Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Olivia Pavco Giaccia, University of Virginia (Darden)

Olivia Pavco Giaccia

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

“Love turning great ideas into reality – unafraid to take risks for the things I care about.”

Hometown: Arlington, VA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I once stood on top of a 10 foot-tall Tesla coil and got hit by a man-made lightning bolt in pursuit of a compelling visual for an episode of an educational science series.

Undergraduate School and Major: Yale University – B.S. in Cognitive Science

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Self-Employed – Edutainment Media Creator/Producer/Host. Create, produce, market and host fresh takes on accessible, educational science programming across a variety of media platforms.

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? One of my favorite moments from Day at Darden was when we were allowed to join a mock class and participate in the case method. Reflecting back on that experience, there were several necessary skills that struck me as immediately applicable to becoming a better manager:

1. How to respond to having your opinion being publicly-challenged – and to challenge others in a constructive way.

2. How to move a conversation forward without dominating the narrative.

3. How to listen actively and respond to what is happening in the moment, (rather than dragging the conversation backwards to make a pre-formulated point).

4. How to have comfort in ambiguity, and act decisively in the face of imperfect information. I remember being shocked when class ended and the professor didn’t tell us the final right answer. I realized then that there wasn’t one “right” answer; the value is in the process, which teaches you a framework for how to approach and discuss certain types of problems.

Aside from your classmates and the case method, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you?  Like many students, I was drawn to Darden’s rigorous academic environment with its high intellectual and emotional engagement. I also loved the fact that Darden celebrates individual voices and encourages “non-traditional” students to share their unique perspective. I saw this vividly during my on-campus visit; we were discussing a case on self-driving cars and one of my classmates (a former philosophy major) questioned whether or not customers would be comfortable with allowing a car to make morally ambiguous decisions on their behalf. The professor leaned into her comment, and the resulting conversation influenced our predictions of how long it would take for self-driving cars to fully replace traditional cars on the road.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Resilient. COVID-19 has made life difficult in a multitude of ways, not the least of which is charting new territory through the hybrid virtual/in-person classroom model. Through it all, my classmates have found innovative ways to connect with, support, and uplift one another.

What makes you most excited about starting business school here? What makes you most nervous? I’m most excited about meeting my learning team and sinking my teeth into some cases. I’m most nervous about learning how to navigate the newly virtual recruitment process.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: One of the most meaningful moments in my career was the day that I sold my first original series concept to Facebook Watch. The process of creating, producing, and hosting that show taught me an enormous amount about the entertainment industry, as well as how to operate within it in order to advance my goal of making quality educational programming more widely accessible.

From a more personal perspective, my biggest career accomplishments have always been in conjunction with the young women and girls who I’ve had the opportunity to mentor. Three years ago, I founded the National Girls Collaborative Project’s Young Girls Advisory Board, a national group of young women who are interested in pursuing careers in STEM. Since then, the board has grown to encompass students from almost every state in the US, all from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. Getting to know those students on an individual level and helping them achieve various goals throughout their educational journey has been immensely rewarding, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I realized that instead of pitching and executing on creative concepts for others, I wanted to have more control over what types of stories are told. I decided to pursue an MBA because I need to be better equipped for the business related roles that make those types of decisions.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied to Darden Round 1 and accepted immediately after receiving the Jefferson Fellowship.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? I found the interview portion of the admissions process to be wonderfully relaxed and conversational – I was interviewed by the Director of Admissions, Whitney Kestner, and she did a great job at making me feel comfortable while still asking thoughtful, pointed questions.

The most difficult part of the admissions process for me was actually the written application. The essays that Darden asks for are relatively short, so you have to be able to present your case for admission in a concise, powerful way. For someone who has taken a more self-guided path and loves to tell a good story, I found it challenging to stay within the recommended word counts.

Since being accepted, what have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school? At the advice of several current Darden students, I’ve dedicated most of my time in the past few months to getting a clearer picture of what I’m interested in pursuing after graduation and narrowing my focus for recruitment. Darden does a phenomenal job at offering pre-matriculation resources in this area, and a few that I’ve utilized are:

1. The Darden Career Center’s online course, titled CD Why. The course walks you through several lesson modules, each of which is designed to help prepare you for the fall recruiting cycle.

2. Designing Your Life Workshop. When I attended Darden Days, I participated in a career development workshop that centered around the book, Designing Your Life. I loved the idea of applying design thinking principles to my career path, and ended up purchasing the book and working through the rest of the exercises with a small group of Darden classmates.

3. Based on my positive experience with Designing Your Life, one of the Directors from Darden’s Career Center recommended that I investigate Innovation and Design as a potential area of career interest. I started exploring the space and realized that Jeanne Liedtka, a premiere academic in that field, teaches at Darden. I cold emailed her, and she was incredibly generous about hopping on the phone and sharing her time and expertise with me. Just another example of how the professors at Darden clearly care about their students and prioritize teaching!

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? Shortly after I graduated college, I decided to travel to rural and underserved areas across the US and teach science and innovation workshops. During that time, I met dozens of bright young people who were either unaware of, or unable to access appropriate educational resources. I realized then that I wanted to work towards addressing that gap. Now, in business school, I hope to explore new and innovative ways to provide educational resources, services and inspiration to students.

What is your favorite company and why? It varies. Right now, I’m a big fan of Ben & Jerry’s because of its eloquent and determined corporate statements issued in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The authenticity of B&J’s message is inspiring, and they back it up with a long history of brand activism. Also weighing into my selection here is the fact that I’m a frequent, late-night consumer of many of its products.


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