Risa Mish last graced the pages of Forum fifteen years ago. At the time, she was a partner at a New York City law firm. Since then, Mish, who holds both a B.A. and a J.D. from Cornell, has returned to Ithaca and to her alma mater. For the past eight years, she has worked at the Johnson Graduate School of Management, where she is currently a senior lecturer. With a new initiative launched this fall, she's also sharing the fruits of her experience with new students at her old law school.
Cornell, Take One
Mish's initial route to Cornell in 1981 was something of a happy accident. As a high school senior in Hollywood, Florida, she was accepted to more than half a dozen prestigious universities. How did she choose? "I took the acceptance postcards they'd sent me, put them all face down, and picked one," she recalls, still amazed at the experience. "It was Cornell." In hindsight, she's thankful it was. "Cornell was an ideal place for me."
Though she considered pursing a teaching degree, Mish ultimately opted to study law after receiving her undergraduate degree in communications. The choice of schools was a no-brainer. "I loved Cornell and was in no hurry to leave." At the Law School, she served as the note editor of the Cornell International Law Journal, received a number of American Jurisprudence Awards, and graduated with the John J. Kelly Jr. Memorial Prize, awarded to the graduating student who "best exemplifies the qualities of scholarship, good humor, and fairness."
After graduation Mish clerked for a federal district judge in New Orleans and then took a job at Simpson, Thacher, and Barlett in New York City. She interviewed for the position with Ernest Collazo, a partner at the firm. When Collazo left to start his own firm in 1992, Mish followed. At Collazo, Carling, & Mish, she represented management clients on a wide range of labor and employment law matters.
In 2001 she established her own management consulting practice, providing strategic advice and training to senior executives and human resources teams on a wide range of human capital issues. She continues to run the practice, in addition to her work at Cornell.
Cornell, Take Two
In 2007, Mish returned to Ithaca and joined the faculty of Cornell's Johnson School of Management. "I have always wanted to be a teacher even though I haven't always known what I most wanted to teach," she says. "Teaching in an MBA program is a pleasantly surprising destination, because I don't actually have an MBA. I have, however, represented companies for nearly thirty years as a lawyer, and have long enjoyed the strategic side of advising clients. I never thought of myself merely as a narrow technical specialist; instead, I thought of myself as a strategic partner in my clients' businesses. I've been very fortunate to work with clients who allowed me to have that kind of professional relationship with them, and that made for a resonant and rewarding legal career."
Mish developed and continues to teach the Critical and Strategic Thinking (CST) course, part of the core curriculum at Johnson. She notes, "CST essentially applies law school pedagogy to business problem solving and, in that sense, is a natural extension of the great analytical training that I got at the Law School, and the practical client advice work that I've done as a lawyer."
She also teaches in Johnson's residential one-year and twoyear MBA programs, as well as its NYC Tech Campus MBA, Executive MBA, and Executive Education Programs. She developed and teaches the Leading Teams Practicum, which gives MBA students the opportunity to practice leading peer teams and giving and receiving leadership feedback. And in October she began teaching in the inaugural class of Johnson's new degree program in partnership with Beijing's Tsinghua University.
"I love the variety of teaching contexts that Johnson offers me," she says. "Each of these groups of students is different from the others, and, collectively, they require me to continue to refine and adjust how I convey my course material to varied audiences. That is an exciting challenge, and one I take very seriously."
On top of her teaching duties, Mish serves as the faculty codirector of the Johnson Leadership Fellow Program, which, among other things, gives select upperclassmen instruction in and practice at providing leadership coaching to MBA Core teams. These courses influenced the leadership content that Mish brought to another new project.
Cornell Law began working on a new Professional Development Program last year, and Mish was on board from the start. When the class of 2018 arrived this summer, they began their Cornell Law experience with a new orientation program designed by Mish, who says, "We wanted to give Cornell Law students an introduction to content that focuses on increasing self-awareness and effectively collaborating with others, because so much of actual law practice, and professional success, hinges upon those competencies."
She adds "In so many ways, teaching in the Law School Professional Development program feels like coming full circle to me. I developed the CST course at Johnson because I wanted our MBA students to have the competitive advantage of the kind of analytical training that I got at the Law School. Now I'm in the process of developing leadership training content for the Law School because I hope to give our J.D. students the competitive advantage of the kind of personal and team leadership skills I've been fortunate to be able to provide to our MBA students. Each program has advantages that can be shared with the other. In the end, both groups of students will benefit because they will bring to their organizations and careers some of the best aspects of the training that each provides."