Meet the MBA Class of 2021: The Go-Getters

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Tennyson, III

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

 “I’m an artist and educator who hopes to build a more equitable world.”

Hometown: Richmond, VA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I lived and worked in Shenzhen, China, for approximately four years as a school director and corporate leader. During this time, though, I was also able to continue my passion for the arts by designing and leading a free 10-week actors’ workshop for 25 members of our community. We then built upon this work the following year by staging the first English-language stage play in Shenzhen (Wit by Margaret Edson), where I had the opportunity to direct a group of very gifted actors and technicians for a string of sold-out performances. Many of the workshop’s other participants also went on to write, produce, and stage their own productions in the city!

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Virginia (English and Religious Studies); Harvard University (Masters in Education Policy and Management)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Capital One, Senior Learning Associate

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: In China, I was hired as our company’s first African-American employee. There was great concern that our member families would object to having their children taught by a black person, a concern that was then duplicated by our franchise partners across the country who were also reluctant to hire African-American employees for the same reason. Therefore, I knew that, in addition to being an educator, I was also a representative for people who shared my identity. I took this as an opportunity to build bridges towards cooperation and understanding, demonstrating that our differences provided space for us to lean in and learn rather than turn away in continued misunderstanding. I felt it was also important to set a strong example of openness, love, and excellence, for I knew that our families’ and coworkers’ opinions of me could likely be projected onto others who looked like me and impact their opportunities. As a corporate leader, I also pushed each of our franchise partners to recognize the importance of upholding our company’s values and demonstrating the uniqueness of the type of diversity our company offered the community. Four years later, upon my departure, 48% of our foreign teachers were African-American, two of whom were eventually promoted to school director.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? I’ve found a remarkable level of support and genuine care in each of the classmates I’ve encountered so far. If I had to boil it down to a single quality, I’d say that everyone I’ve met so far is nurturing. Whether we’re spending hours helping each other prep before an interview at Consortium orientation or hyping each other up after the interview is finished, I’ve felt an intense level of care and support that nurtures the confidence, hopes, and motivations of each classmate here.

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? The world seldom makes itself available in clear and exact terms. Ambiguity and variability are more common, as humans just happen to be ambiguous in their self-expression and variable in their approach to solving problems. Therefore, I feel the case method pushes students to acclimatize to an environment where the answers are not as simple as the output of an equation but where human needs, motivations, shortcomings, and insights must be accounted for in developing solutions.

Aside from your classmates and cases, 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? As an alumnus of the University of Virginia, I have always been drawn to how deeply UVA privileges student self-governance. It is not merely a buzz phrase or something to tout to potential students. It is the lifeblood of the University and the key to its success. I felt very empowered as an undergraduate student because of it, feeling as though the University not only validated my decisions as a student but also provided a space for others and I to fail and succeed by our own efforts. Doing so in a supportive environment before going out into the world was, and remains, critical to navigating the path towards eventual success.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I am excited to work with organizations at the university that link students at Darden with students in the community. In particular, I want to take part in a mentorship program that opens the world of business to high school students in the city and helps them further their skills in financial management, whether for personal or business endeavors.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? The most challenging question I received was, “Why an MBA?” It was an exciting challenge for me because it forced me to synthesize my career as an educator and my hopes as a leader into the actionable gains of an MBA. Bringing these different components together really allowed me greater insight into my own journey and where I may go next.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? My concerns are general to where humanity is headed over the course of the next generation. Up until this point, I have spent my career in education, where society’s major ailments—poverty, insufficient access to healthcare, mass incarceration, substance abuse—intersect. Having witnessed how inadequate our current systems are in addressing these issues, I felt it was necessary for me to gain the skills needed to build and manage systems with human needs at their heart. The MBA, and particularly the Darden MBA, provided exactly the type of development and environment I felt was essential in achieving this.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Tuck, Georgetown, NYU

How did you determine your fit at various schools? For me, fit was about culture. I knew from my time as an undergrad that Darden’s culture was essentially unmatched in its support for students and their initiatives. Geography was also critical for me, as my goals post-MBA are very much localized to Virginia. I knew that Darden, in conjunction with UVA’s other schools, would expose me to the type of work, people, and organizations engaged in social enterprise within the Commonwealth.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? As a result of police malfeasance while living in Shenzhen, China, a co-worker and I were detained for three-and-a-half weeks in a Chinese prison. This came a year after the sudden death of my father and grandmother and it provided, ironically, a necessary space for me to grieve, heal, and reflect. Additionally, exposed me to the harsh reality of power and how power, when wielded improperly and with only greed as its guide, can transfigure humans into objects for personal gain. On the other side of this, though, I learned an important lesson about the responsible use of power and am better-equipped to monitor myself and challenge others when it seems power is being ill-conceived. This experience demonstrated for me the importance of purposive communication in building relationships, as my 25 cellmates and I shared no common language. However, the community we developed over that time sustained me, for our communication was not one based on words but rather on deeds and on the love that flowed through those deeds. As a result of my detention, I am now more aware of what lies at the center of my experience, more assured of the necessity of inter-connectedness, and more relentless in my pursuit for a more just and equitable world.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? In ten years, I hope to hold elected office within Virginia, where I may use my skills and experiences in building a stronger, more joyful community.

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