EMBA Spotlight: How Cornell Johnson’s Program Is Uniquely Suited To The Moment

How Cornell Johnson’s EMBA Is Uniquely Suited To 2023’s Murky Outlook

The view from classrooms in Cornell’s Tech Campus on Roosevelt Island in New York.

Is Cornell making direct overtures to laid off tech workers as far as the executive MBA?

Mark Nelson: On the residential MBA side, we’re doing things like offering GMAT waivers or admission fee waivers, things of that nature. Frankly, when you’re dealing with people coming into an EMBA program, the GMAT isn’t really something to be worried about and the application fee is relatively trivial.

What we want them to understand is the opportunity that’s in front of them, and so that’s what we’re doing. We’re stepping up our marketing and outreach in traditional tech hubs like the Bay Area and Seattle as well as Boston, New York City, and so on, to make sure that people are aware of the opportunities that we have for them.

How Cornell Johnson’s EMBA Is Uniquely Suited To 2023’s Murky Outlook

Manoj Thomas, Cornell University

Manoj Thomas: The only difference between the residential MBA and the executive MBA is that executive MBAs don’t have to wait for two years to look for a job. They can join our Americas program or our metro program and, even for people who are working, they are able to pivot to a different job within six months of joining – either within their own company or to a different company altogether.

So, people who are interested in spending two years on an MBA campus and spending time with brilliant people, our residential programs are a great fit. But, people who want to start their MBA, but advance in their career three months or six months from now, an EMBA might be more suitable for them.

Has Cornell thought about offering any online or hybrid format courses, after all that’s been learned from the pandemic?

Manoj Thomas: I think the EMBA landscape is changing considerably. People want to do an MBA, but many of them now don’t want to quit their jobs, and the changing technology is allowing us to reach out to those participants. I think where Cornells is uniquely placed is that we’ve been doing this now since 2005, since the creation of our EMBA Americas program.

Keep in mind that Zoom launched in 2011. So when you hear about other schools launching an online MBA, what I suspect most of them are doing is launching the Zoom-based classroom. We started online in 2005, six years before Zoom was launched. For EMBA Americas, we partnered with Queen’s University in Canada to create Executive MBA programs where ambitious executives can join an MBA program without quitting their jobs while staying where they are. So, somebody in Seattle or the Bay Area could get an Ivy League MBA without having to come to the Northeast.

So how do we make that happen? I think the part that most of our competitors might not realize is that Zoom Room does not make an MBA classroom. You can probably teach engineering or science or chemistry or math on Zoom, but you can’t teach business because it’s a very interactive environment. It’s case studies, and class discussions, and a lot of the learning is from peers.

So how do you recreate this? That’s what we pioneered in 2005 with our partners at Queens University. We created this concept of distributed classrooms: We have 10 localized classrooms in the U.S. (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Dallas, Boston, Washington DC, New York City, and Ithaca) and another 10 in Canada and South America.

How do these distributed classrooms work?

Manoj Thomas: Cornell invested in creating these small classrooms, equipped with our interactive videoconferencing platform, that can be controlled from a studio in Ithaca, NY. Each of these classrooms can accommodate 8 to 12 students.

Every other weekend, over 150 students gather in these classrooms, to attend lectures delivered by Cornell faculty from the state-of-the-art studios in Ithaca. Although students engage with the faculty remotely, they meet their peers in-person, having face-to-face discussions with fellow executives with rich and varied experience. The pedagogy in this program is specifically designed to suit this team-based learning environment. Furthermore, the teams in the distributed classrooms are also able to talk to each other, in real time, across states and countries. Thus, the distributed classroom model brings together executives from different geographies and different backgrounds, allowing them to learn from each other’s rich experience, facilitated by an expert faculty from a remote location.

I think these distributed classrooms are possibly the gold standard for online, and it is very different from the idea of putting people in the Zoom Room to have Zoom meetings. It’s live classrooms with peers in the same room with remote instruction.

What kind of student feedback do you get on this format, from the EMBA Americas students?

Manoj Thomas: I do ask the graduating classes, “What is the thing that you liked the most about the MBA program?” I hope sometimes, in my heart of hearts, that they say, “Oh. It was your class!” But what they usually say is, “I loved interacting with my peers.”

The students are from very different backgrounds, often doing similar roles, and they are learning alongside each other. They get to see all the different perspectives of the same case study. They like the fact that they are learning from each other and building lifelong connections which stay with them for their entire lives. That is not possible if you do a Zoom Room.

You have to give credit to both Cornell and to Queens for having the courage of the conviction because they invested a lot in the technology. There was no Zoom then. We had to create our own technology to create these distributed classrooms, to beam the faculty to these classrooms, and to make it completely synchronous and interactive.

Mark Nelson: One of things I’ve heard EMBA Americas students talk about over the years is dropping in on some of the other class teams in other cities that they’ve been working with long distance. It’s almost like it’s one their bucket list to pop in all these different city classrooms. The idea that you’ve got a group of people that you’re interacting with locally while you’re part of this amazing broader set. So, you’re talking about a case and you can talk to somebody who’s in Peru and who, on Monday, is going to be applying these concepts in Peru. You can share that kind of international perspective. It’s cross functional, but it’s also very international – and international in the moment.

NEXT PAGE: Cornell’s distinguishing factors + EMBA’s evolving curriculum

Comments or questions about this article? Email us.