Hiring Cornellians

Derek Johnson ’04
Derek Johnson ’04

A list of staffers at Global Zero, where Derek Johnson ’04 is executive director, can look like a Cornell College alumni directory—there are four Cornellians working there full-time and a fifth who is taking part in an internship at the non-profit that’s dedicated to eliminating nuclear weapons around the world.

It isn’t intentionally a reunion, and there are other schools represented at the organization, to be sure, but it is a testament both to Johnson’s love of his alma mater and the education Cornell students get.

“This is a global campaign and it often runs at break-neck pace,” Johnson said. “Expectations are high; you have to hit the ground running, and the work cuts across disciplines. The kind of intellectual agility that comes with a liberal arts background—and with a Cornell experience in particular—is key.”

That broad base and intellectual rigor of a Cornell education are, of course, what have made graduates successful CEOs, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and any number of other positions over the past 160 years, but liberal arts education has come under a lot of fire in the media lately. Sometimes it takes a graduate of a liberal arts college to recognize the valuable skills Cornellians learn. Between the liberal arts grounding and the pace and structure of One Course At A Time, Cornell graduates are used to working very hard—and very quickly. At Global Zero, which has a relatively small full-time staff, a lot is demanded of its workers.

“You are frequently asked to do more than you think you can do—to take on more than peers at other organizations in the same stage of their career,” Johnson said. “You have to be resourceful, creative, quick on your feet. That’s all familiar ground for anyone coming from the Hilltop.”

So hiring Cornellians isn’t only about college loyalty; it’s about recognizing the skills they have and the remarkable things they’re able to achieve. And, Johnson said, it isn’t hard. The Office of Alumni Engagement and the Career Engagement Center are both good places to start looking for other Cornellians who might be good hires. And the Career Engagement Center runs a LinkedIn group that helps alumni build their professional networks, as well.

“You’ll probably be surprised how many fellow Cornellians are in the area,” he said. “As one of our Cornell interns said: Like corn syrup, we’re in everything.”