Dawna Clarke, who left Dartmouth Tuck after an 11-year stint as admissions director, is returning to the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business as its MBA gatekeeper. She begins the new job as executive director of admissions and financial aid on Oct. 15.
It’s a return trip to Darden for Clarke, who had worked in admissions at the school from 1990 to 2005, utlimately running the office as director. Since leaving Tuck, Clarke had tried her hand on the other side of the table as an MBA admissions consultant. Since June of this year, she has been chief MBA strategist and senior consultant for mbaMission, a leading MBA admissions firm.
Darden Dean Scott Beardsley reached out to invite Clarke back to Charlottesville, an overture that coincided with her husband’s decision to buy a home in the area. “When Scott Beardsley called to make an offer, he said. ‘The Darden community wants you to return home,’” recalls Clarke in an interview with Poets&Quants. “I can’t imagine a more meaningful way for a dean to make a job offer. It was a done deal for me at that point!”
CLARKE SUCCEEDS SARAH NEHER IN A RETURN VISIT TO DARDEN AS ADMISSIONS DIRECTOR
Beardsley started his Darden deanship in August of 2015 after 26 years at McKinsey & Company, where he was a senior partner and a member of the consulting firm’s global board of directors.
“The Darden School community is thrilled that Dawna is rejoining our team,” says Darden Dean Scott Beardsley in a statement announcing the appointment. “She has an incredible track record of finding and cultivating global talent and a passion for leadership in the field of admissions.”
Clarke succeeds Sarah Neher, an Emory University MBA who became assistant dean of strategic initiatives in July. Neher served as Darden’s assistant dean of MBA admissions for the past 11 years since joining the business school in August of 2006.
‘I LOVED THE FIRM, MY CLIENTS & MY COLLEAGUES AT mbaMISSION’
Clarke makes clear that she does not regret her five-month experience with mbaMission, a firm founded by a Darden MBA Jeremy Shinewald who she had, in fact, admitted to the school in 2001 when Clarke was head of admissions. “Admissions consulting with mbaMission, although short, was one of the most formative experiences of my career and one that will be incredibly valuable as I prepare to embark on my new role at Darden,” says Clarke.
“I loved the firm, my clients and my colleagues. To walk side-by-side with 20 candidates who are applying to multiple schools has provided me with new insights and ideas for innovations for both the selection process itself as well as for positively impacting the applicant experience,” she adds. “Jeremy’s leadership style is a perfect personification of Darden’s values. We are all influenced by the leaders we are aspire to be – Jeremy brings the perfect blend of devotion to his team, devotion to delivering a high-quality product, the ability to lead AND he’s built a firm that is a game-changer in the industry. He is a perfect example of the power of the Darden experience.”
Shinewald also sang her praises. “No one is more qualified to lead the admissions team at Darden than Dawna,” he says. “She is a proven leader in the field, and while my organization will miss her, as a Darden alumnus I am excited to see her leading Darden admissions and look forward to our continued partnership.”
CHARLOTTESVILLE PROTEST ALSO INFLUENCED CLARKE’S DECISION TO TAKE JOB
Her decision to work for Darden also was influenced by the violent protests that recently rocked the city and the campus. “For years, I have been a staunch fan of Charlottesville, UVA and Darden,” she says. “Recent events in Charlottesville will require strong leadership to show just how special and strong these communities are. People, institutions and communities often come out stronger in the aftermath of a tragedy and Charlottesville, Darden and UVA are perfect examples. I’m so very proud to be a part of these communities, to take a stand for justice, and to educate prospective students around the world on the transformational opportunity that Darden provides to its students.”
Clarke, who had been Tuck’s director of admissions for 11 years, had been one of the most highly regarded admission officials at an elite business school. During her time at Tuck, Clarke enrolled 3,476 MBA students. A year before she arrived at the school in Hanover, N.H., in 2005, women represented only 25% of incoming class in 2004. This past year, Tuck hit a record 44% for women. Meantime, the average GMAT score for the class went from 699 in the Class of 2007–her first enrolled group–to 717 in the crop of students who arrived this fall. Off-campus admissions events exploded to more than 225 from only 59 in 2006-2007.
She joined Tuck after serving as the director of admissions at the Darden School where she racked up 15 years evaluating MBA candidates. Clarke arrived at Darden with three years of experience as associate director of admissions at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a year in undergraduate admissions at Allegheny College where she began her career in 1985.
CLARKE WILL DRIVE THE STRATEGY TO ATTRACT MORE DIVERSITY TO PROGRAM
As Darden’s executive director of admission and financial aid, Clarke will oversee the recruitment strategy for admission to the full-time MBA and the Executive MBA, which offers an intensive global format, the Global Executive MBA, and sections in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area. She will also oversee Darden’s new Future Year Scholars program, a deferred admissions program for top undergraduate and fifth-year master’s students, and help grow cutting-edge dual degrees such as the MBA/Master of Science in Data Science program with UVA’s Data Science Institute. Clarke will also drive the strategy to attract diverse demographic groups.
“In addition to drawing praise for clear quantitative gains, Clarke was frequently lauded for her customer-centric approach to admissions,” adds Ron Wilcox, Darden senior associate dean for degree programs, in a statement.
Upon her departure from Tuck in 2016, Poets & Quants referenced three international awards she and her team received for best practices in MBA admissions.
Clarke began her career at Allegheny College and then served as associate director of admissions at Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for three years, where she completing her M.Ed. in higher education administration.