Meet Virginia Darden’s MBA Class of 2019

Derek Debruhl  

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: A team player who is practical, relaxed, considerate of others, and enjoys learning new things.

Hometown: Davie, FL

Fun fact about yourself:  I was actually voted class clown in high school. It was a pretty proud moment at the time, but now I’m not sure what to think. People say I’m funny but I know a few funny people and I am nothing like them.

Undergraduate School and Major: US Military Academy at West Point, Human Geography

Employers and job titles since graduation: US Army

– Kiowa Warrior Platoon Leader and helicopter pilot

– Squadron Intelligence Officer

– Aviation Brigade Operations Officer

– Gray Eagle UAV Company Commander

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: After 21 months of commanding a unique Army drone organization, I deployed my team to Afghanistan. We were split in two distant locations to support missions across the entire country. While there, for my final two months in the Army, I watched as our trained force flew hundreds of successful missions. Despite any struggles we endured stateside, it was extremely fulfilling to see that my soldiers were trained and ready for the challenge when it counted most.

Looking back on your experience, what one piece of advice would you give to future business school applicants? What worked best for me was limiting my potential school list down to a manageable number. I’ve heard of MBA hopefuls applying to five or more schools but I only applied to two schools, both in the first round. This forced me to assess why I wanted an MBA, determine generally where I wanted to end up (geographically and professionally), and consider cultural qualities that I wanted in a program. With all the other demands on time like GMAT prep, finding recommenders, writing essays, and interview prep, reducing the number of schools enabled me to dive deeper into my two target programs and I think that really came out in my applications. Therefore, my advice to future business school applicants would be to determine the crux of what you truly want out of the huge investment of an MBA program and then target a limited number of schools where you think you’ll “fit.”

In hindsight, I would probably pick a third school to add to my list in the event I was denied by the other two. As it turned out, I didn’t need another option and I’m thrilled to be attending Darden!

What was the key factor that led you to choose this program and why was it so important to you? As an undergraduate geography major and Army vet, I wanted to learn in an environment where I could contribute lessons from my military background while learning business acumen from my peers. In my opinion, the rigor and structure of the case method is the best medium to provide me those opportunities. With my lack of business experience, Darden’s slew of mandatory first year courses will provide me with the baseline I need to be successful while I make this transition.

You might ask, how does the case method differentiate Darden from other schools? Well, with the mandatory first year classes for all students regardless of background, I can learn accounting principles with accountants in class or solve marketing cases with the help of professional marketers. To me, this translates to mean that I will not only have world-class instructors to teach me, but also phenomenal peers to support my learning. I prefer this model and that is why I landed at Darden. Icing on the cake for US veterans at Darden is that this is a public school. As such, Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits cover the entire cost of tuition and fees for qualifying vets, which drives down MBA debt significantly for any ex-servicemember who chooses to attend!

What would success look like to you after your first year of business school? At the end of this year, I would like to have a solid foundation in business fundamentals going into my internship. I also want to have found a balance between the demands at Darden and family time with my wife and two little girls. And among my peers, I don’t want to be thought of as that ex-military guy… I want to be considered a reliable contributor, friend, and classmate in my own right.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.