Meet the MBA Class of 2024: Cesar J. Cepeda, New York University (Stern)

Cesar J. Cepeda (CJ)

New York University, Stern School of Business

“Son of very proud Dominican immigrants, husband of an incredible man, and proud Navy Veteran.

Hometown: New York City, NY

Fun Fact About Yourself: I spent New Year’s in 2016 in Dubai while I was on deployment and was able to see the fireworks show at the Burj Khalifa. I also met Jason Kidd at a Dairy Queen in New Jersey when I was about 15, but I don’t really follow sports so I had no idea who the very tall person behind me in line was.

Undergraduate School and Major: United States Naval Academy, Chemistry

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: United States Navy, Operations Officer

What excites you the most about living in New York City and how do you see it enhancing your learning experience? I have not lived in New York since I was 17, back in 2008, so being back home and being able to live as an adult in New York City is the realization of a life-long dream of mine. Doing so while learning finance is even more special because of the opportunities available to intern and work amongst the top banks in the world.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of NYU Stern’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? The Fertitta Veterans Program was one of the biggest reasons why I chose Stern. The program gives veterans the opportunity to take two core classes over the summer prior to the start of fall semester. As someone who has been removed from the formal classroom setting for about 10 years now, the opportunity to ease back into learning was extremely appealing. The emphasis Stern places on its military students is second-to-none, and I am very grateful to have been given this incredible opportunity.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at NYU Stern? I’ve really enjoyed both of my Fertitta summer courses, Financial Accounting with Professor Julian Yeo and Statistics with Professor Avi Giloni. The professors are both amazing, and the classes themselves are a sort of fresh start for me out of the military and into this new phase of my life. I’m also very excited for our upcoming class Hamptons trip.

What does EQ (Emotional Intelligence) mean to you and when have you seen its value in your career? When I think of Emotional Intelligence, I think of a phrase one of the senior pilots in my helicopter squadron once told me: “As Aircraft Commander, you have to keep ice in your veins no matter what is going on around you.” EQ is being able to have the self-control to be that steady figure in and out of the office. The more you can set a tone of calm, deliberate proactivity over rushed, haphazard reactivity – especially as you become progressively more senior in leadership. The calmer you are, the better poised your company will be for long-term success.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Translating Spanish between doctors and patients while I was deployed in South America in 2017 for Operation Continuing Promise is something I will never forget. Being able to play a part in bringing life-saving care to over 18,000 people in Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia, while also connecting deeper with my Latin American roots, is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Also, not necessarily career-related, but helping my niece Nyla with her college applications last year and seeing the look on her face when she got accepted, is one of my proudest personal accomplishments to date.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? I am pursuing my MBA now as a first step towards pivoting from the military into finance. I hope to learn from the best leaders in the industry, expand my network, and after graduation, complete my pivot into one of the top investment banks here in New York City.

What is one thing you have recently read, watched, or listened to that you would highly recommend to prospective MBAs? Why? A friend and Naval Academy classmate of mine, Brendan Aronson, publishes a lot of content aimed at transitioning military and prospective MBAs navigating this daunting grad school journey. He also offers very candid and personal insights into the mental health challenges he has dealt with along the way. I know, for me personally, his testimony struck many chords while I was applying to grad school, especially around something a lot of us deal with: Imposter Syndrome. I very highly recommend his work and hope that it will help a prospective MBA realize they are not alone on their journey. You can find his content by searching for him on LinkedIn.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied to Anderson, Carlson, Wharton, and McCombs, though Stern was always my top choice. I had actually applied to NYU in high school and had to make the difficult choice between coming here and attending the Naval Academy. I chose to serve my country and go to the Academy, but I never stopped wanting to come back, so getting my MBA here is in many ways a full-circle journey for me.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into NYU Stern’s MBA program? Network, network, network. I could not have gotten to where I am today without the help of many great Stern alumni, especially Chris Meyer, a recent grad and member of the Military Veterans Club (MVC). He spent a great deal of time helping me make my application as competitive as possible. All I needed to do to connect with him was email him and ask for his help. Reach out, introduce yourself, and pay it forward when it’s your turn.


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