“Results-oriented problem solver, committed to continuous growth, empowering others, and positively impacting business and society.”
Hometown: Boston, MA
Fun Fact About Yourself: 11 years ago, I lost my ability to taste and smell.
Undergraduate School and Major: University of Massachusetts, Amherst – Applied Psychology
Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Harvard Business Analytics Program – Online Learning Manager
Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of Cornell’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? When evaluating business schools, I knew that I wanted to develop more than just the technical skills to pivot into a new career; I also wanted to develop as a leader. I found that most schools had one or two leadership-focused offerings, but that an entire curriculum was woven into every aspect of the program at Cornell Johnson.
Aptly titled the ‘Leadership Lab Experience’, I quickly realized that business school could be a chance to experiment with things outside of my comfort zone—some of which might work wonderfully, while others might fail spectacularly—and that either outcome would be okay. After each experience, there would be a chance to reflect internally and with my supportive classmates on what worked, what didn’t, and most importantly, why. Whether it’s during the Johnson Outdoor Experience or my Core Team Practicum, in student clubs, or working on a business challenge abroad, the wealth of opportunities to learn, apply, and reflect key leadership principles throughout my MBA is why I chose Cornell Johnson.
What course, club or activity excites you the most at Cornell? Leveraging business to advance racial equity is one of my internal motivations for pursuing an MBA, so I am incredibly excited to bring the John R. Lewis Racial Justice case competition to Johnson. The competition focuses on the intersection of business and racial justice with outcomes that demonstrate that business can be used to create positive societal change. When Willie Sullivan—the competition’s founder and connection that I’d made during the application process—reached out to me, I accepted the opportunity immediately.
Cornell Johnson will be one of four ‘host universities’ leading industry-focused semi-final rounds. The winning team from each school’s semi-final round will proceed to the final round at Emory’s Goizueta School of Business. Expanding the competition will allow for more nuanced business problems from corporate sponsors and more targeted recommendations from students. Operationally, it will be a challenge from start-to-finish; I plan to lean into my complex project management skills to support this collaborative effort between multiple business schools and corporate sponsors. Having support from Dean Nelson and Associate Dean Pascarella makes the undertaking slightly less daunting and demonstrates Johnson’s ongoing commitment to anti-racism.
What excites you the most about living in Ithaca and the Finger Lakes region? I moved from the city of Boston, so 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. 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.
Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Thus far, I’m most proud of transforming three-day on-campus “immersions” into virtual events with comparable academic, networking, and social opportunities. For context, immersions are an integral part of the nine-month hybrid learning program that I managed, where approximately 200 participants from around the country and world travel to Harvard Business School’s campus for an intensive learning experience and to build lifelong personal and professional connections. The pandemic made an in-person experience impossible. 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. It was a particular joy that an immersion coincided with my last week at the Harvard Business Analytics Program – and that I prepared my team well enough to run the immersion seamlessly without me.
How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? The pandemic changed my perspective about ambiguity in my career and in life more generally. Before the pandemic, I enjoyed dealing with ambiguity in my day-to-day work, but never with my career. Without the luxury of a familial safety net, the downside of taking career risks was often too great; surely, I’ve missed an opportunity or two because of it. Now, I’m excited by the unknown. I, of course, want my career to progress in a particular direction, but if it veers down a completely different path – I look forward to the journey. I’ve found that embracing ambiguity rather than trying to tame it, in my career and in life, has allowed me to appreciate my own resilience and capacity for change.
What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? I’d reached an inflection point in my career. Because of how siloed higher education can be, I knew that staying would mean limited opportunities for growth in terms of career pathing and skills development. Even as my title and responsibility increased, the pool of skills that I’d need to draw from would inevitably stagnate. I didn’t find that particularly appealing.
My alternative was to hit pause, refine the portable skills that I had, and invest in developing technical skills that would enable me to pivot into a new industry. Only an MBA—and only an MBA from Cornell Johnson—would allow me to pivot successfully. After graduation, I plan to start a career in consulting where I’ll be able to work on complex business problems across a variety of industries, while collaborating on dynamic teams with brilliant colleagues. This exciting and engaging work will be nested in a feedback-rich environment, where continuous learning is not only normal but necessary; as a result, growth is rapid, leaving little room for stagnation. Looking ahead, the pool of skills that I’ll need to draw from will only deepen and expand as my work shifts towards managing teams and business development.
What other MBA programs did you apply to? Fuqua, Ross, Goizueta, Kenan-Flagler and Owen.
What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Cornell’s MBA program?
Do your research by connecting with current students. You will gain a much deeper insight into the Cornell MBA from a first-hand perspective than from the high-level overview available on the website. In my experience, Johnson students love chatting with prospective members of the community. Since they are very busy, I suggest making the most of each conversation and posing specific questions that clarify aspects of the program that you’ve already researched. Approach each conversation with the intention of building your network at Johnson. The information you need will come out in conversation, but it’s the relationship that lasts.
During the application process, I focused on building relationships with current students. As a result, I got answers to questions that I didn’t even know to ask. When asked ‘Why Johnson?’ in the application essay and during the interview, my answers were crisp because I had more information to work with and more certainty that my motivations to pursue an MBA aligned perfectly with what Johnson had to offer.
DON’T MISS: MEET CORNELL JOHNSON’S MBA CLASS OF 2023
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