Meet Virginia’s Darden School of Business Class Of 2018

The Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia

The Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia

“Trust the process.”

This time-tested mantra has been instilled in every Darden first-year student. Learning the process is a rite of passage that unites classmates and alumni alike. Coming in, many MBA candidates think they “get it.” Few really know what they’re really getting into. The first semester is comparable to law school-—a case method boot camp where students learn a whole new way of thinking, learning, and speaking. The workload can be overwhelming, as students absorb hundreds of cases. Come October and November, students wobble under the demands of classes, extracurriculars, and recruiters, often questioning who they are and what they really want to do.


Feeling lost early on is natural. That’s part of the Darden’s transformational process, which is based on students asking questions and pushing themselves to find answers, however ambiguous and imperfect. Trusting the process means opening yourself up to critically evaluating yourself and challenging the conventions and assumptions around you. It is an ethos founded on stretching to reach your potential, valuing peers and instructors, and respecting yourself by living by a code of honor.

In a speech welcoming the Class of 2015, Bob Bruner, former dean of the school of University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, summed up “the process” this way. “The social contract at Darden requires that you trust the process. Trust that the questioning by the faculty is leading you somewhere. They want to help. And you came to study with the world’s best teachers. So, form a relationship with them that feeds your development. Don’t look for grandiose speeches, easy answers, or compliments; look for wise and candid feedback. Accept and admire professors who demand your very best.”

At the same time, Bruner adds, “the process” requires Darden students to take heavy responsibility for serving their classmates as well. “Learning at Darden isn’t a solo experience. If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask another student. And if you have mastered a subject, go out of your way to help others. Being present and engaging one another means doing your assignments not just for yourself but for the sake of your learning team; it means coming to class prepared and participating in discussions; it means supporting the Honor Code, being active in clubs, and lending leadership when our community needs it.”


Sara Neher, assistant dean for MBA admissions at the Darden School

Sara Neher, assistant dean for MBA admissions at the Darden School

The expectations outlined by Bruner are no different for the Class of 2018. By the numbers, the incoming first years rank among the most accomplished and diverse class yet. This year’s class numbers 345 students, up from 334 the previous year. Although the school declined to furnish the number of applicants and acceptances–a likely sign that applications declined for the third consecutive year–Darden claims it maintained its 26% acceptance rate from the previous class. In addition, the class’ average GMAT score rose from 706 to 712, with average GPAs remaining steady at 3.5.

Demographically, the school’s shifted in several ways. The percentage of women climbed from 35% to 39%, with the percentage of underrepresented minorities also increasing from 16% to 20%. However, the percentage of international students fell from 36% to 33%, with the 2018 class hailing from 37 countries. The class is also represented by a variety of undergraduate majors, headed by business (25%), humanities (22%), engineering (21%), and economics (19%).

“The Class of 2018 is the most diverse class yet at Darden (including the most women we have ever had!),” says Sara Neher, the school’s assistant dean of MBA admissions. “I am excited to see what the members of this class will do both inside and outside of the classroom. Darden students learn not only from their professors, but also from each other.  Understanding the wide range of backgrounds and experiences — from the military to entrepreneurs to teachers to consultants — in their class will help them graduate as global, well-rounded leaders.”


This diverse mix is certain to add extra potency to “the process.” Among the class members, you’ll find Katherine Atchison, a South Dakota native and Target executives who says her friends “compare me to Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation), but more practical.” Anisa Mechler, an MIT grad from Dallas, describes herself as an engineer and grammar nerd who is “learning to lead and talk to humans.” Nigeria native Kareen Okaka, who studied in Canada and worked in the United States, adds a cosmopolitan vibe to Charlottesville as a “global, Inquisitive woman uniquely talented at connecting people to improve the world, one problem at a time.”

They also bring a wide range of interests to the table. Mechler is learning to become a race car driver. Augusto Santiago Torres Bozzi, a new father, was listed among the 100 “Don Juanes” in a 2007 Colombian magazine. “The recognition was not because of my sex appeal,” he admits, “but because that year I got the highest score on a test among all undergraduate seniors of the country,” adding “I hope that’s not disappointing.” At the same time, Kyle Collins, a Notre Dame grad who spent four years at Deloitte, recently spent a weekend interviewing his Cuban grandparents on their journey to the United States. “I’m currently editing the footage to create a record of their experience,” he says.

Darden students

Darden students

When it comes to their professional experience, the Class of 2018 will bring some notable know-how to the classroom. Torres Bozzi is already ahead of the game, notching invaluable experience by being part of a small team that sold a company.”Building this transaction with a limited team and without the support of an investment banking firm was a great challenge which involved valuating the company, preparing all the documents and participating in negotiations, while keeping all these activities in the strictest confidentiality. This was a huge undertaking given the scope of the whole process.”

Similarly, Collins led a 55-member team from across the globe to execute a legal compliance effort for a bank. In the process, he found his calling. “The project aligned with so many of the things that give me satisfaction on the job: a diverse and incredibly talented team, innovative applications of technology, and the opportunity to be a leader and manager in pursuit of solutions to challenging problems.” Similarly, Okaka cut her teeth in leadership by organizing the first African Women in Technology Conference, which took place in Kenya this summer. “This opportunity has allowed me to increase my impact and reach globally as I organized the first I really wanted to make an impact especially for women in the technology and African space. This event brought brilliant minds, students, professionals and corporate sponsors in the room the adrenaline and inspiration was unbelievable and most of all rewarding.”


Think you can clep out of core courses thanks to your professional background? Not at Darden, which relies on a general management curriculum where students enjoy the same experience in lockstep. Structure is the name of the game at Darden. Going into the program, students will be assigned to sections of 60-65 students, with sections often engaging in friendly competitions such as the Darden Cup, where teams battle in areas ranging from 5K runs to trivia contests to food drives. In addition, students are divided into case learning teams. Each team includes a student from each section, with team meeting before each class to prepare for cases and take their ideas back to each of their sections.

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