Meet Virginia Darden’s MBA Class of 2019

Mercedes Rodriguez 

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business (UVA) 

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Action-oriented problem solver who is passionate about creating scalable strategies that delight customers.

Hometown: Pasadena, CA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I was once elected to student government with help from my imaginary friend. In elementary school, I resurrected my dear friend — gave him a personality, drew pictures of him and placed him all around campus with chat bubbles convincing fellow students to “Listen to Percy, and vote for mercy.” One might call that my very first marketing campaign.

Undergraduate School and Major: Yale University, History of Art (yes, you can major in the arts and still make it to b-school!)

Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation:

Head Teacher, Ivy Bound Prep, Ivy Bound International School

Accounting Coordinator, Motion Picture Literary, United Talent Agency

Advisory Associate, Success Academy Charter Schools

Marketing Manager, PareUp

Customer Marketing Manager, Contactually

Head of Marketing, Brazen

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My biggest achievement so far has definitely been transitioning into tech and developing a digital marketing specialty. Working at Success Academy Charter Schools, I was really motivated by the impact the company had on scholars and their families, but I was craving the fail-fast, high impact role you can only find in a small company with lots to gain or lots to lose.

I became increasingly interested in marketing and the decisions that drive customers purchasing behavior. Taking evening classes in digital analytics and getting really involved in the NYC tech community was a big part in proving the support structure I needed to make the switch. The first company I joined was PareUp, a mission-driven start-up founded by fellow Yale & Columbia graduates, who had created a product that created an online marketplace for food nearing its expiration dates. The company was accepted into an accelerator program, AngelPad in NYC. Since then, I have taken on roles of increasing responsibility in customer and product marketing for SaaS startups. I remember encountering a lot of people at the beginning who questioned whether my career switch would pay off in the end. I’m happy I stayed my ground, leaned into my work, and was OK with the fact that I might be misunderstood for awhile. It happens when you make risky moves!

Looking back on your experience, what one piece of advice would you give to future business school applicants? The earlier that you can, get your essays down on paper. The sooner you do, the sooner you have something to work with. Go in knowing you will go through many revisions, and your first draft will most definitely not be your final draft.

Don’t make the mistake of waiting — or thinking that it’s the ‘easy part of the application — because it’s critical. Yes, you may likely choose to talk about the same story, but you will be surprised by how many perspectives you can take with it. I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, but going through the whole application process and asking myself these tough questions about ‘where I see myself in the short term and long term,’; ‘why an MBA’; and (more importantly in my case) ‘why an MBA now’ was an incredibly worthwhile exercise in developing myself as well. Having compelling reasons to these questions is a huge part of your application. Business schools aren’t just interested in ‘what you did,’ they want to hear what drove you to make decisions in your career (especially at turning points), what skills you developed, and how an MBA education is necessary in taking you to the next step of your career.

What was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? Since day one, Darden always stood out as the top-contender for me. I was fortunate enough to experience Charlottesville years before when visiting friends. When it came time to apply to business schools, I knew I already loved the town. It has the right mix of small town charm and entrepreneurial buzz that I wanted for business school.

I had also heard about the incredibly high-caliber faculty and case method curriculum, but it was an entirely different experience to experience it first-hand. After I applied, I attended a mini case discussion at Darden’s Washington, DC campus with Professor Gregory Fairchild, and I was blown away. Here we were, shouldering Neil Hoffman’s (Darden grad, btw) tough financial dilemma about whether he should pursue his out-of-the-box idea….not knowing, of course, how it would all pan out. I remember sitting in the classroom feeling like I witnessed teaching unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It was so engaging! Professor Fairchild was humorous one minute, tough on us the next, but unwavering in his ability to shape classroom discussion by asking the tough questions and guiding us to find meaningful conclusions. The entire class was driven by student participation; not having a point of view rooted in data or personal experience wasn’t an option. I was highly uncomfortable, and I loved it!

What would success look like to you after your first year of business school? By next summer, I would like to be interning at a company where I’m extremely passionate about their products or services. It’s incredibly important for me to work at a company where I can see long term potential for me to make an impact and a big part of that is culture. A company that has a relentless customer-centric culture is somewhere where I would thrive. Darden is really big on collaboration. For example, you meet with your learning team every school night to review tomorrow’s cases. As a result, a lot of personal growth happens within your five to six person team. At the end of the year, I would want my learning team to consider me a steadfast contributor; a supportive teammate who understands the importance of healthy debate to get to the best answer; and a student who isn’t afraid to take risks, go the extra mile or A/B test if it’s the right thing to do.

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