The latest crop of Johnson Cornell Tech MBA candidates recently finished up their three-month core business course in Ithaca and have transitioned to the Cornell Tech campus in New York City. Members of this cohort look forward to building on relationships forged in the lakes and gorges of Central New York as they acclimate to the caffeinated vibe of Manhattan in the fall.
Many in this year’s class arrived armed with technical backgrounds, such as Katherine Hammes, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA’17, who holds degrees in chemical engineering and fiber and polymer science. Hammes worked in materials development at a Boston 3D printing startup and as a global skincare formulation lead at Unilever before starting at Johnson Cornell Tech. Like many students, Johnson Cornell Tech’s learning approach held a special attraction for Hammes.
“I have always been a bit of a tinkerer,” Hammes says. “Whether testing in the lab or ‘MacGyver-ing’ something in my apartment, figuring things out is just my nature. Other [MBA] programs all felt very poised and polished. When I visited Cornell Tech, it just felt different — quirky, spunky, exuberant. As impressed as I was with other schools, Johnson Cornell Tech is where I found my ‘tribe.’”
Nikhil Swaminathan, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA ’17, brought a software engineering background to Johnson. After earning a degree in computer engineering at Canada’s University of Waterloo, Swaminathan worked as a software engineer for “an ambitious dual-screen Android phone project,” served as a technical product manager for a smart TV manufacturer, and cut his entrepreneurial teeth at an educational technology startup in India.
“Given my background in product development, I did not want to do a regular MBA,” Swaminathan says. “I wanted to be in a creative environment, but also receive a core business education. I also wanted to benefit from the mentorship of people like Greg Pass and David Tisch.”
Building a Foundation in Ithaca
This year’s class enjoyed the unique challenges and joys of their fast-paced summer on Cornell’s Ithaca campus. For many, it was an opportunity to bond with new classmates in a rural setting outside the hustle and bustle of New York City.
“My favorite aspect of being in Ithaca was that I got to know my classmates so well that by the time we all got to New York, we were already best friends,” says Anna McGovern, Johnson Cornell Tech MBA ’17. “Also, we worked in teams with the Accelerated MBA students over the summer, and now we have a network that’s much larger.”
McGovern, who holds a degree in computer science and worked as a project manager at Citibank before arriving at Cornell, also appreciated the connection to the larger Cornell community afforded by the semester in Ithaca.
“We developed a sense of pride in Cornell and for Johnson by being in Ithaca for the summer,” McGovern says. “You get to see the whole system and how everything works together. It’s a really unique place and experience.”
Since arriving on the Cornell Tech campus in September, Johnson Cornell Tech students have dug into their environment and course load. They recently wrapped up the first “Sprint” of the term, a 24-hour block free of regular classes, career events, and other campus activities, where cross-functional student teams can focus solely on their Company Challenge projects. McGovern is on a team with an LLM (Master of Law) student and two Computer Science students. Before the first Sprint, McGovern admits the team had some difficulty engaging and fully understanding the goal of the project, which is to develop an innovative idea and prove its viability, versus actually building a fully functional product. The Sprint experience changed the mind frames of everyone on her team.
“Our Sprint was a real breakthrough for my team,” McGovern says. “Once we started on Thursday night, no one wanted to stop. I think people just had to go through it to realize how valuable it would be.”
From here, students are looking forward to concluding their Corporate Challenge projects in December and moving on to the Startup Studio in the spring. Despite the accelerated pace of the program, some are taking time to reflect on their experience to date.
“I have loved being exposed to the diverse backgrounds of my classmates,” Hammes says. “Without a doubt, Johnson Cornell Tech is a magnet for tech-centric, product-focused, entrepreneurial people.”