Courtney Dornell

Courtney Denise Dornell
Class of 2017
Program Details: 
EMBA Americas
Previous Education: 
B.S. Civil Engineering & Physics
Current Work: 
Sales, Marketing & Communications Director, Otis Latin America
Post-CBS Goals: 
Chief Operating Officer
Favorite NYC Activities: 
NYC Architecture, Visiting Museums, Cooking Classes, Eating, Shopping
Areas of Interest: 

How did Columbia get on your radar?

I was the regional sales manager for Otis elevators, and Columbia is one of our biggest customers. There was a code change in New York, so I had to spend two months going to Columbia’s campus regularly to get that sorted out with facilities. So I started walking around and seeing the campus and thought, ‘This is beautiful.’ I ran into Warren Hall one day and bumped into someone in the EMBA-Americas program. It sounded pretty cool. I started looking at the different offerings for business school, then I went to an information session and I was convinced. The EMBA-Americas program just really stood out to me because one of my goals professionally was to work in Latin America, specifically Brazil. So this program seemed like it would be perfect to help prepare me to do that because of the demographic of the students; it's very diverse.

But then I got a promotion to manage the Northeast in sales, and I decided to focus on that. And I did for two years, but I wasn't being challenged. I needed to do something different, and I thought getting my MBA would help me figure out what I needed. Because my background is in science, I wasn’t aware of all the options available in business. I knew I didn't want to leave UPC, so I talked to my mentors, my boss, and HR. They said they would fully support me, and I had to get special permission because of the type of program that it is. It's the only program I looked at. I didn't consider any other school.

What is your professional background?

I am an engineer. I majored in physics and civil engineering. I was recruited straight out of undergrad by Pratt & Whitney, which is part of United Technologies Corporation. I was actually supposed to go to start my master’s degree in civil engineering at the University of Texas, but the company gave me an offer I couldn't refuse. One of the things I was attracted to was their amazing employee scholar program. They pay for you to go to school, so that was attractive because I knew that I was going to continue my education in some capacity.

They’re also a global company, and I knew that I wanted to have international experience. But after three years, I realized that I wasn't being fulfilled in the engineering world that I was in. I moved into sales for Otis elevators, another part of the company. I’ve now been with the corporation for 16 years, and I’ve worked down in Texas, Louisiana, Manhattan, and now I’m in Latin America.

So when did you actually start the program?

I found out I was admitted to the program just before Thanksgiving. And two weeks after that, I got a call from the head of HR for my company, and they said, ‘We want you to go work in Latin America as the director of sales and marketing.’ On of my goals for the program was to be the director of sales and marketing for Latin America, and I thought going through the program would prepare me to take that position. I didn't know that I would get that position before I started the program. So that was all happening all at the same time. That was in early 2016. I graduated in late 2017.

What has been your favorite part of the program?

For me overall, it's been the people. My classmates are my family. I went to a wedding in Chile three weeks ago for one of my classmates. We’re part of each other’s lives forever now. There are 36 of us, and all 35 of my classmates are my family. We had love, loss, trials, tribulations and all sorts of celebrations with one another, and that is something that you really can’t put into words. It’s just absolutely beautiful.

But I’ve made friendships with some of my professors. I’ve learned a lot. It was not easy. Moving to South America, straight into a new role. And beginning an MBA, taking accounting and corporate finance, that was be a challenge. But my professors were very helpful. I struggled with corporate finance, and Professor Donna Hitscherish would call me at night to make sure I got it. I ended up doing well in her class, and it’s because she pushed me. I remember she always said she never left a student behind. And that’s true. A lot of the professors, they’re just great people. I am so glad that I officially graduated because I’m going to hire several of them as consultants.

Did you feel any immediate impact from the program?

I think part of the reason I was able to adapt so quickly to moving and working in Latin America is that I had classmates from Mexico, Brazil, Paraguay, and other parts of the world, and they took me in. My classmates from Latin America explained to me, ‘Okay, doing business in Mexico is like this, doing business in Brazil is like this. These are the things you need to know, these are some people you should talk to.’ I wouldn’t have gotten that if I didn’t have the network and the experience that I had. Even some of my professors who had done business in Latin America were very helpful. That was invaluable.

Then in some of the classes, we would get to go meet other companies and business leaders in various industries that are global. Having that interaction and access — I did not take it for granted. I was asking questions, and I would set up future meetings with some of these people to help me figure out how to navigate in the new world that I was in.

How did the program affect your long-term career plans?

Well it completely changed because I’m in the job that I thought doing the program would help prepare me for. I was able to implement things as soon as I would finish up a block week, I would immediately go and implement what I learned.

But what’s more, I was thinking too small. Going into the program I thought, ‘This is all I want.’ And after talking to my other classmates, meeting the professors, and meeting the business people we interacted with, I realized, ‘You’re thinking way too small. You should be thinking about being the CEO.’ To be honest, up until a year ago I wasn’t even thinking that. It wasn’t on my radar, but now it’s like, ‘why not?’

What advice do you have for new students in the program?

I just spent the weekend with the EMBA-Americas class of ’18 at Machu Picchu. I sent them a note when I left them, and I told them that they need to take advantage and don't take for granted this opportunity that they have. The program is 18 to 24 months. It will go by so fast. If there's a person in your class who you haven’t had the chance to sit down and have a coffee with, make a point to talk to them. Get to know who all your classmates are and what their hopes and dreams are. I know it’s hard sometimes to get up and go to that event in the morning or on the weekend, but do it. Because this is the only time where you have carved out this section of your life for school. And as soon as it’s over, you’re going to go back to your full-time work and family, so really just make sure that you don’t take for granted the opportunities that you have while you’re in the program.



Fall 2015 Cross-Registration Dates

  • A-term, B-term, and Full-term electives: 10:00 am on Thursday August 20th until 4:00 pm Tuesday September 8th.
  • B-Term electives: 10:00 am Wednesday October 21st until 4:00pm Wednesday October 28th.