2019 Best EMBAs: Natasha VanWright, Cornell University (Johnson)

Natasha VanWright

Cornell University, Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

(and Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences)

“Innovator who champions the voice of the underserved to create a world of health equity.”

Age: 42

Hometown: Yonkers, New York

Family Members: Husband Kelvin, my sons Matthew (11) and Michael (6), Parents Tillman and Eddie Lee

Fun fact about yourself: I spent part of my teen years playing keyboards in my older brother’s “garage” band. It took years to land this gig (no nepotism there). At the time, it was my life’s dream to jam with my big brother to The Temptations and The Beatles. After I graduate from the EMBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership program, the jam sessions will resume – although I have to re-audition.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Marymount College, Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry

Pace University, Bachelor degree in Nursing

Pace University, Master degree in Nursing Education

Where are you currently working? Healthfirst – Director of Care Management-Medicare and Medicaid. I develop and oversee health care management programs that serve a large and diverse NYC population.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

College Banner Bearer Commencement 2019

Class Voted: Most Likely to be Your Boss

EMBA/MS Student Ambassador 2019

Semi-annual speaker at Bronx high schools on careers in healthcare

Mentoring new minority nurses on career navigation and roles in leadership

Health education in churches in low socioeconomic areas in the Bronx and Westchester County

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Providing structured 1:1 leadership mentoring and watching many of my mentees find their passion, enter graduate school, and take on new roles to change the world.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I have dedicated my Nursing career to understanding and developing programs for underserved populations that deliver patient-centric and quality outcomes. One achievement that stands out, is my collaboration with colleagues to develop a geriatric center in the South Bronx. The center has shown improved patient outcomes on diabetes, preventative care, and re-admission measures. More importantly, it was built with the patient and their unique physical and social challenges in mind.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I have had many outstanding MBA professors. However, I have to make special mention of Dr. Beta Mannix who taught Healthcare Leadership. She pushed me to see myself differently as a leader and gave me tools to help leverage my unique strengths. Dr. Mannix encouraged me to develop a compelling vision of the change I want to create in the healthcare ecosystem and how to relate this vision in a way that influences others.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite MBA course was Advanced Strategic Analysis taught by Dr. Gautam Ahuja. The course helped me connect the dots using analytical frameworks as we drew on prior program content (Strategy, Branding, Marketing, Operations, Accounting, and Finance) to perform strategic analysis and formulation. An important insight that I gained from this course is the value of taking a structured approach to strategic analysis to minimize the risk of missing real and potential threats.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I knew I did not want to pursue a fully online program because I wanted an in-person learning format. A full-time program was not the right fit for me at this stage of my life due to family commitments and work demands. I also wanted a school with a great reputation, strong alumni network, academic rigor, close proximity to NYC, world-class professors, a focus on healthcare, and multidimensional diversity of thought.

The Cornell EMBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership program was an ideal fit. It met all of my needs and offered the best combination of support, diversity, healthcare focus, and learning opportunities which was no easy feat. In addition to bringing together clinical and non-clinical healthcare industry leaders, the dual degree format offered an additional richness to learning and courses that underscore the industry landscape.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I most enjoyed engaging with classmates, building relationships, and team-based learning. My cohort represented many sectors of the healthcare industry from higher education, consulting, technology, clinicians, government, and payers. This mix allowed me to better understand the complexities associated with the healthcare industry and challenged me to expand my thinking of how these components impact my work and can be leveraged to impact change. The added bonus to expanding my network and the individual people who have this shared experience is that it pushed me to speak up, think harder, and take risks. I am forever grateful to each of member of the EMBA/MS Healthcare Leadership Class of 2019!

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? Holidays are very important in my family and missing even minor holiday events is a very rare phenomenon. One time, I had a quick turnaround time project for work that was due the Monday following the holiday and I had a school assignment due shortly thereafter. My family and I made the four-hour drive to my parents’ home and I used the car ride to develop a strategy to meet my deadlines. I reached out to one of my study group teammates to collaborate on the homework assignment over a few hours, making the assignment considerably easier and completing it before it was due. I worked remotely from my parents’ home and set the expectation that I was off-limits during work hours. I organized my work and called a team meeting with those members whose skill set matched the project to reduce the time needed to identify a solution. By utilizing time management skills and strategically leveraging my network, I was able to spend the weekend with the family and celebrate the holiday.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Do your due diligence and select a program that meets your unique needs. After that acceptance letter arrives just jump in, bring your transparent self, soak up every moment, and enjoy the ride. Yes, there will be bumps in the road and you will struggle with managing it all, but with a lot of planning and a great support network, the goal will far outweigh the sacrifice.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school?

Myth – Your social life becomes non-existent.

Reality – I spent many hours every week outside of the classroom studying in addition to team meetings and class time. However, with managing my social network’s expectations, good time management, and family support, I was able to see close friends, attend major events and have regular family time.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret is that I did not get to know some of my cohorts as much as I would have liked. However, I rest assured knowing that we will have many more opportunities to connect as alumni.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My cohort consisted of some remarkable healthcare professionals, however the classmate I admire the most is Andres Jimenez. In addition to being a valued classroom participant, Andres is always willing to lend a helping hand; whether it be working on assignments, putting things in perspective, or using his experience as an entrepreneur to mentor aspiring entrepreneurs-all while juggling family life with his wife and 3 young children.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when… (Complete sentence) I realized that I did not speak or understand the language needed to influence change on a large scale.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term goal is to lead a thriving consulting firm focused on helping local organizations that are dedicated to providing healthcare underserved populations. I would like to help these companies create more efficient and comprehensive programs that achieve better patient outcomes.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I am a fun, innovative, considerate and collaborative leader who is passionate about social determinants of health and understands how to develop healthcare programs to maximize outcomes.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

Complete a mission trip with my children

Month long trip to Israel, Greece, and Rome


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