2023 MBA To Watch: Monica Mercado, Cornell University (Johnson)

Monica Mercado

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

“A people-centric Latina leader motivated by the power of communities and large organizations.”

Hometown: Pembroke Pines, Florida

Fun fact about yourself: I grew up as a competitive speedskater. I bought new skates during the pandemic to bring back an old hobby and am now training to participate in a skating marathon.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Florida, health education and behavior, minor in business administration

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Avid Technology, payroll coordinator

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Liberty Mutual, corporate development program summer associate

Where will you be working after graduation? Prudential Financial, HR Lead summer associate (second internship as a dual-degree student)

Community work and leadership roles in business school:

  • Roy H. Park Leadership Fellow
  • Student Council, vice president for admitted students
  • Johnson Leadership Fellow
  • Vice president for community and engagement, Hispanic American Business Leaders Association (HABLA)
  • Fellow, Consortium for Graduate Study in Management
  • Fellow, Big Red Consulting
  • Teaching assistant, Colombia spring break trek
  • Teaching assistant, critical thinking
  • Semifinalist, John Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m proud to have served on Student Council because I was elected and trusted by my classmates to represent their best interests and follow through on my promises. It was a goal of mine to be able to address and connect my entire MBA class. Upon starting at Johnson, I identified I wanted it to be with Student Council. It was a stretch goal for me, as I put to practice communication skills on a public platform, but I felt incredibly supported the entire time.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m most proud of my ability to pivot careers post-undergrad because it has required confidence and self-efficacy without the structure and tools of an educational program. I relied on my friends, mentors, and network to help build my new five-year goal. I’m proud of this achievement because it was the first time I was not following a predetermined track but was instead building my own journey. The MBA has equipped me with the skills and teachings to help me finalize this career pivot.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose this business school because of its leadership training curriculum. This curriculum is based on the Johnson 4 C’s framework: competence, character, compassion and courage. There are many opportunities to learn, put these into action, then receive feedback. There are expeditions, coaches, classes, seminars and elected roles – coupled with a strong feedback culture – that strengthens the practice of management teachings. I believe that this sets us up to be leaders in our post-MBA roles and be nimble as we grow in our careers.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is Bill Schmidt because of his empathy and time put into the well-being and success of his students. He teaches Data and Analytics Modeling, one of the core classes all students take. He makes comprehensive prep videos and makes himself available after class hours to go over the material. It’s a tough subject to teach because it’s quantitative-heavy and must be taught alongside ethics. The last day of class was a can’t-miss event as he closed out the quarter with a heartfelt send-off and well wishes for how we manage data in our careers.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Critical and Strategic Thinking — CST — by Risa Mish. She engaged us all with her humorous yet direct teaching style, then taught us one of the most widely-applied frameworks of thought. The assignments required us to apply this framework to a business case; it took us hours to complete and a whole quarter to master. A lawyer teaching business school students how to think is exactly what we didn’t know we needed. Her students reach out to her during the MBA – and as alumni throughout their careers when they’re facing a tough decision and need coaching. So many of these students become her friends and regularly keep each other updated, which I believe speaks to her ability to connect with us from day one in the classroom.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school?

My favorite MBA event is the Carnaval Latino celebration that takes place in the spring semester, hosted by the Latinx community at Johnson. Students choreograph traditional dances and perform them with professors and students of all backgrounds. In my first year, I choreographed a Colombia cumbia dance and was moved to see my peers, domestic and international, learning the dance of my people. There is so much gratitude, cheer, and joy that stems from this event that it fills me with pride to share with all. The fact that the event regularly sells out and is a favorite among many indicates how eager students at Johnson are to learn about and participate in other cultures.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I wish I had spent more time with my professors, between office hours and additional time provided outside of class. They are experts in their fields and have so much more to teach us outside of their syllabus content. There are many options on how you spend your time during the MBA, and you get to customize what your experience looks like. This means that there’s always something else to do, and there’s an opportunity cost associated with each choice.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised by the autonomy you’re given to try new things and stretch yourself. Laura Georgianna, executive director of leadership programs, always says that the Johnson MBA is a leadership laboratory where you can fail in a low-stakes environment. When I had ideas, I could always find the people who I needed to talk to and receive true feedback on how to make that idea a reality. My classmates, professors and faculty were very supportive in an approachable way, and I know that this culture will continue post-MBA.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) MBA Prep is a program for Black, Latinx and Native American professionals applying to business school. They provided us with guidance, tools, coaches and a community to help us navigate the business school application process and prepare for the MBA journey ahead. I knew what I wanted to do during my time at Johnson before I set foot in Sage Hall, and there were faculty who were excited to see me on the first day of school. These differentiating factors gave me confidence to move forward with my goals.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Stefanie Cainto. She was president of Women’s Management Council, the largest student organization at Johnson. Through this role, she advocated for institutional change and built a strong team that hosted events like a diaper drive for the expecting families in our program. She was a Park Fellow with me, so we participated in workshops during which we self-reflected and made leadership and career goals together. However, she was also my friend and I witnessed how she would recharge and practice mindfulness. I believe she’s a well-rounded leader, and I find myself modeling her best practices.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? The top two items on my professional bucket list require lifelong efforts:

  • I want to be seen as an expert in my field — people management and industrial relations. I’m currently a dual-degree student in the Master of Industrial and Labor Relations/MBA program, and I study how I can bridge the motives of a firm and the individuals in the labor market.
  • I want to be an advocate and an ally for individuals and communities, particularly professionals of color in business. I hope to help in the efforts of building pipelines and dismantling systemic oppression.

What made Monica Mercado such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“What has made Monica stand out to me is her gift for helping classmates and admitted students from a wide variety of backgrounds know how much they truly belong here. Strong communities such as ours owe a lot to the “connectors” among us — those who move easily between and among groups, encouraging people to reach out and support and bond with and be an ally, not only to those with whom we naturally have much in common, but also those from whom we might initially appear to differ. Monica is that kind of connector, and the Johnson community has been strengthened by her leadership.”

Risa M. Mish
Professor of Practice in Management


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