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Real Humans of Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class of 2023

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johnson mba classValerie Hanke, Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class of 2023

Age: 29
Hometown: Düsseldorf, Germany
Undergraduate Institution and Major: McGill University: BA in Political Science & Universität Konstanz: MA in Political Science
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 5 years marketing/communications at an agency and consulting firm, focused on insurance

Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
I was working in the insurance space and grew passionate about the digital transformation underway. I decided to pursue an MBA because I wanted to play a more meaningful role in that change. For me, it was the right time because I had solid experience to build on and a clear goal for my future.

Why did you choose Cornell? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Three factors were key in my decision: the
Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows Program, the student body, and the focus on tech. 

The Park Fellowship offers recipients the opportunity to hone their leadership potential through an engaging development curriculum, with an emphasis on individual and small group learning. It’s a real differentiator for Johnson – and I encourage all those eligible to apply! 

I felt a strong connection to the Johnson community early on: students are ambitious and grounded, passionate, and determined. At Johnson, you will have the opportunity to meet an incredibly diverse group of people who are united by their drive, humility, and conviction of wanting to have a positive impact. 

Johnson has an impressive tech curriculum. Ithaca students can benefit from Cornell’s College of Computing and Information Science (CIS) and from Cornell Tech in New York City. I’m most excited about the fintech intensive, which is a 5-week course taught at the Cornell Tech campus.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2023?
Our diversity and eagerness to learn from and share with each other is our biggest collective strength. I would say I am no different in this regard than my fellow classmates – everyone brings a unique perspective.

Tell us a fun fact that didn’t get included on your application:
I became a godmother in July!  

Post-MBA career interests:
Product management in financial services 

Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:
– What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
The most valuable thing you can do with your time is talking with current students and the admissions team. It’s a great way to assess the cultural fit and really get to know the school. I know it can feel strange to put yourself out there – but just do it! I’m so glad I did.  

– What is one thing you would change or do differently?
I would advise really taking the time to think about why you want to pursue an MBA program early on and find a way to articulate that. I had a strong conviction from the start and knew it was the right thing for me, but I didn’t have a clear way to convey it to others until much later. While some people understood my ambitions right away, others didn’t – largely because I couldn’t fully explain my goals. Translating your aspirations into a kind of mission statement or personal story can be very powerful, both for your own motivation and for the application and interview process. 

– What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
Having to retake the GMAT. I think it’s common to take it more than once, but for me it was a tough experience. I got through it by drawing on my great friends and family – and by looking up cheesy motivational quotes. Ultimately, it reaffirmed that I was motivated to pursue my goals. 

What is your initial impression of Cornell’s students/culture/community?
What has stood out is a general openness to being vulnerable in a team setting. As MBA students, we’re getting quite good at pitching ourselves and showing potential employers all our strengths. But when it’s just us around a table, we’re also quick to show weakness. This has led to some powerful moments already at this early stage of the program. We’re all here to grow and support each other.  

What is one thing you have learned about Cornell Johnson that has surprised you?
The entrepreneurial spirit! Student agency plays a huge role at Johnson, especially once you’re a second year. Students run professional clubs, career prep, and much of what goes on around campus outside of classes. 

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your personal application or admissions process in any way? If so, how?
It increased the amount of time spent in Zoom meetings at all times of day (or night!). But, being in Germany during the application process, I also felt fortunate that everything was virtual and I could take part in many of the events I wouldn’t have been able to attend had those been in person. 

What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
So far – accounting! 

What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year? Building relationships with classmates, working as an Associate with Big Red Ventures, testing my limits. And acing accounting! 😉 

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.