Meet Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class Of 2025

Sometimes, you need to take a break. Over time, you wear down from the hypersonic pace and crushing demands of a job. You want a space where you can slow down and simplify, to reflect on your future, weigh your options, and develop a strategy. For many, that means getting away from it all.

Think intimate dinner parties over crowded rooftop bashes and early morning hikes over late night clubbing. Fresh air, open spaces and simple pleasures. Slow, peaceful, and safe. A community that’s welcoming, cultured, and close-knit. That’s the difference of a college town like Ithaca, New York. Nestled between the banks of Cayuga Lake and Fall Creek, Ithaca is a throwback: farmer’s markets, vineyards, and metalsmithing – along with a Commons featuring historic theaters, bookstores, and cafes. The city is also home to the Ivy League’s Cornell University – and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. Here, MBA students can enjoy world-class business education and comfortable small-town life – all just a four-ride from New York City.

EXPERIENCING THE FOUR SEASONS

Indeed, the Finger Lakes region represented a marquee attraction to the Class of 2025. Picture it all: nature trails for hiking, running and biking; mountains for skiing, snowboarding, and spas; and lake life for boating, swimming, and water skiing. However, Ithaca’s biggest selling point is its deep gorges that produce over 100 waterfalls – including one that runs through Cornell campus. Golfing, picnics, ice skating, sledding, camping, and sightseeing – there is something for everyone. Before starting classes at Johnson, Kenza Bouarroudj, a hospitality manager from Paris, was looking forward to Ithaca’s “picturesque landscapes, peaceful environment, and stunning sunsets.” And Tristan Baker, who is also earning a Master’s in Industrial Relations at Cornell, has already warmed to the region.

“I love Ithaca — it blends charming small-city life with the beauty of countless backpacking trails scattered all around the Finger Lakes. The winter might be cold, but the reward is getting to experience the best parts of all four seasons.”

Among the Class of 2025, each member treasures a different part of the Ithaca. Seth Petty, an Accenture consultant, is looking forward to Taughannock Falls State Park, where one waterfall plunges 215 feet, and the Cornell Botanical Gardens, a mix of rolling trails and scenic landscapes accessible year-round. Jennifer White-Phalen, a California native who last worked in marketing and project management, is “eager” to indulge in the “farm-to-table food options.” In a town known for its rich ice cream, she is equally enthused about the campus Dairy Bar. Along the same lines, Alejandra Chavez, a corporate banker from Peru, cites the Ithaca Bakery, a regional staple renowned for its fresh breads and decadent pastries.

MBA students cross Feeney Way in front of Sage Hall

A SETTING THAT FOSTERS COMMUNITY

That’s not all, Chavez adds. “What really gets me excited is the idea of exploring the wine region. I can picture hanging out with friends, sipping wines and ciders and enjoying time off. Ithaca is going to be an adventure like no other!”

More than adventure, Ithaca means fun weekends away from cramped and noisy cities, time devoted to indulging in the delights of nature and the company of classmates – the kind that forge lifetime bonds among MBAs who spend two years at ‘Camp Ithaca’. That doesn’t mean Cornell is out in the middle of nowhere, however. Instead, says ’23 grad Veronique Falkovich, you’ll find students heading down the interstate every weekend to New York City. In town, there are plenty of block parties and wine tastings to keep students busy too says ’23 grad Bob Reed – not to mention a robust bar scene.

“It’s the perfect size and place to be for a two-year MBA program specifically,” Falkovich adds. “It’s small enough that you are always surrounded by your fellow students and will constantly run into people you know. At the same time, it’s large enough that there are places to get away and enjoy nature or a quiet space. It’s a town that encourages being involved in your MBA community while still giving you space to be yourself.”

A DIPLOMAT IN ACTION

…and get to know your classmates too. In the Class of 2025, that includes Pedro de la Rosa Herrera. Before he moved to Mexico, he served as the first secretary and senior economist for the Mexican Embassy to the United States. As a diplomat, he worked on issues such as bilateral negotiations between the two countries.

“Being part of the team responsible for overseeing the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement implementation from Mexico’s side and dealing with high-stakes negotiations and cooperation initiatives among the world’s greatest trade partnerships really changed my perspective. It allowed me to give back and raise Mexico’s name on the international stage.”

In this role, de la Rosa Herrera learned how the public sector could address social and environmental issues to achieve the greater good on a global scale – something he intends to further pursue after graduation.

“I plan to leverage my world-class Johnson MBA and my experience across economics, diplomacy, and development to pursue a career in international finance and development. In particular, I’d like to be part of the International Finance Corporation, which is the world’s largest private-sector development institution and a member of the World Bank, and the United Nations Environment Program Finance Initiative.”

Cascadilla Gorge on the campus of Cornell University

FROM THE PEACE CORPS TO INVESTMENT BANKING

Jennifer White-Phalen pursued an equally global vocation in the Peace Corps. Working out of a remote village in Botswana as a teacher, White-Phelan admits that she was initially a learner, be it riding donkeys or killing snakes. Over time, she realized that her students couldn’t improve their confidence or critical thinking skills without first boosting their literacy rates. That required funding. To achieve the latter, White-Phelan tapped into the biggest resources available.

“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.”

As a follow up, White-Phelan is looking o transition to investment banking, focusing on the real estate gaming and entertainment sectors. “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.”

FIXING A FLAW IN MICROSOFT WINDOWS

The class also includes Bryn Hart, a global channel marketing manager who developed her company’s DEI strategy. At the Royal Bank of Canada, Sharon Davidor provided financing to stressed business to keep them afloat during COVID-19. Similarly, Tristan Baker, a U.S. Marine Corps officer, organized a COVID-19 vaccination drive that eventually delivered shots to 15,000 people over 3.5 months. And let’s just say Yossi Garmazi gained some of the most valuable experience imaginable when he joined a digital intelligence company as an accountant.

“I had the pleasure of taking part in the company’s preparation to become a publicly-traded company in the Nasdaq through a $2.4 billion initial public offering that took place in late 2021. This was the most pivotal moment in the company’s 20-year history.”

Surbhi Inani worked as a Microsoft software engineer before joining the Class of 2025. In her role, she was responsible for collecting and analyzing customer feedback on audio usage in Windows devices. Over time, she discovered that language barriers sometimes resulted in feedback being incorrectly categorized or even lost.

“My Indian ethnicity gave me the sensitivity to recognize triaging issues occurring disproportionately when accents and dialects of non-English users were mistranslated. I led efforts to recalibrate the rules in the automation’s algorithm to account for many words in the audio space that could be translated better to represent the users’ true issues. The impact of this change was especially felt among our Pan-Asia customers.”

Cornell MBAs with the Big Red Bear

GOING BACK IN TIME

When it comes to organizational skills, the class would be hard-pressed to match Darren Deng. “I managed to “run” a 15,000-person marathon — the 2023 Longfeng Twin-City Marathon in Hubei, China — as the event’s chief planner, not a runner. I had to coordinate between two cities’ different departments to make sure we had everything in place. The time spent on communication work was intense, and I barely slept for one month. Eventually, my team and I pulled it off.  It was the first cross-province marathon in China as the route involved running from the Hubei province in China to the Hunan province. It became one of the most iconic marathon events in China this year, and it was reported by almost every mainstream media in China, including CCTV and China Central Television.”

It’s too bad that Deng didn’t get a chance to compete, however. “I run more miles than I drive every week,” he writes.

Speaking of athletic feats, Jennifer White-Phalen has bicycled 4,000 miles across the United States and another 500 miles across Spain. Now, she is planning to visit 30 countries by the time she turns 30…and has already hit 29 with two years to go. In his private time, Tristan Baker creates digital beats online, while Yossi Garmazi is an advanced deep scuba diver who loves to visit shipwrecks.

“[I have] more than 60 dives all over the world,” he writes. “In the Philippines, I dove into eight World War II Japanese military ships. One of those ships was the Okikawa Maru, a 160-meter ship, where I saw the oil and rice barrels and explored the engine room and 80-year-old weaponry. It was literally diving into another era.”

Next Page: An exclusive interview with Dean Vishal Gaur

Page 3: Profiles of 12 members of the Class of 2025

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