Alumni Notes: Spring 2020

By: Allison Barrett, 
Thu, 03/05/2020

Graduates of the undergraduate and Ph.D. programs in the Department of Economics have had an impact not only on economics but also on a wide range of industries around the world. We are always interested in hearing from our alumni and look forward to sharing your successes. To submit a class note and read more about interacting with current economics students, please visit our Alumni page.


Class of 1954Stephan Wittkowsky Cornell alum 1954

Stephan Wittkowsky

Wittkowsky's first job was at an industrial research institute for industry in Central America. At the same time, he was a part-time professor at a private university in Guatemala. After 25 years of working in the private sector as a CEO of a chemical complex in Guatemala, he is now a self-employed consultant. He divides his time between Guatemala and Chapel Hill, NC, where her is a lecturer at Duke University and is associated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as a mentor at SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives). In Guatemala, he advises the Universidad Francisco Marroquin in entrepreneurship and gives lectures on the economics of development. 

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life?

"As you can read from my experiences, I always relied on my econmics education for many activities, including branching out to managerial positions."


Class of 1960

Logan CheekLogan Cheek Cornell alum 1960

Cheek is enjoying retirement after 40 years in venture capital, with a total of $500M assets under management and having been rated as one of the top performing VCs. He is the author of Zero Base Budgeting Comes of Age and some 10 other professional and newpaper articles. He spent the earlier part of his career in corporate management with Xerox and at McKinsey & Co., Inc. in NYC and Germany. He also spent 4 years in U.S. Army Intelligence in Germany and Vietnam, during which he was trained as a collection case officer (e.g. "spook") and graduated from Army Language School, but spent most of his time at U.S. Army Europe HQ as Chief Intelligence Officer for East Europe, responsible for all Soviet Bloc countries except East Germany and the Soviet Union.  

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life?

"It began the honing of my ability to select potential successful entrepreneurs and opportunities. I intuitively sensed from working with Fred Kahn, Morris Copeland and Chandler Morse that the "economic man" premise might be flawed, and what's today evolved into "behavioral economics" might be a more useful approach. It gave me the ability to write and to reject academic jargon."


Class of 1967

Claudia GoldinClaudia Goldin Cornell alum 1967

Goldin is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University and was the director of NBER's Development of the American Economy program from 1989 to 2017. Goldin is an economic historian and a labor economist. She is best known for her historical work on women in the U.S. economy. She was the president of the American Economic Association in 2013 and was president of the Economic History Association in 1999/2000. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1972. You can read more about her here.


Class of 1968

Robert SpencerRobert Spencer Cornell alum 1967

After completing his B.A. in Economics, Spencer stayed at Cornell and received his M.B.A. in 1970. He joined one of the Big 8 (at the time) accounting firms, who sent him to Northwestern to take the required accounting courses to become a CPA. He spent 11 years with that firm, then another 11 years with PepsiCo, all in their international businesses. He was later recruited to become the CFO of the largest law firm in the world, Baker & McKenzie. He retired in 2012 but continues to work with them on various projects. He is active with a very large non-profit provider of mental health and substance abuse treatment in Illinois, serving on the board and as Treasurer.

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life?

"My Cornell education in both A&S and the Business school has been a very substantive underpinning for all of my professional endeavors and in my participation in and enjoyment of all of my activities."


Class of 1981

Sheryl LewisSheryl Lewis Cornell alum 1981

Lewis worked as an econometrician for 3 years, got an MBA from Harvard, moved to California, got married, had 2 sons, and worked in high tech for 15 years in marketing, quality, product development and HR. She then helped co-found a communication consulting firm which has grown successfully and where she's been for 18 years.

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life?

"Economics is a great major because it is so broad and really helps you have good mental models for how the world and human beings operate. It is great training for so many future endeavors - business, non-profit, government, psychology, etc. Although I only worked in the field for a few years, I consider myself an economist at heart and am grateful for the education I received at Cornell."


Class of 1987

Simon LeeSimon Lee Cornell alum 1987

Lee graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991 following a stint as an investment banker on Wall Street and an adventure circumnavigating the world solo. While he was taking the bar exams in California and New York, he worked at Disneyland. Following the L.A. riot, he worked to help the community recover as a project manager at Rebuild L.A. while also working on the campaign for Bill Clinton. When Clinton was elected, Lee followed him to D.C. working in the transition team and then at the White House. Since he still wanted to help the L.A. area recover, he moved to HUD as a legislative officer and worked on an emergency bill to give housing vouchers a day after the devastating earthquake near Los Angeles in 1994, as well as to start a community bank and enterprise zone. In 1995, he worked for Pope John Paul II for Mass in Central Park in New York City before working at the United Nations 50th Anniversary. In 1996, Lee returned to Los Angeles and started investing in retail commercial properties.

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life?

"While at Cornell, I assumed that life was all about economics, and everything could be explained in terms of economics. I loved all the theories and the explanations they provided. However, what I really learned in economics at Cornell was how to think and how much I actually appreciated learning. Since studying economics, I can usually decipher what economists or business people are talking about, and I actually find it fun."

Yana van der Meulen Rodgersvan der Meulen Rodgers

Van der Meulen Rodgers went on to get a PhD in economics from Harvard and is now a Professor in the Labor Studies & Employment Relations department at Rutgers University.

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life?

"I would not have been able to go down this career path were it not for my undergraduate degree in economics from Cornell. My advisor in the econ department at the time, Prof. Insan Tunali, played an instrumental role in convincing me to go to graduate school in economics. Without his mentorship I would probably have gone down a different path completely."


Class of 2001Kristina Wallender Cornell alum Class of 2001

Kristina Wallender

After Cornell, Kristina worked on business transformation initiatives at JPMorganChase for three years and then migrated west for an MBA at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. That mix of business experience and education prepared her to spend her next six years in various business leadership roles at Amazon, where her passion for the customer was forged. She went on to lead marketing at two early-stage companies in the Bay Area. Last year, she founded a consulting firm, Vertical Rise, to help mission-driven organizations develop marketing and customer experience management capabilities to broaden and accelerate their impact.

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life?

"My economics education at Cornell laid the foundation for building data-based decision-making expertise, which is critical for marketing and business leadership."


Class of 2003

Erika EttinErika Ettin Cornell alum 2003

Ettin worked for over seven years at Fannie Mae as an economist. For three of those years, she attended business school in the evenings at Georgetown. Then, almost nine years ago, she quit her job to start her own business... as an online dating coach ( Now she gets to use her analytical skills (she still loves spreadsheets) and people skills to make the world a little bit better by helping people market themselves online (profiles, pictures, etc.) and making the process more accessible to people. She also published a book in 2014 called Love at First Site.

Joe JamesJoe James alum Class of 2003

James completed the mid-career Masters in Public Administration at Harvard's Kennedy School. Currently he serves as an Economic Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica. His previous tours in the diplomatic service include: Perth, Australia; Mexico City, Mexico; and the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, France. Prior to that, he spent six years in the credit union industry after graduating from Cornell. 

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life?

"My economics degree has helped me understand complex economic issues and their impact on U.S. foreign policy. Thanks to my Economics degree, I was fortunate to have my first posting in the U.S. Foreign Service be at our Mission to the OECD and I was selected to participate in my Masters in Public Administration degree at Harvard's Kennedy School."


Class of 2004

Jose ThomasJose Thomas cornell alum 2004

Thomas received an M.S. in Mathematics and Statistics from Rutgers University in 2013. Subsequently, he worked in marketing research for 6 years. He is currently senior statistician in a niche industry. Prior to grad school, his most substantial experience was working as an analyst for GE.

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life?

"People comment positively on my writing. To a lesser extent, my time at Cornell marked the beginning of my math education, though my main math studies were a few years after graduating when I took classes at Rutgers."


Class of 2007

Tomeka Hill-ThomasTomeka Hill-Thomas Cornell alum 2007

Hill-Thomas is currently the lead data scientist of the head of the advanced people analytics team at EY. Prior to that she worked at Ford Motor Company in their Global Data Analytics and Insights group where she was the senior manager and led the long-term pricing and volume forecasting team.

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life?

"It opened lots of doors for me. It also taught me to think more critically."


Class of 2010

Christie GibsonChristie Gibson alum 2010

After graduating from Cornell, Gibson attended law school in Toronto, Canada. She works in urban planning law at a national full-service law firm, where most of her work involves facilitating new development on behalf of universities, developers, and municipalities across Ontario. She and her husband (Sameer Nurmohamed - also a 2010 Economics graduate from Cornell) have a one-year-old daughter who has lit up their lives. Outside of work and family life Gibson volunteers with the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network and various industry organizations. She also serves on the board of a national not-for profit.

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life?

"Studying economics at Cornell helped form my way of thinking about relationships in the world, which ultimately led to my interest in urban planning. For instance, robust public transit networks and vibrant public spaces have been demonstrated to decrease crime and xenophobia. Definitely an important consideration when you're in the community-building job that I am!"


Class of 2013

Mayda DorakMayda Dorak Cornell alum 2013

For the first two years following her graduation, Dorak worked in management consulting in Istanbul before she took a year off to travel and then relocated to her home country of Cyrprus in 2016. She accepted an offer from the leading construction company in the beautiful city of Kyrenia, Cyprus and has since been selling their residential projects and enjoying a great work-life balance as well as the fantastic Meditteranean weather.

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life? 

"Undeniably, having an Econ degree from Cornell has opened a lot of doors in my work life, but the biggest impact has been from the critical thinking and problem-solving skills I picked up along the way. These skills have transferred to every job I have ever had; knowing how to learn and which details to pay attention to have put me ahead of the curve many times. Being around all the intelligent, hardworking and interesting young people in my classes was also a joy."

Jonathan ChampagneJonathan Champagne Cornell Alum 2013

Since graduating, Champagne has started a film production company, Silverside Productions, and produced his first film, The Pigeon, in NYC with fellow Cornell alumni Owen Pataki (Class of 2010). They are working hard to produce another this spring.

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life?

"My Economics degree has provided invaluable understanding of the investment and business elements of running a film company and producing a film from start to finish. Additionally, the theoretical nature of the degree and classes like Behavioral Economics have actually shed light on character creation during the screenwriting process."


Class of 2019

Kevin GohKevin Goh alum 2019

Goh recently started a new job at the Economic Development Board of Singapore, which is the agency responsible for national economic strategy and developmnent. He is currently in the Strategic Planning division, responsible for charting strategies for the organization and nation for the next 10-30 years.

How has your Arts & Sciences degree impacted your life?

"My A&S Economics degree, particularly the training it offered me in the area of quantitative economics and statistics, has equipped me with the skills and know-how necessary to provide critical analysis on key topics of interest to Singapore in order to provide data-driven recommendations. This, of course, is important in ensuring that we employ the right strategies and policies in creating economic prosperity for fellow Singaporeans, and I am thankful that my Economics background has allowed me to work in an agency generating significant social impact."


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