2024 Best & Brightest MBA: Ashley Hamilton, Cornell University (Johnson)

Ashley Hamilton

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

“I am an inquisitive, purpose-driven, systems-minded servant leader.”

Hometown: Sacramento, California

Fun fact about yourself: I biked mainly solo across the U.S. from Boston to Sacramento, California, in 73 days.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Pace University, Business Administration (Marketing) and Psychology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Chicago Jobs Council – Frontline Focus Training Institute Program Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2023? Emerson Electric, St. Louis

Where will you be working after graduation? To Be Decided

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Dean’s List for all semesters in residence at the Johnson School
  • McAllister Speech Award in honor of Charlotte Rosen (One of eight recipients selected from 300 presenters for Excellence in Management presentation)
  • VP of Career Management, MBA Student Council
  • VP of Nonprofit Experience, Johnson Board Fellows program
  • VP of Finance, Human Capital Association
  • Course assistant for seven courses and initiatives
  • Johnson Leadership Fellow
  • Big Red Microenterprise
  • Roy H. Park Leadership Fellow (Community project with Tompkins Chamber Foundation workforce housing task force)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My proudest achievement during business school was the design and implementation of a dues initiative while in my student council role. This initiative sought to create more equitable access to professional development facilitated through professional clubs by creating a policy that the dues for a student’s first professional club membership would be covered by the administration. This initiative required balancing the needs of various stakeholders (e.g., 13 professional clubs, student services, the Career Management Center, student body, etc.) and designing a policy and process that was streamlined and replicable. After its first year, this initiative brought about financial savings of about $200 per student as well as a 22% increase in students opting to join two or more professional clubs.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My proudest professional achievement occurred during my Peace Corps service. I oversaw the implementation of the Michele Sylvester Scholarship, which enabled 326 female middle-schoolers to continue their education in central Senegal. I also worked with a subset of scholarship recipients to hold discussions with their parents and village elders about the positive community impact of closing the gender education gap. To empower the scholarship recipients to be agents of change, I ran a youth entrepreneurship training about starting their businesses and common pitfalls to avoid.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Cornell Johnson because of the ability to take classes with students from a variety of disciplines. Johnson may be known among some as a pivot school, and I was seeking the ability to learn about the different lenses my classmates brought to the business school material. Additionally, Cornell offers such a wide breadth of coursework across the campus, and I wanted that exposure to different disciplines whether I was enrolled in those specific courses or if students from Cornell’s various schools were in my business school classes.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is Risa Mish, who taught the course Critical and Strategic Thinking. In our modern times, critical thinking is of the utmost importance, and Professor Mish formulated a framework to bolster our skills, especially around the nuances of critical thinking. Additionally, her commitment to students goes beyond the classroom; she shows up for the community in many ways. Her patience, perspective and coaching have been invaluable.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? The Johnson Scuba Leadership Expedition was, hands-down, my favorite and most insightful course. This course focused on real-time leadership skill application. We spent a week living on a scuba boat with 10 classmates with varying scuba experience levels, and we dove three times each day. Each dive, we would try to rotate our partners to practice leading through planning before getting in the water, finding new ways to communicate if plans had to change underwater and debriefing afterward to reflect on how the dive went. This course assisted me in having the biggest “aha!” moment for my leadership: The vulnerability in asking for help does not make you weak; in fact, it can aid in building trust with others.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The Follies night is my favorite Johnson tradition. It is a Saturday Night Live-like event where students produce comedy skits about the community every April. I think it reflects the Johnson community’s ability to not take itself too seriously and to find levity in the nuances of B-school.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? One thing I would have done differently is to limit the number of leadership roles I pursued. I allowed myself to be “voluntold” in some of my leadership commitments, and I realized I had spread myself so thin that it was hard to make the impact I wanted to in the leadership roles that were my highest priority. As a colleague mentioned to me the other day, “You have to figure out your strategic ‘noes’ so that you can say yes to the things that matter to you.” This semester, I am practicing saying those strategic notes and realizing that saying them does not mean I do not care, but rather that I need to prioritize my capacity elsewhere.

What is the biggest myth about your school?

Myth: Ithaca’s remote location means that there is little to do.

Reality: It is undeniable that Ithaca is a little secluded, but I have been pleasantly surprised that Ithaca is more bustling with activity than anticipated. During my time in Ithaca, I have attended a Hasan Minhaj comedy special, frequented wineries, joined the community circus center, attended community open mic nights, and watched multiple plays.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? As someone who has nearly always lived in a city, I love Ithaca’s accessibility to nature. I have a waterfall and a gorge within a 10-minute walk of my apartment. Additionally, there are a multitude of hiking paths throughout town and the greater county that can be accessed in less than an hour.

What surprised you the most about business school? The most surprising element of business school to me has been how student-led the experience has been. From community building to professional development, students at Johnson are the driving forces.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The MBA classmate I admire most is Derek Ju. I admire his ability to form community by showing up as himself and making others feel heard. He is one of the most genuine people I know in the program, and he asks thoughtful questions. He seeks various perspectives by talking to students from across the program, and he actively listens. I have seen him apply what he heard from our peers in his student leadership roles of MBA Student Council co-president and president of the Asian Affinity Business Association.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? The top two items on my professional bucket list are steppingstones to reach my long-term career goal to work at a think tank such as Aspen Institute, which explores holistic ways to address workforce system inequities by bringing academia, government, community-based organizations and corporations together to design and implement solutions. My first bucket item is to learn how to effectively convene working groups and inspire various stakeholders who may have conflicting motivations. My second bucket list item is to present a TED Talk. The topic is undecided, but I believe this would be an opportunity to level up my persuasive storytelling skills.

What made Ashley such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2024?

“It was very clear from my first interaction with Ashley Hamilton during pre-term that she was not only a fearless leader, but an agent of social change. Having spent a great deal of her professional career in the nonprofit sector, Ashley is hyperaware of systematic issues that require systematic and structural solutions. As the VP of career management, Ashley was committed to providing the student leaders of the Johnson professional clubs with guidance and support while also centering equity, access and accountability. Receiving an internship offer from the top companies and corporations is the north star of your MBA journey; as the VP of career management, Ashley challenged her peers as well as the professional club structure itself on how inclusive it was— and whether the leadership body was amenable to removing barriers.

Ashley’s ability to shift the current professional club processes is indicative of her influence as a leader to be a catalyst for equity, inclusion and social change. As a member of the Johnson School community, Ashley has been a steadfast advocate and champion for diversity, inclusion and belonging. Even though her leadership terms have ended, this has not stopped her from brainstorming ways to bring people together to make Johnson a place where everyone feels empowered to think critically, to tap into their radical imagination, and to expand their leadership values. Ashley very recently came into my office and said, “I know that I said I would take time to rest this semester, but … .” She proposed that we launch a dinner series entitled “Radical Candor,” where MBA students spend a few weeks together building psychological safety to enable more community conversations around inclusive leadership and becoming an agent of social change. I feel very lucky and grateful that I have had the honor and pleasure to work with Ashley. She embodies the future leaders that we need who are willing to take a risk that challenges norms and values that we often hold onto because we have not challenged ourselves to imagine a better way.”

Nicole LaFave,
Interim Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Cornell Johnson



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