B-School Insider Interview: First-Year Student, Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, Class of 2015

We recently spoke with a student at Cornell Johnson who is entering the second half of her first year in the school’s two-year MBA program. After studying international affairs and political science as an undergraduate, she began her career by working in nonprofits and retail management before taking a position at a human resource solution provider doing business development, client management and recruiting. A decision to pursue human resources/human capital consulting led her to business school, where she has since developed an interest in the tech industry and has landed a summer internship doing human capital strategy for operations for a multinational semiconductor chip maker.

mbaMission: Thank you so much for taking the time to tell us about your experience thus far at Cornell Johnson. What led you to choose the school for your MBA?

Johnson First Year:  For me, it was actually a no-brainer. My career goal was to work in human capital strategy or consulting, and Cornell has one of the best industrial and labor relations departments in the world. As a Johnson student, I can take advantage of classes, student clubs, libraries and recruiting events there [at Cornell]. The department’s quite large, and it brings in large numbers of corporate sponsors, which host different events, like case competitions, workshops and lunches. Being able to take advantage of great resources within the human resources field while being an MBA student makes Johnson the perfect match for me.

mbaMission: Sure. And how do you feel it’s worked out so far? Do you feel like you made the right choice for you?

JFY: Yeah, absolutely. Everything I wanted for business school, whatever I expected for Cornell, is here, and I enjoy it.

mbaMission: Where were you living before you moved to Ithaca?

JFY: I was living in New York City.

mbaMission: Okay. So how has the transition to a smaller town been?

JFY: That’s a good question. It’s definitely not New York City. It’s very different. We have, I would say, maybe less than 20 restaurants to go to and less than eight bars. The town is very small, but this unique environment actually creates a really good sense of community for business students.

mbaMission: Sure.

JFY: I really like that part, and also, I went to undergrad in a really small town, so I’m sort of used to this kind of environment. My peer students who have never lived in a small town before seemed to have a hard time adjusting initially, but the majority of them started to feel comfortable right away. Also, if we want to go to New York City, it’s very easily done. Cornell has a bus service called Campus to Campus that goes from Ithaca to New York City every day. So I feel that I can enjoy both worlds. If I want to enjoy the city, I can go to New York City very easily, and if I stay in Ithaca, I can enjoy a small town, good community feel.

mbaMission: Sure. I could see that. So where do students typically live? Is it mostly apartments, or are there student dorms?

JFY: A lot of Johnson students live in apartments around campus. I live in one of the large apartment complexes that a lot of Johnson students live in, and this is just one year old. It’s really clean, very close to campus, and it has a gym and a shuttle service to campus. Students with family typically live a little bit outside of the town, and they commute by car. They have larger houses with yards and plenty of parks around.

mbaMission: That sounds great.

JFY: Yeah, it’s quite nice.

mbaMission: What are three words you would use to characterize your Johnson classmates?

JFY: I would say supportive, very friendly and extremely motivated. Those were very important to me when I was applying for business schools.

mbaMission: Definitely. And how would you describe the overall community or atmosphere at the school?

JFY: Definitely close-knit. We only have 273 students in my year. I think typically, Johnson takes 275 students per year, so everyone knows everyone and really cares about each other. Second-year students also want to help first-year students, and that creates a really close-knit community.

mbaMission: When you first got to the school, did you have any kind of orientation as an incoming class?

JFY: There was a two-week orientation for incoming students for the two-year program, and I think for the one-year program, there’s maybe only four or five days. It focused on learning about the program and definitely learning about each other. Orientation consisted of classes, team discussions and social events. To top it off, there was one event called Johnson Outdoor Activity. All the students went to a camping site by a lake, and that whole day, we participated in team-building activities. It was a lot of fun, and definitely, I think by the end of two weeks, a lot of us knew each other. Also, at the end of orientation, we find out who is on the same core team. Then, there was a case competition among all the core teams, sponsored by a CPG [consumer packaged goods] company.

mbaMission: That sounds great. It seems like a good idea to have everybody come together like that to connect and learn a little bit about one another before diving into classes.

JFY: Yeah, that’s true.

mbaMission: So which resources at the school would you say have been the most impressive or helpful to you so far?

JFY: That’s a good question. I would say some of the clubs are really impressive. Old Ezra [Finance Club] and the Consulting Club are very good examples. Students in those clubs meet every single week, sometimes multiple times a week, and the clubs teach you everything from how to dress for an interview, how to network, to how to do well on cases, or how to answer technical finance questions. They are very intense programs and very successful at placing students in the financial industry and consulting. So these two clubs are really helpful professional resources. Also, I’ve found the classes to be very exciting and engaging, and the professors are always there to help.

mbaMission: Have you had any interaction with Johnson alumni as part of your job search, or maybe when you were deciding on the school, before you even enrolled?

JFY: Yeah, absolutely. Actually, I had interactions with many alumni. While I was applying for school, I met a couple of alumni through events, and they were really helpful. They contacted me continuously to just check up on me to see if my application was going okay and if I got in. It was really nice to know that they actually cared. I also reached out to the Cornell Club of Japan, and I just sent an email just for inquiry, general inquiry. And the head of the Japan Club—he’s the top of 3M in Japan. He’s really busy, I know—but he took the time out of his busy day to contact me to see if I wanted to join a dinner held at the Cornell Club of Japan. I was really surprised that he decided to take his time to help me.

And after I got in, I reached out to a lot of alumni for recruiting, and they were very helpful also. A lot of them contacted me back right away, trying to help. I set up a lot of informational interviews, and even after those interviews, they were willing to help. Some of them spoke to recruiters for me and set up interviews.

mbaMission: That’s great to hear. We always like to learn who students consider the “rock star” or “must take” professors at the different schools. Have you had any professors so far that you thought were really great?

JFY: Every single person that went to Johnson would talk about this professor named Roni Michaely. He teaches a core managerial finance class. And he is very good—he’s great at teaching, but more than anything, he really, really cares about students learning the material. For example, we had TA [teaching assistant] sessions every single day after each class, and there also were special sessions for students who needed extra help.  Before the final exam, we had about 24 hours’ worth of TA sessions to review the entire class material.

mbaMission: Wow.

JFY: It’s from 9 [a.m.] to 9 p.m. for a couple days, and it’s really, really helpful. I learned so much about finance that I didn’t know before. His class was very impressive.

mbaMission: That’s great.

JFY: Yeah.

mbaMission: As far as the facilities at Johnson, what would you say are some of the strong points and maybe not so great areas that could probably be improved?

JFY: Yes. The facilities themselves—I would not say this is one of the best things at Johnson.

mbaMission: Okay.

JFY: All the classrooms are underground. So sometimes I wish that there was some sort of light or, you know, that we could see outside. I wish that, but that’s one of the things that you notice in the beginning, but then you sort of get used to it.

mbaMission: Sure.

JFY: Other than that, I do not see any disadvantages. We have a great library that is open 24 hours with great librarians. But to be honest, I visited different schools, and I would not think Johnson’s one of the top as far as facilities are concerned.

mbaMission: That’s fair. How is the wireless access across campus? Do you feel you can get your work done efficiently, no matter you need to work?

JFY: Oh yeah, absolutely.  Internet access is great, but when it comes to phones, some people do have problems getting a signal because Ithaca is such a small town.

mbaMission: Sure. How would you say social life is at the school? Have you taken part in any really fun events yet?

JFY: Yeah. Every single Thursday, we have a social event called Sage Social. The school sets up alcohol and food for us, and we all get together and enjoy each other’s company.  All the partners are welcome, so a lot of children are involved as well. And for each Sage Social, they have different themes. Like yesterday, it was the Chinese New Year, so we had Chinese food. And last year, one of the main events was called Pie in the Face. It’s a charity event where the students will nominate a couple of people that we want to see get pie in their face.

There are about 20 people who get nominated, and the nominations are presented at the atrium. So we see pictures of the people who got nominated. And then from that point, we basically pay money to each one of the nominees, and whoever gets the most money, like ten people, I think, will actually get pie in their face. That way, we raise money, and then on the day of, we do an auction for who actually gets to throw pie. Roni Michaely, the professor, was one of the guys who was nominated to get pie in the face.  The event was really fun and for a great cause.

mbaMission: That sounds pretty unique. I have heard about a lot of charity events at the different schools, but I’ve never heard of anything like that. Is it for a different charity every year, or is it always the same recipient, do you know?

JFY: I actually don’t know, but I know the pie in the face is an annual thing. As far as the organization that gets the money, I don’t know. I think it changes every year.

mbaMission: Do the professors tend to go to the Sage Thursday events? And does the dean ever show up?

JFY: Yeah, sometimes I see the dean, probably once or twice a month. That’s pretty frequent. The professors definitely attend, and we get to talk to professors there. They are always willing to share their thoughts and ideas.

mbaMission: That’s cool. Is the dean pretty involved in student life? Do people have office hours with him, or is he generally visible around campus?

JFY: Yeah. He’s actually new. I think he started maybe this year or last year, I can’t remember, probably last year. [Soumitra Dutta was named dean July 1, 2012.] And he’s around a lot, walking around campus, trying to talk to people, and he’s very, very friendly. Sometimes he even invites students to come to his house for dinner. I see him at a lot of different student events. He’s very accessible, available and willing to talk to people.

mbaMission: That’s fantastic.

JFY: Yeah.

mbaMission: Is where Cornell stands in the rankings kind of a big deal on campus? Do people talk about the rankings at all?

JFY: I don’t think they care as much. Before coming here, I cared a lot about the school’s ranking. But then when I came here, people do talk about, “Oh, the new ranking is out. We are this in this magazine, this in that magazine,” but it’s not as big of a deal, I would say. You would just call us around the top 15. I don’t think people care as much as I thought.

mbaMission: That’s fair. Well, my final question is kind of an overarching one. What would you like more people to know about Cornell that they probably don’t?

JFY: Right. So I knew Cornell was going to have a close-knit community, and that’s why I chose it, but I didn’t know it was this much of a supportive community. Once you are in this community, it opens up so many different opportunities, and you get connected to impressive alumni quickly. Career-wise, I didn’t even know that the school is really that strong in investment banking and marketing. I wasn’t aware, but we really place a lot of people in investment banking and marketing. So I know that people who want banking look at Columbia or, you know, Wharton, but Cornell is a really good choice as well. And for marketing, a lot of people want to go to Kellogg, but you should definitely look at Cornell. So if you’re interested in those areas, take a look, because you might be surprised just how good the program is at Cornell.

mbaMission: That’s great. Thank you again so much.

JFY: Sure. Thank you!

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