Benjamin Preston

Class of 2011

Hometown: Boston

What did you study at Cornell?

I always had a fascination with economics, but I wanted to study the subject from a broader view than is normally taught.  That is why for my College Scholar studies, I designed a program that supplemented classic business subjects like accounting and statistics with courses in philosophy and sociology. 

What have been doing since you graduated?

The College Scholar program didn’t just teach me about one area of study. Rather, it taught me how to break down complex problems, think through challenges in any field, and form my own path.

Directly after college, I worked at American Express with their finance team. My first job was deeply analytical and my quantitate coursework from economics and finance was crucial to my success. As I rose in the company, though, the tasks become more ambiguous and complex. At that stage in my career, the qualitative work from sociology and philosophy gave me the tools to approach seemingly intractable problems.

In no area has my broad education helped me more than in my entrepreneurial career. Right now, I am working on a company called ViaHero. Our company helps connect travelers from around the world to local experiences. I also love writing and operate both a travel blog. Running a startup involves dealing with small accounting details and broad ideas about strategy and funding. The College Scholar program gave me the tools to deal with problems that are both quantitative and the qualitative, specific and overarching.

How has the College Scholar Program prepared you for the ‘real world’?

There are two aspects of the College Scholar program that have shaped my ability to start my own company. The first is how the College Scholar Program allows members – at a very young age – to define their own path out of an array of options. The second is how the program teaches its students how to focus on breaking down and thinking through complex problems, regardless of the field of study.

Most people attending college have to focus on completing specific requirements. However, for the College Scholar program, you choose your own field of study and aren’t bound by the typical rules and formats. A student in the College Scholar program has to have the self-awareness to know what they want to study, the thoughtfulness to plan the year ahead and the focus to actually stay on track during their studies to produce a coherent piece of work.This, in a way, is very similar to entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur, like a College Scholar, is presented with an almost infinite array of possibilities. The challenge, just like in the College Scholar program, is self-awareness, thoughtfulness and focus. 

The next way the college Scholar program prepares students is the way it teaches the ability to break down and think through problems, regardless of the field. College Scholars learn how to hop between subjects – in my case, that meant statistics, economics, philosophy and sociology – while still maintaining a sense of academic rigor. In the same way, any good entrepreneur will have to be able to jump between different disciplines, whether it be programming, design, marketing, finance or sales. What the College Scholar program teaches is not a set of facts, but rather a way of approaching and solving the problem that can be applied to any field. No program can better prepare you to run a company or for just about any other field.