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Real Humans of the Cornell Johnson MBA Class of 2025

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Matheus Lelis, Cornell Johnson MBA Class of 2025

Age: 32
Hometown: Fall River, Massachusetts, and Anápolis, Brazil
Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, computational mathematics
Pre-MBA Work Experience (role, company, years): Software engineer in the defense industry, five years; solutions architect at a software startup, two years. I’ve also been in the Army National Guard since college.

Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
I had already been at a point in my career where I was gradually steering away from purely technical roles, but joining a startup for my latest role truly jolted my perspective. The startup environment made me mull over my long-term ambitions while also making me acutely aware of the gaps in my business knowledge. An MBA would allow me to equip myself with a comprehensive business education that wasn’t just about filling gaps but building bridges to future opportunities. Beyond the professional realization, there was a symmetry in the timing where everything aligned, suggesting that it was the right moment to take the plunge and embrace the MBA journey.

Why did you choose Cornell Johnson? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
First and foremost, I was drawn to the sense of intentionality and purpose among the students. With its unique charm (read: remoteness), Ithaca fosters a community where everyone genuinely wants to be here, ensuring authentic relationships that aren’t easily replicated elsewhere. At the same time, Johnson’s access to New York City opens the door to the vast networking and recruiting opportunities a global city offers. Secondly, Cornell’s reputation — not just within the MBA sphere, but overall — further cemented my decision. While those of us deeply immersed in the process often look to specific rankings or niche recognitions, it’s crucial to acknowledge that perception varies across audiences. In my volunteer work with underserved communities, I’ve seen firsthand that brand resonance doesn’t always align with the trending topics of MBA forums. Cornell’s reputation extends beyond the confines of business circles, making it a universally recognized beacon of excellence. This broader brand appeal was an essential factor for me.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2025?
Statistically speaking, I shouldn’t be walking the corridors of Sage Hall. Every day I step into its halls, I’m filled with a sense of wonder, grateful to be a member of the Class of 2025. The odds weren’t in my favor as a first-generation, low-income student and an immigrant with an enlisted background, and my path to Johnson was anything but linear. Yet it’s this unconventional path to Johnson that’s shaped me. Each obstacle and detour have granted me a wealth of unique insights. Rooted in these varied experiences, I offer fresh perspectives on challenges, illuminating them from seldom-explored angles. I consider this distinct viewpoint my invaluable contribution to our class.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that didn’t get included in your application:
For the past eight years, I’ve traveled enough miles annually to circumnavigate the globe at least once a year. I’ve visited 40 US states (plus one territory) and 19 countries and set foot on every inhabited continent. I hope to get to Antarctica soon.

Post-MBA career interests:
Management consulting — first enjoying the lessons that being a generalist provides, but potentially looking to focus on AI digital transformation or fintech in the longer term. 

Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:
–What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
One part of my application process that I would unquestionably repeat is my decision to join Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) before diving headfirst into the MBA application process. Initially, I had set my sights on the class of ’24 but decided to apply to MLT first, which made a world of difference. Being a first-generation student, I was navigating the maze of MBA applications without a road map. MLT, especially my coach Natasha Gore, became my guiding star. The insights, advice and unwavering support I received from Natasha and other MLT Fellows helped me bring the process down to earth and make it attainable.

As more general advice, I also made it a point to visit every school I was considering. This wasn’t just about getting to know the campus and the city, but about getting a real, tangible feel for the environment — a proper ”vibe check,” if you will. It allowed me to gauge where I’d best fit and where I could see myself thriving both academically and personally.

–What is one thing you would change or do differently?cornell johnson mba students
In hindsight, I would have refined my school choices much earlier in the process. It’s crucial to center on what truly aligns with your aspirations rather than being swayed by perceived obligations. I completed nine applications but only submitted five. This is time spent that I’ll never get back. The earlier you figure out where you don’t see yourself, the faster you can focus more on the places where you truly belong.

–What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
If there were one part I could have skipped, without a doubt, it would be the entrance exams (I took both the GMAT and GRE). The sheer weight of their importance and the extensive preparation made it an incredibly stressful and time-consuming ordeal. However, finding solidarity and camaraderie with others undergoing the same journey was extremely helpful in getting through this part. In shared frustrations and mutual encouragement, having accountability buddies and peers to vent to was invaluable.

What is your initial impression of the Cornell Johnson MBA students/culture/community?
My wonder to be at Johnson is matched only by my awe of the incredible peers who surround me. I’m constantly amazed by how everyone is not only exceptionally intelligent but also profoundly supportive. It’s evident that everyone is here with a clear vision to succeed. What truly stands out, though, is the balanced nature of the community. There’s a collective understanding of when to dive deep into our work, but also when to let loose and enjoy the lighthearted moments.

What is one thing you have learned about Cornell Johnson that has surprised you?
One revelation about Johnson that caught me off guard is the sheer depth of resources at our disposal and the formidable strength of the alumni network. I had the opportunity to participate in early recruiting this summer, and the level of support from Johnson was phenomenal. From access to extensive company research from the Management Library or alums proactively reaching out to offer help to prep, one thing was abundantly clear: The Johnson network and resources run incredibly deep.

What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
As I begin my journey at Johnson, what provokes the most anxiety is mastering the art of time management. Between an intensive curriculum, a diverse array of clubs, and the allure of a campus full of activities, there’s a palpable sense of being spread too thin. Ithaca’s outdoor and wine offerings, which I’m particularly drawn to, only amplify this feeling. A potent blend of excitement and the lurking FOMO underlines this experience, making prioritization and time management critical. 

What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year?
Paradoxically, the fuel to my anxiety also ignites my excitement. The abundance of opportunities at Johnson is invigorating, but what really excites me is the prospect of connecting with my incredible peers. The thought of embarking on this collective journey with such a talented and diverse cohort over the next two years is genuinely thrilling.

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.