Meet Virginia Darden’s MBA Class Of 2022

Spring has sprung around the Darden School of Business University of Virginia. Photo/Andrew Shurtleff Photography, LLC.


Like Allen, Olivia Pavco Giaccia can do it all. She calls herself a self-employed “Entertainment Media Creator/Producer/Host” – and one who has already sold her first original series to Facebook Watch. How committed is Pavco Giaccia to her work? To get a stunning visual, she once stood on a 10-foot high Tesla cable so she could get hit by a bolt of man-made lightning! Despite these ‘poet’ credentials, she has also founded an advisory board to support young women pursuing STEM careers.

“[Over the past three years], the board has grown to encompass students from almost every state in the US, all from diverse backgrounds and life experiences,”Pavco Giaccia explains. “Getting to know those students on an individual level and helping them achieve various goals throughout their educational journey has been immensely rewarding.”

Outside work and class, you’ll find Kathryn Allen competing with her husband in ballroom dancing. Heather Hoffman, a business development lead for a law firm, has sung in Carnegie Hall. Beau Muniz holds a patent for a dishwasher algorithm. Come summer, you probably won’t be able to find Paul Niedfeldt in the mornings.

“Over a period of 2 weeks each year, Disney hosts early morning canoe races on the Rivers of America within Magic Kingdom where ~75 teams of 10 rowers compete against one another. For the past two years, my team has been crowned champions!”


For Niedfeldt, business school is a means to gain knowledge and credibility. Rather than implementing the day-to-day directives, he hopes to be the one who makes the decisions that “define the strategic direction” of his company. In contrast, Isabel Fortuño Seitzer dreams of making a larger social impact.

“At Cornell, we were reminded daily that “Life is service…” and I was looking for a way to live by that motto. Returning to school to strengthen some of my “hard skills” seemed like an excellent way to begin the transition.”

Darden MBA students heading to class

That’s hardly a surprise once you get to know Fortuño Seitzer. “Darden is famous for its rigorous academic program, but the nerdiest parts of me are secretly excited to have structured academics return to my life.”


That said, Charlottesville isn’t a place where MBAs hunker down like monks. The region features historical landmarks such as Thomas Jefferson’s home in Monticello. The Downtown Mall is packed with restaurants, shops, and galleries. And let’s not forget natural beauty galore in the Shenandoah Mountains.

“I’ll make it a point to go apple-picking at Carter Mountain Orchard and wine tasting at the numerous vineyards around Charlottesville (socially distanced of course),” adds Ibrahim Okenla, a lead engineer from General Electric.

And the Class of 2022 has certainly come to Charlottesville prepared – in their own different ways. Cecilia Rios Murrieta has taken an “athlete’s approach” through yoga, “maintaining my mind, spirit, and body in the best shape possible.” Khaliyah Legette participated in summer pre-MBA programming from McKinsey, Bain & Company, Goldman Sachs, and the Boston Consulting Group. She also delved into books such as  Marc Cosentino’s Case In Point to prepare for case interviews. Perhaps she could form a book club with Paul Niedfeldt, who consumed tomes ranging from Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma to Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People.

The Class of 2022 also took advantage of Darden’s Career Development Center. Neidfeldt, for one, enrolled in CDWhy. This modular programming helps student identify their strengths and weaknesses, craft their pitch, and update their resume and Linkedin in lieu of fall recruiting. Olivia Pavco Giaccia participated in a Designing Your Life workshop. The experience, she said, led her to reach out to Darden faculty before classes started.

“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 Liedkta, 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!”

A Darden classroom (Pre-COVID)


The word gets around. This year, the full-time MBA program received 3,016 applications. That’s a 38% jump over last year’s 2,183 applications. One big reason? The school extended its round 3 deadline. As a result, the program witnessed a 364% increase in applications in that period.

“We have never seen a round three with so many qualified applicants in the history of the school,” explained Dean Scott Beardsley in a 2020 interview with P&Q. “It has never been seen. There has never been so many people of outstanding caliber applying in round three, and it is just continuing into the new year.”

Overall, the Class of 2022 boasts 341 students, not counting another 68 students who will be joining the cohort in January (and graduate with their fall brethren). As a result, the class profile is still in flux, though acceptance rate (which includes deferrals) held steady at 36% (with the current class size being five students larger than the previous year excluding deferrals).

The class also averaged a 703 GMAT, down 10 points from the previous year. At the same time, class members averaged a 319 on the GRE, which was taken by 29% of the class. The average GPA – 3.5 – also inched up from the previous class’ performance. Women comprise 39% of the class, down just a point. Considering the number of deferrals and COVID travel hurdles, the nine point drop in international students to 24% is hardly a surprise. Still, the class remains quite diverse, with students from 35 different countries (nearly the same total as the Class of 2021).

Despite the topsy-turvy nature of 2020, the class backgrounds also resemble the previous year. Business (29%) and Economics (17%) undergraduate majors combine for a 46% share of the class, up from 44% last year. Science (16%) and Engineering (9%) make up a quarter of the class, down five points. Humanities and Social Sciences represent 12% and 9% respectively. In terms of professional backgrounds, Financial Services regained the top spot at 20%, with the percentage of consultants falling from 21% to 15% in the Class of 2022. Technology (10%), Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare (5%), Military (5%), and Education (5%) round out the class, though 40% don’t fall into any of these categories.


To paraphrase Charles Dickens, the past year has been the best and worst of times for Darden. Take starting pay. Between base and bonus, 2019 grads pulled in an average of $165,292 – 5th-best among American MBA programs and higher than Harvard Business School, Northwestern Kellogg, and MIT Sloan. Darden also ranked 5th in the last Bloomberg Businessweek ranking. By the same token, recruiters ranked Darden MBAs 5th for Innovation and Creativity according to a 2019 U.S. News survey.

That innovative spirit extends to Darden administration, which reacted swiftly to COVID-19. Aside from extending the third round deadline to July 15th, the program revamped its admissions policy, accepting SAT and ACT scores in place of a GMAT or GRE. That also made a difference in Darden’s pace-setting year for applications.

Darden MBA students at 9:30 a.m. First Coffee

“One person told me the biggest competitor to the MBA is no MBA and I think that is true,” Dean Beardsley told P&Q. “If you have to study for many months to take a standardized test, that becomes the main barrier for you and your family. I thought, maybe we are missing the point here. Maybe we are missing out on a whole category of people who are truly excellent, who were the stars of their undergraduate class, and clearly have leadership capability. Instead of asking how do we triple down on a narrow group of people who have a certain test score, we want to give people the chance to put their best foot forward. If you have a 770 GMAT and did well during your undergraduate studies, you are still a great candidate. But we want to hear all the things about your readiness to pursue an MBA and not be exclusionary by over-indexing on one factor when there clearly are other factors to assess a person’s success.”


The school is looking to increase access to an MBA education in other ways. Over the past five years, the school has closed $135 million dollars in commitments to scholarships – and the school is looking to add another $50-$100 million dollars to financial support in the coming years. “I don’t want the main barrier to an MBA to be whether you can finance it,” Beardsley continues. “If you go to a top business school you could have good earning potential but on the other hand, it is expensive. Awarding scholarships to deserving people is really part of our mission. And you have more career options if you are not so indebted that you have to do certain things. It’s part of being a great university.”

On top of that, the school has added a student hardship to cover items like housing. Best of all, the school is supplying first-years with free lunches during the fall core – with second years scoring their own meal plan – courtesy of a renovated dining hall. The amenity builds on the tradition of First Coffee, where students, faculty, and staff gather to connect outside classroom confines.

“There is really no such thing as a free lunch but we thought that in the middle of all this with everybody being a little bit isolated with Zoom and away, we asked ourselves what would be a great way to build community and give everybody something to look forward to,” adds Beardsley. “Why not come out of this and make sure everybody can have lunch together and bring first and second years together. It’s an unusual measure but it is consistent with who we are. It’s symbolic…I have always described Darden as a big family and what do families usually do? They eat together. So it is in that spirit.”

Page 3: Interview with Dawna Clarke, Executive Director of Admissions

Page 4: In-depth profiles of 11 members of the Class of 2022

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