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MBAs mark historic day in new era of business education

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Joe Schwartz
Tosin Adeniji
Lindsay France/University Photography
Tosin Adeniji, MBA '17, listens to other student speakers onstage at Johnson's graduate recognition ceremony in Newman Arena.

At a very public event, Tosin Adeniji, MBA ’17, told a very personal story about the power of community at Cornell Tech.

Adeniji was one of three students to address a teeming Newman Arena May 27 at the graduate recognition ceremony of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. Every graduate made history by being part of the first class to graduate as members of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

As class speaker for Cornell Tech MBAs, Adeniji said she had come from London to attend the program. On a crisp, cold Wednesday in December 2016, she walked into a Cornell Tech conference room to meet with a classmate about a presentation. Afterward she talked with her mother by phone for about an hour, telling her about the productive meeting. By 5 p.m., Adeniji had learned her mother had suffered a heart attack and had died.

“The most important person in my life was gone,” Adeniji said.

In that heart-wrenching moment, many of her 50 classmates became her instant support system, she said. Exchanging class notes switched to exchanging messages of encouragement. Career conversations were swapped for personal discussions about identity. The experience pushed their fears, passions and dreams to the forefront, and the MBA became a backdrop, she said.

“It was and is no longer just about a degree. It’s about us and our stories,” Adeniji said.

“Johnson has definitely equipped us with the management tools and collaboration skills to ensure we are all capable of rising as leaders, but that is not all,” she said. “… Our MBA experience transitioned us from fellow classmates into lifelong friends, and now it’s down to each and every one of us to nurture these connections.”

Alexa Ing Stern
Lindsay France/University Photography
Class marshal Alexa Ing Stern, second from right, speaks to a classmate at the 2017 Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management graduate recognition ceremony.

It was a touching moment during a celebration of four doctoral candidates, 50 Cornell Tech MBAs, 61 one-year residential MBAs and 280 two-year residential MBAs. Of the two-year MBAs, 25 completed an MBA and another Cornell degree, in areas including law, public administration and real estate. An earlier ceremony recognized graduates of other Johnson MBA programs; in all Johnson awarded 681 MBAs.

During their time at Johnson, the graduates had an impact that reverberated beyond Cornell, said Mark Nelson, the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean of Johnson. He shared examples of “the many projects that manifest the qualities of a Johnson MBA: experiential learning, collaboration and excellence.”

The mobile app Speech Up, designed by a team that included MBA, engineering and Parson’s School of Design students, assists young people who have speech impediments or speech-related disorders. The app “gamifies” speech therapy with puzzles and challenges that provide real-time feedback and personalized resources for users, Nelson said.

And a team of one-year MBAs worked with Pfizer’s vaccine group to determine how new and emerging technologies could foster a sustainable increase in vaccination rates for kids and adults in Latin America.

“Please continue to make a positive impact on the world and the people around you, as you have done so successfully here at Johnson,” Nelson said. “The need is great for your leadership, talent and expertise.”

Nelson went on to present the faculty research award to Maureen O’Hara, the Robert W. Purcell Professor of Management and professor of finance. An expert in market microstructure, O’Hara is the first two-time winner of the award.

Faculty perspective made financial accounting and managerial accounting the favorite classes of class marshal Alexa Ing Stern, MBA ’17, who co-chaired the student council.

Stern came to Cornell after having worked at a startup with no formal training in business.

“I really can’t speak highly enough about the program that we have at Johnson,” she said. “For me, this was just an awesome opportunity to learn both hard and soft skills that will make me much more effective as a leader in whatever direction my career takes me.”

She has already landed a job as an associate brand manager with Unilever, a position she’s happy with.

Even so, graduation marks a bittersweet moment, Stern said.

“On one hand, it’s really exciting in that it’s the start of a new chapter,” she said. “On the other hand, it is really sad to think about leaving Johnson, and leaving Cornell.”

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