Meet the MBA Class of 2025: Jennifer White-Phalen, Cornell University (Johnson)

Jennifer White-Phalen

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

“World traveler, design thinker and outdoor enthusiast always looking to add to my bucket list.”

Hometown: Santa Monica, California

Fun Fact About Yourself: I really love the power of writing a bucket list. It’s helped me cross off some seemingly impossible feats: I’ve cycled more than 4,000 miles across the United States, walked more than 500 miles across Spain, passed the finish line at the 2020 Los Angeles Marathon and summited the steepest vertical climb on a single trail in the United States. Currently, I’m working toward visiting 30 countries by the time I’m 30 years old. Things are on track with 29 countries under my belt for my 28th birthday.

Undergraduate School and Major: Skidmore College, Physics and Music

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Koning Eizenberg Architecture, Project Manager and Marketing Coordinator

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? For me, it came down to the spirit of the Johnson School community. From the moment I stepped into Sage Hall at the Destination Johnson accepted students’ weekend, the pay-it-forward culture and the strong sense of community were clear. I think a big part of that happens because of location. Almost all students in the program have had to uproot and relocate to Ithaca. With that, every individual in the program has to fully commit to building their MBA support network in ways that just couldn’t happen in a large metropolitan area.

I was also drawn to Johnson’s emphasis on impact. This starts with the application; the only big essay question asks, “How do you plan to make a meaningful impact on the Johnson community?” That was a strong message to me. I wanted to be a part of an institution and network that fosters socially responsible leaders above all else.

I also give credit where it’s due— the Dairy Bar on campus never fails with generous portions, and a waterfall runs through campus. They played a role in swaying my decision as well.

What excites you the most about living in Ithaca and the Finger Lakes region? I am really looking forward to biking in the region. My first visit to Ithaca was during undergrad when I joined a team to cycle across the United States from Providence, Rhode Island, to Seattle. Ithaca left a strong impression because of the steep inclines and breathtaking views of Cayuga Lake. I am excited to spend some more time exploring the network of waterfalls, gorges, and trails around Ithaca. I’m also eager to visit all the independent bookstores, farm-to-table food options, wineries, and greenhouse nurseries around town.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Cornell? This is a tough one! There’s so much! I am really looking forward to sharing some of the international study trips with my cohort. Last year, students and faculty participated in trips to Patagonia, Tanzania and Israel with a faculty member providing coursework along the way. These seem like great opportunities to build on my experience abroad and my knowledge of the global economy and examine the role culture plays in business decisions.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: For nearly two years, I lived in a remote village in Botswana, where I taught a life skills course. At first, I felt I was the one learning, not teaching, these skills. My students taught me how to ride a donkey bareback, kill a snake with a twig, check for scorpions under my mattress and even butcher a goat. As the first Peace Corps volunteer and foreigner to live in the village of Komana, I had a lot to learn.

It turned out my students also had life skills to learn. My job, as outlined by the Ministry of Education, was to teach beyond traditional academia and encourage confidence, critical thinking, and creativity. But before I could start, we needed to be able to communicate in a common language. To address the region’s low literacy rates, I worked with leaders from the Ministry of Education to organize a bike tour for Peace Corps volunteers to cycle 250 miles across the Okavango Delta. Our trip gained publicity and mobilized donations for eight school libraries. More importantly, we led capacity-building and student engagement workshops to train over 1,500 students, teachers, parents, and local leaders, who continue to build on the literacy learning model we introduced.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Cornell’s MBA program? If you consider yourself an unconventional business school applicant for any reason whatsoever, tell the admissions committee about it. Dig into the “outsider” mentality; don’t shy away from it. The application process is a valuable one in developing your story and setting intentions.

What do you hope to do after graduation at this point? At this point, I am interested in pivoting from the marketing and business development side of Architecture to the funding side of the Real Estate Gaming and Entertainment sector in Investment Banking. I’m really interested in national housing trends and the creative financing solutions behind trying to meet the needs of the housing shortage. I realized that to have a bigger impact on real estate trends, I would need to join investment banking to work on more and larger scale projects. Investment bankers have a really exciting job to serve as the designers of deals that make a global impact.


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