I recently had the opportunity to visit the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University . A few elements in my visit really stand out, and I want to share them with you.
Class visit I attended a Managing and Leading in Organizations class taught by Dr. Kathleen O’Connor. She led with wit and humor a lively case discussion on Lincoln Electric. The high level of engagement impressed me. I sat at the back of a theater style classroom so I had a great vantage point. No one was surfing the web, checking email, or visiting Facebook pages. All were focused on the discussion at hand, and the overwhelming majority seemed highly prepared to deal with the questions posed, whether they volunteered answers or were cold-called.
I was also impressed with Dr. O’Connor’s practical approach. She mentioned early in the class that one outcome must be learning something from Lincoln Electric’s success that could be applied by the MBA students in future work. My sense was that her orientation is not unique to her or this particular case.
I met with a first-year MBA student before the class, and he proudly told me that he has a summer internship lined up, and that it was exactly what he had hoped for. He seems very happy with his Cornell Johnson experience. After class, when I commented on the lack of electronics in the classroom, he explained that Johnson classrooms are electronics-free zones. Wise policy.
Meeting I also met with Christine Sneva, Executive Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, and Ann Richards, Associate Director of Admissions and Director of Financial Aid Latin America, East & Southeast Asia. Here are a few highlights of our discussion.
Portfolio of programs We spoke about the portfolio of graduate business programs Johnson at Cornell University has developed over the last several years, focusing mostly on the MBA programs. It was clear from our discussion that the two-year program and the different one-year programs each fill different needs in the graduate management education marketplace. Ann and Christine spoke proudly of the May launch of Cornell Tech’s one-year MBA program in Manhattan and its digital focus. They acknowledged the broadening of the one-year Ithaca program from one geared to people with advanced degrees in science and technical fields to one for people with an expanded array of higher educational achievement including JD, CPA, and other masters and advanced degrees. Then of course there is the two-year Ithaca program geared towards those seeking a broader and more traditional MBA education. They also indicated that other options may be coming.
Entrepreneurship A big buzz word and focus in top business schools now is entrepreneurship. While entrepreneurship is great, and I know my MBA was critical to my launching Accepted, I also know that it is still a path pursued upon graduation by less than 5% of new MBAs. I expressed a certain skepticism about the current entrepreneurial obsession and received two great responses: 1) Many MBAs start their own business further down the road so ultimately they will be business owners. 2) Entrepreneurship is state of mind, a willingness to take risks and start something new. This mindset is something that can be taught and is valuable for existing companies who want to grow and respond to a dynamic and fluid market place. Cornell, which has evinced its own entrepreneurial spirit with the growth of Cornell Tech and the expansion of its programs, is walking the walk and talking the talk. Ann and Christine also told me that Ithaca is growing as an entrepreneurial hub for a few reasons:
1. The University resources are right there.
2. Since the cost of living is low, it is more affordable to attempt a start-up.
3. New York State is giving major tax breaks to start-ups in Northern New York.
4. Quality of life is good.
I’m glad I was able to visit Johnson at Cornell University even briefly. It’s in a gorgeous part of the country and housed in a magnificent facility. Enjoying the surroundings is a bonus, but the real value lies in seeing a school close-up, talking to members of its community, and being able to add greater context and insight to information found online, in brochures, and even gleaned from conversations. There is simply nothing like a visit when you want to learn about a school.
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.