A FACULTY THAT LEARNS WITH STUDENTS
“You’re in a room for 3-4 hours at a time in a teaching meeting,” Wilcox details. “So there is a certain intensity and bonding to that among the faculty. There are also meetings across the areas so we can coordinate what marketing is teaching and how that relates to what finance and operations are teaching at the same time. Because of that, we get to know each other very well. This faculty is a tight-knit group among ourselves and we learn from each other a lot, so I think basically we have a culture of reinforcing the excellence.”
“We’re encouraging each other, challenging each other, and there’s even just a little bit of competition to be better at that,” Fairchild adds.
It was a difference quickly noticed by Devin Underhill, a 2018 P&Q Best & Brightest MBA. “At Darden, faculty are excited to engage you; whether in class, over coffee in their offices, or at dinner, they’re focused on understanding how you think and learning with you.”
Adam Miller has experienced the same dynamic after he started his MBA last fall. “You can expand your network and find a great job at any top business school. But I want to actually learn something. And no MBA program in the world has better faculty than Darden.”
PLAYING THE ROLE OF CEO
One secret to the faculty’s success is the vaunted case method. The premise is simple enough: read a case study and come prepared to discuss it. In reality, mastering the case method is an art, one grounded in intensive preparation that’s coupled with the instinct to ask the right question at the right time for the right reason – a give-and-take that often pushes discussions in rich and unexpected directions.
In a case classroom, there are no right answers. In this environment, packed with different work experiences, cultural backgrounds, and value systems, the learning is amplified. Everyone actively contributes, even knowing they are operating with ambiguous scenarios with imperfect data and excruciating tradeoffs. Forget lecture: students drive case discussions. In the process, they simulate the role of CEO: asking the same questions, toying with the same variables, and weighing the same options as they would in the c-suite.
“We use unapologetically the case method, the Socratic method of dialogue, which means that it’s a conversation in the classroom,” says Dean Beardsley. “You are facing real-world problems…[where] up to half of your grade is based on class participation. It also requires you to come together as a team to solve problems with incomplete information which is really a close proxy for what happens in the real world.”
In other words, Beardsley adds, Darden MBAs come out ready for anything. “Our students are very well prepared to go out into a world that is full of volatility, uncertainty and changing dynamics…We teach students to think on their feet, to be critical thinkers, to use facts, to actually do analytical rigor, but to learn how to synthesize that together and express a point of view.”
CAN’T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS…OR BE WRONG
It can be an intimidating spot, particularly when students receive the dreaded “cold call.” Here, they are expected to deliver a thought-provoking response – one that will inevitably be dissected and debated by peers. That’s exactly the point of the case method, to shove students out of comfortable anonymity and into the spotlight.
“The case method terrified me, and I knew that was exactly why I needed to apply,” says Morolake Thompson, a Brooklyn-born analytics guru. “I felt the Darden classroom experience would prepare me to be an active leader, gain more confidence in my ideas, and feel comfortable being challenged regularly.”
As a result, the case method demands grueling preparation from students, as the quality of discussions generally hinge on the quality of thought given ahead of time. It also requires, in the words of Greg Fairchild, “the discipline of discretion”: the clear, succinct, and persuasive delivery of a point…and the readiness to defend it.
“To be successful in the business world – and really, in general – you have to be able to clearly articulate your ideas, actively listen to others, and be unafraid to ask questions and occasionally be wrong,” observes Alexandra Medack. “There’s no better training ground for that than the case method.”
LEARNING TO SAY “NO, BUT…”
What does the future hold for the Class of 2020? After graduation, Kelly Bonilla plans to continue building Slay, her beauty technology platform. Evan Covington hasn’t decided on a means, but he is clear on his mission: job creation. While Alexander Gregorio intends to return to practicing law after earning his Darden MBA, he’ll do so with an entirely different mindset.
“Lawyers sometimes get the stereotype of being the “no” people (probably with some truth to it). With my background in business, policy, and law, I want to be the lawyer who can say “no, but” and find a solution to whatever problem my client has.”
As a first generation college student and Native American, Carissa Sanchez views her MBA degree as something far larger than herself. In her career, Sanchez has learned that her skills were better suited to the corporate world. She plans to pay forward her blessings by giving a hand to those like her who follow.
“That realization provided me the freedom to pursue career success without living on the Tohono O’Odham reservation and know that I was still doing good for my people – now I’m all about gaining the knowledge and experience to put a Native American, female face at the highest level of a corporation, where those who look like me are rarely found. And as I get there, I’ll be equipped to share my knowledge and expertise with the underrepresented minorities who will come after me.”
WHAT IT TAKES TO BE HAPPY
Alas, all work and no play makes for burnouts. Once she collects her diploma, Lauren Sless is hitting the road – with Ireland, Greece, Italy, and Disneyworld topping her bucket list. In contrast, Dan Lantz, a U.S. Army Infantry officer, is looking forward to the simple pleasures in life. “A dog. I really want a dog,” he says.
Then again, who says you can’t make a difference and still find happiness in your spare time. That’s Alexandra Medack’s plan. Once her Darden years have passed, she plans to return to her passion: self-driving vehicles. Still, she is open to the possibilities.
“As long as I’m doing something that challenges me and makes me feel like I’m making a positive contribution to society, I’ll be happy.”
At its core, isn’t that what the Darden MBA experience is all about?
What led these professionals to enter business schools? Which programs did they also consider? What strategies did they use to choose their MBA program? What was the major event that defined them? Find the answers to these questions and many more in the in-depth profiles of these incoming MBA candidates.
|Metasebia Aberra||Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Smith College||Lucy Investment Partners|
|Kelly Bonilla||Miami, FL||Georgetown University||Slay|
|Evan Covington||Houston, TX||Harvard University||EAB Global|
|Ashton Daily||Dallas, TX||Texas A&M University||U.S. Army|
|Mike Dinneen||Boston, MA||Colgate University||’47|
|Alexander Gregorio||Blue Bell, PA||University of Virginia||U.S. Department of Justice|
|Trenton Hegseth||Sacramento, CA||U.C.-Berkeley||Windjammer Capital|
|Ammar H. Khan||Faisalabad, Pakistan||University of Minnesota||Hewlett Packard Enterprise|
|Dan Lantz||Middletown, DE||University of Virginia||U.S. Army|
|Aman Malik||Edison, NJ||Rutgers University||ZS Associates|
|Alexandra (Allie) Medack||Giddings, TX||University of Texas||General Motors|
|Adam Miller||Milwaukee, WI||Carleton College||Thrivent Financial|
|Carissa Sanchez||Three Points, AZ||Yale University||Arconic|
|Lauren Sless||Phoenix, MD||MIT||EUROIMMUN US|
|Morolake Thompson||Brooklyn, NY||Hamilton College||: Gerson Lehrman Group|