I visited Johnson the day after I visited HBS where I met Mark.
Again, Mark was ever so helpful in getting me into a live class to check out the HBS classroom experience. I left Boston to get to Ithaca via greyhound around 5pm. The ride was 9 hrs long. I couldn't sleep a wink. I arrived at the hotel around 3:30am, checked into a Best Western and freshened up to see what was in store for me at Johnson at 8am.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Best Western courtesy shuttle bus could take me to the school. So in the morning, they dropped me off right at the doorsteps of Sage Hall. There are two entrances to the school. One from the backside parking lot and a relatively new one on the main campus side which across the narrow street from the School of Hotel Administration.
~~~~~~~First impressions of the city~~~~~~~ upon arrival in Ithaca, the Greyhound bus driver dropped me off in the middle of the Ithaca college town district. The streets at 3am were dark, but I was blown away that the pizza place on the corner was still open. In fact, they were just closing. The area was full of shops. The buildings were mostly brick. Here's a daytime pic of one shop in collegetown.
I went into the pizza shop to ask them if I could call a cab to take me to the hotel. The owner was so kind as to let me use the business phone. As I waited for the cab, I got to know the owner of the pizza place quite well. One interesting thing I noticed about the pizza place was that he had let college students write messages and sign their names all over the walls. This was quite unusual in that, you just don't see graffiti in Ithaca.
One noteworthy thing that I learned from the pizza place owner is that Ithaca is what it is because of the influence of Cornell. In other words, the types of businesses that exist cater to college, faculty and academia needs. And the other businesses exist to support the needs of the businesses that cater to the college students and the faculty.
As the shuttle took me to the school in the morning, I took notice of how some newer modern buildings on campus contrasted so starkly against the predominant backdrop of brick buildings of Cornell. Overall though, since the school was opened in 1868, many of the buildings made one feel like I had traveled back in time.
~~~~~~~~~ My first impression of Sage Hall ~~~~~~~~~~~~ I didn't know what to expect when I arrived at Johnson (Referred to by students mostly as "Sage Hall"). I only knew that Johnson sits right in the middle of Cornell. Cornell Maps
I didn't expect a big building because I knew that the school maintains small entering classes each year. Anyway, despite the age of Sage Hall (built in 1875), the building looked like it had just been built. Since the driver dropped me off at the backside entrance, I didn't realize that the school was actually built as a "U" shape of 3 buildings conjoining one another. With the Sage Hall remodeling, the "U" shape was enclosed and the empty U area was transformed into additional internal building footage and the central atrium.
Now, the reason I'm going into such detail is because I had a reaction about the building that I've not read or heard anyone mention about Sage Hall. Frankly, it looks like a modern haunted house. The top of the building has arches and green seasoned copper spikes. The roof looked just like those sharp arching rooves with metal spikes on colored black houses that you see on Halloween decorations. The architecture is rather gothic in nature and has somewhat of an adopted old catholic church steeple style. In fact, I was reminded of the exterior building of the Haunted House ride at Disneyland. Here's a pic from a live webcam at Cornell of Sage Hall. Take special notice of the roof and top 20-30 feet of the buildings when you compare the two. Live Camera
You may not be able to see it, but it's actually snowing there today and if you go to the live web cam site, you can control the camera yourself, zoom in and see the snow falling. Here's picture of the Disney Haunted House. Do you see the resemblence?
Not convinced? Here's the view at night of the Disney Haunted House. By the way, I saw Sage Hall at sundown and the resemblence was uncanny.
Going into Sage Hall, the atrium was warm and inviting.
Adjacent to the atrium were the study rooms and the cafeteria. Students at Johnson really have only 3 main study or hangout areas. The atrium, cafeteria and study rooms. During my tour, I was informed that students were given keys to the building so that they could stay there into the night. The atrium appears to seat perhaps 50 people and is "the" place to meet up, talk about assignments or study in groups. I must say though that the atrium get's loud real fast. It's like an echo amplifier studio.
During the tour, I was taken downstairs to check out the classrooms and student mailbox area.
The classrooms were modern and very nice. (no pics) Although, I think it's weird to have all the classrooms in the basement floor. Unlike the "haunted" exterior, the interior was bright, cheery, modern and very cozy. Sage Hall is truly a self contained building. One needn't leave for anything. But more importantly, the school had the financial support and vision to create a fully dedicated business school environment. The area around Sage is quite nice as well. Below is a live web cam picture from today of the Sage Chapel area that's directly adjacent to Sage Hall. Web Cam Website
One student mentioned that it would probably be a good idea to know how to play golf before attending because he had met a handlful of visiting speakers at a more personal level over golf. On a sad note, because I was visiting on a Friday, I was unable to attend a live class. After the tour was over, we had lunch paid for by Johnson which was very nice. I think I talked with the 2 students(our tour guides) and 3 visitors in the atrium for 2 1/2 hrs.
After that, I walked around the school a bit more and played e-mail phone tag with JD and was unable to hookup. Ah well.
Cornell is just a HUGE campus. There are so many buildings as well. I wish I had been there in the spring to see the colors. One comment that I kept hearing was how beautiful the area is. This picture gives me a good idea of what they mean.
So what makes Johnson different? Well, I asked these kind of questions quite a bit in the admissions office, to the students and to whomever I ran into in the hallways. Some things that I gleaned from the answers were the following:
1) As much as people tend to over generalize graduates from particular schools such as Wharton are number crunchers or Kellogg people are well versed in marketing, the one over generalized trait of a Johnson graduate is that they are good in general management and are excellent collaboraters. The tag word for Johnson would ultimately have to be "collaboration". It's a riddled theme throughout how the MBA program has been crafted. One student jokingly mentioned that Johnson graduates seem to have a rep for getting along well with people. I guess this is good and bad right? Being a team player is good, but getting along too well could equal a lack of strong leadership too. Both sides of the coin on the good and bad side of the reputation were acknowledged by the student tour guides as well. By the way, for those that are worried about not having enough work experience, one of the student tour guides had just graduated from Yale and only had 1 year of work experience.
2) Students that go to Johnson generally wanted to go there. Let's be honest. Ithaca is a pretty good sized town in the middle of farm country, forests and numerous streams that are highly treasured. If you're a city person, Ithaca will force you to REALLY slow down. It's NOT for everyone.
3) The work load is hard, but not as bad as what I from students at say Darden or Tuck.
4) Despite the fact that Ithaca is in nowhere land, visiting companies do make it out regularly and there is definitely a reasonable amount of business related activity as well. Heck, Johnson even flies some recruiters out on their own private jet.
5) The notion that Johnson does not use cohort or section groupings for students really blew me away. I think this says a lot about how students mix it up well without needing organizational strategies to assist. By the way, the school building being the size that it is and the entering class sizes are what they are, you get to know people rather quickly. In the late afternoon, some students mentioned that they had seen me in the Atrium reading and knew that I wasn't a student and assumed that I was visiting. I was just reading school literature for a few hours. In other words, things generally don't go unnoticed around the school.
Overall, I liked Johnson for the facilities, staff and students. I can see that the infrastructure of the school is very much geared towards being a great school. On a personal note......... call me weird, but when I think about Johnson, the thought that comes to mind is, "great school, haunted house".
This was the last school that I visited in my series of school visits. Not having slept in 40 hours, I went back to the hotel and did what any normal person would do. :) I walked about town and got to talking to store clerks, store owners and people walking by on the street about their thoughts on Ithaca lifestyle. As I generally do this when I go to knew places, I would have to say that the people in Ithaca are nicer than people in much larger cities. Ithaca definitely has that small town feel.