Meet Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class Of 2024

The great outdoors. God’s country. Small town living.

Waterfalls. Forests. Four distinct seasons.

No traffic or noise. Slow and spacious. Time to think and get to know people.

That’s the difference in Ithaca. Think of it as harkening back to a simpler time. Calm and clean over cramped and consuming – not always looking over your shoulder. Back to nature: ‘100 waterfalls in 10 square miles’ as the local chamber likes to promote. Sure, you’ll still find crowds at the Farmer’s Market – or the fall Apple Harvest Festival and spring Chili Cook-Off. For MBAs, cursed by FOMO, Ithaca represents an opportunity to live at their pace and on their terms – a refuge removed from the distractions and demands of city life.


Ithaca is one reason why MBAs descend on Cornell University’s Ivy League campus. While the Johnson Graduate School of Management is renowned for its industry immersions and deep finance roots, it is the area’s intangibles that leave its mark, writes Eman Said, an occupational therapist who joined the MBA Class of 2024. After arriving on the shores of Cayuga Lake from Houston, she was struck by Ithaca’s “peace and tranquility,” the “waterfalls and abundant greenery” – the sense of connection to the land and its history You could say Maria Claudia Rengifo Cabanillas experienced a similar sensation when she toured Ithaca.

“I was taught since I was a young girl to admire God’s creation,” she tells P&Q. “Now that I have the opportunity to call Ithaca home for the next two years, I am thrilled to reconnect with the natural beauty of the lakes, gorges and waterfalls dotting the Finger Lakes. I can’t wait to explore and relax on the more than 240 miles of trails both on campus and throughout Tompkins County, New York. I also want to hike the Fall Creek and Cascadilla gorges that run through Cornell´s campus and complete my bucket list by kayaking, canoeing, and paddling on Cayuga Lake or Beebe Lake.”

Skiing. Golfing. Lounging on the Lake. Taking winery tours. That’s what Marquis Wright is looking forward to doing over his 21-month stay at Cornell. Plus, he observes, Ithaca is just a four-hour bus ride from locales like New York City, Montreal, and Toronto. And there is one more feature to the Ithaca life, adds Diana Pierre.

“Everyone knows that the ice cream is an integral part of the Big Red experience. I can’t wait to try all the different ice cream flavors at Cornell Dairy.”

Cascadilla Gorge on the campus of Cornell University


Well, make that two benefits, adds Sakiko Matsumoto, an EY strategy consultant before business school. I started learning figure skating after I became an adult. There were not enough ice rinks in Tokyo, so it is amazing that my school has one [Lynah Rink]!”

In fact, Johnson MBAs even integrates the outdoors into its favorite traditions. For example, Johnson holds its annual Johnson Outdoor Experience on the banks of Owasco Lake. Here, teams compete in events ranging from blindfolded students carrying water buckets on strings to a pitch competition devoted to ice cream flavors. Such activities, coupled with Cornell’s remote location and active lifestyle, enable students to connect faster and deeper, says ’22 alum Branden Karnell.

“I would argue that being in Ithaca forges a closer bond between our student body as most of our activities revolve around being with each other. Additionally, as someone who grew up in a city, getting away for a couple of years to a quieter area (where I can actually see stars!) has been quite nice. The abundance of natural beauty and wineries always helps too.”

It is hard to argue with Mateusz Lakomski: “New York is much more than New York City.” However, there is also a corollary to Lakomski’s point: Cornell is far more than Ithaca, the Johnson Graduate School, or even Sage Hall. After all, the school runs Cornell Tech, a year-long, interdisciplinary, STEM-designated, tech-driven MBA program that operates out of Roosevelt Island in the heart of New York City. Team-driven and project-laden, the program starts in a studio environment where students build building prototypes before moving into launching ventures in the spring. Along the way, students can take on internships or partner with startups and top companies in NYC on various projects. In just five years, Cornell Tech has already placed MBAs in companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Hula. And Ithaca MBA students can take courses on the Roosevelt Island campus as well.

“Johnson has a two-campus model, with the program based in Ithaca but with additional programming at the Cornell Tech campus in Manhattan,” explained Dean Mark Nelson, in a 2021 interview with P&Q. “Students can have the best of both worlds – attending one of the world’s great universities in a beautiful college town as well as a newly constructed tech-focused campus in the heart of NYC.

The Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City


And the simple life has attracted some highly-talented MBAs. Before business school, Marquis Wright was an associate at Blackstone, where he was tapped to be part of a task force designed to boost the firm’s representation of Black and Brown employees. At Schneider Electric, Ce Wang spearheaded the development of the company’s “first virtual platform for cross-functional cooperation.” When Schlumberger launched a Shark Tank competition to generate new ideas, Reece Cantwell became the organization’s youngest engineer to receive project funding. For Ernest Mintah, 2021 proved he could be a difference-maker at Raymond James Bank Canada, where he was the lone associate in corporate loans.

“I helped the group achieve a record year in terms of growth as the bank was able to commit over half a billion dollars into credit investments. This provided needed capital solutions to support the growth of some of Canada’s largest companies as they capitalized on the economic recovery following the pandemic. In recognition of my contributions to the bank, I was named associate of the quarter for the entire bank in the first quarter of 2022.”

Mintah wasn’t alone in making an impact. As a culinary director in Los Angeles, Ian Patrick Cairns revamped a group’s menu and culture, resulting in Yelp ratings jumping from 3.0 to 4.5 and revenue rising by a third. Not only did Lauren LaBelle raise standards, but saved lives as well. As a Coast Guard marine investigator, she was not only involved in inspecting boats, but also acted as a compliance officer. In this role, she ensured construction met Federal code for a range of commercial vessels – which included catching one ferry’s lack of fire insulation before it began carrying passengers. Eman Said also looked out for others in her job. One of her patients was a young boy who was recovering from a stroke. The danger was compounded by an insurer that provided sparse support due to the boy allegedly having “poor rehab potential.”

“He made incredible gains under my care,” Said reminisces. “With proper evidence and collaboration with his physicians across Houston, I spearheaded his transfer to an inpatient rehab facility where insurance had to pay for six times the amount of therapy he was initially covered to receive. Playing the game on the other side of the fence is my biggest asset coming into an elite business school setting because I know why I’m here and that I’m going to do big things for patients all over the world when I graduate.”

First-Year Orientation


And Eman brings a cool story to Ithaca too. Let’s just say her first skydive came with some serendipity. “I shared my tiny plane with a group of well-dressed people who fist-bumped me before making their jump. They ended up being the official U.S. skydiving team, which had just returned from placing at Tanay Mondial, a global skydiving competition.”

Not to be outdone, Diana Pierre has climbed to the crater of an active volcano – Mount Batur, 1,717 meters above sea level in Indonesia. Reece Cantwell has now scaled 14 mountains taller than 14,000 feet in elevation. Lacrosse is Sakiko Matsumoto’s passion – and she knows the game so well that was picked to be an official in the 2022 Word Championships. And it’s hard to say what Mateusz Lakomski’s passion is. After all, it changes a couple of times a year, he says.

“About twice a year, I become passionate about a new hobby. The Broadway musical Hamilton inspired me to learn cursive writing and collect fountain pens. A Carnegie Hall concert ignited a desire to take piano lessons. Living by myself made me explore the science behind cooking, and recently, a need for a wallet turned me into a leather craftsman. Who knows what is next? But I sure can’t wait!”

Next Page: Q&A with Dean Mark Nelson

Page 3: Profiles of 12 Members of the Class of 2024

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