Meet Virginia Darden’s MBA Class Of 2020

Evan Covington

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

“I am an exotic tea lover, avid karaoke fan, and enthusiast of deep philosophical banter.”

Hometown: Houston, TX

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have one of the most distinctive and hearty laughs around – it is almost like a GPS device for others to find me in a large crowd.

Undergraduate School and Major: Harvard University; East Asian Studies

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: EAB Global; Associate Director of Strategy & Operations

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Learning how to embrace vulnerability in order to facilitate authentic relationships has been my biggest career accomplishment to date. We are not always taught that embracing vulnerability in professional settings – or even our personal lives – is a valued attribute. However, learning to see vulnerability as a way of inviting others to get to know you on a deeper and more genuine level has transformed the way that I work. This is not an easy skill to develop, and I am still perfecting the art of embracing vulnerability. However, I am noticeably different in the way that I work with others due to this accomplishment compared to the start of my career.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Respectful. This was easily the first quality that surfaced in my mind. The MBA classmates that I have met at Darden to date are some of the most respectful, humble, and self-effacing individuals I have had the pleasure in knowing. The respect the Darden community has for each other is also related to the community’s openness to exploring different opinions and learning about each other’s unique life experiences. MBA students inevitably encounter perspectives that may run contradictory to their most comfortable beliefs, and it is important that they remain empathetic and respectful towards these perspectives. This helps the entire business school community grow into a wiser and more inclusive environment.

Aside from your classmates, 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? I applied to University of Virginia Darden School of Business through the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management (CGSM). One of the key factors that led to selecting Darden for my full-time MBA program was my interview with Wendy Huber – Assistant Dean for the Full-Time MBA program and member of the board of trustees for CGSM. I distinctly remember how relaxed and “no-frills” my conversation was with her. Out of all the business schools with which I had the opportunity to interview, my conversation with Wendy was by far the best.

I shared stories about my experiences working in China, living life as an LGBT African-American man, my family, and my career aspirations. I asked questions about how Darden supports mental health, the impact of the August 2017 Charlottesville protests on the community, and learned about why people love Darden so much. I was blown away at the level of candidness and “down-to-earth” substance of the conversation. The nature of this interview was important to me because I wanted to join an MBA program that was honest about where it is now and where it would like to make improvements. I also saw this interview as indicative of how Darden wants students to show up on a daily basis. After my interview with Wendy, I concluded I could bring my whole self to the Darden MBA program, and I became excited at the prospect of becoming a Darden student.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I am most looking forward to participating in the Pride at Darden club – the business school’s LGBT student and LGBT ally organization. While the LGBT student community at Darden is still relatively small compared to other business schools, the ally community at Darden is particularly strong, and this has made Darden a more comfortable environment in which to learn as an LGBT student. I also look forward to working with students and admissions in understanding how Darden can attract more prospective LGBT students to the business school community and grow the numbers over future years.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? After working for six years, I decided to pursue an MBA in order to expose myself to brand new business concepts and ideas with which I had little to no experience. I wanted to do this in a more structured format in a community composed of highly talented and diverse individuals. Additionally, I am looking to transition careers, and pursuing an MBA provides the perfect avenue to make changes in one’s career by industry, function, or role.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? Like most people, I always like to do my research before making a major commitment of time, energy, and resources to a certain endeavor. Pursuing an MBA was no exception to this rule. I spent time talking with successful individuals who had completed MBA programs, were current students in MBA programs, and those who had opted to not pursue an MBA. This produced a wide variety of perspectives, which made it even more challenging to decide if an MBA was worth the investment. While all of the opinions of these successful individuals mattered greatly to me, I concluded an MBA was worth the investment after speaking with my mentor – Wole Coaxum – who earned his MBA from NYU Stern School of Business. He iterated the importance of growing African-American leadership in business environments and saw the chance to earn an MBA as a worthwhile personal investment. Through his encouragement, I determined earning an MBA was absolutely worth the investment so that I could help grow African-American leadership in the business world.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I have applied to the gamut of MBA programs ranging from Harvard Business School and University of Michigan to University of California at Berkeley and Washington University in St. Louis. In total, I applied to ten different MBA programs and found my perfect match with Darden at the University of Virginia. What is more interesting to note is that it took not one or two cycles of applications, but rather, it took three different cycles of applications to land at the MBA program that was right for me. I rarely met other applicants who were applying for a third time to MBA programs, and this would occasionally cause sensations of self-doubt. I encourage those who might be applying more than once or twice to MBA programs to not give up hope. You will land at the MBA program that is right for you – one which will not only stimulate your personal and professional growth, but also allow you to contribute your unique experiences and perspectives to the broader student community.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I was able to explore “fit” at various schools by visiting them in person. Whether it was through a school-sponsored diversity event or a casual in-person walk-through, this was absolutely critical in helping me learn whether I could see myself as a good fit for different schools. I also took some time to determine what really mattered most to me in a future MBA program. From this reflection process, I learned that I wanted to be in an academically rigorous program with a smaller student body size and strong alumni network. Additionally, I sought out environments where I knew my background could make a personal and positive impact on the experiences of my classmates. I was able to explore the culture of different schools by meeting with admissions officers at information sessions and speaking on the phone with current students at different schools. This was the best way to gain an unbiased perspective on each school’s culture and understand if there was a potentially good fit for me.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? My defining moment came from earlier in my career when I was laid off from a job due to internal restructuring. This was a prime lesson in understanding the cliché “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” because it forced me to begin to think about what really mattered most to me in a career. As a result, I became more conscientious of the professional opportunities to which I applied. However, after months of networking and interviews for those seemingly perfect opportunities, I struggled in landing a good role for myself. I experienced a lot of cognitive dissonance during this time because I did not understand how decent educational and professional credentials were not translating into a new job opportunity. In the end, this was a lesson in patience and resilience. The concept of failure does not come easy to most MBA students, and it is generally not a topic people like to discuss in general. However, it was through months of failing in finding my next job opportunity that I learned not to be content with where I currently reside in life. In fact, I should always be searching for ways to be wiser, ways more receptive to feedback, and ways to not rely on what has worked until now. I can clearly say that I am more adaptive, humble, and flexible as a result of this unexpected yet defining moment in my life.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? After graduating from Darden, I am hoping to return to the technology industry in a product management capacity. The exact location is up in the air for now, but I love the technology industry and hope that my experiences in HR, operations, and MBA knowledge can transfer to a career move to product management.

Where do you see yourself in five years? This is always a challenging question for me to answer since events in life are always fluid and rapidly changing. However, I hope to see myself in a position of job creation – whether this in a role as a product manager, entrepreneur, venture capitalist or other. There has always been something exciting to me about being able to create new professional opportunities for other people, and I am always hoping to find ways that will enable me to do this in five years.