2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Amanda Wiggans, University of Virginia (Darden)

Amanda Wiggans

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

“An intentional, naturally curious, active listener and fast learner who constantly pursues new experiences and people.”

Hometown: Palo Alto, CA

Fun fact about yourself: My first car was an ice cream truck that cost me $500

Undergraduate School and Degree: I was a History Major and Economics Minor at Middlebury College.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I worked at Defy Ventures as the Northern California Prison Program Manager, where I built and managed an 8-month, in-prison entrepreneurship program.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? This summer I went to Los Angeles to join Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang re-entry program. I worked with their Bakery and Electronics Recycling businesses—two social enterprises that employ the people they serve—on a couple of different projects. It felt like a perfect mashup of my pre-MBA experience and the skillset I gained during my first year.

Where will you be working after graduation? ZS Associates

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I serve as President of Humans of Darden, an organization that helps connect community members in meaningful and intimate ways. I’m also the VP of Partnerships for the Education Club, the VP of communications for the Basketball Club, and serve on the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I think I’m most proud of my role with Humans of Darden. My first year, I helped run our randomized dinner club, which I loved but hadn’t really intended to seek a leadership role my second year. With some encouragement from the outgoing President, I applied and now have the opportunity to work with an amazing board of peers for an organization that I think is desperately needed, especially during the pandemic. We have continued some of the events that have made the club special since it’s inception (dinner club, game nights…for the record I am one of four reigning Darden Catan champions) as well as added some new ones. Since our whole mission centers around the power of small group gatherings, the pandemic restrictions have actually allowed us to expand our reach, supporting new events like a virtual meditation retreat, Thanksgiving dinners cooked by domestic students for International students, randomized Valentine’s Day “buddy” dinners, and a small group orientation event for First Years. Leading an organization this year has been both a huge challenge and learning opportunity.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My work with Defy Ventures, an entrepreneurship and re-entry program for currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, is probably my most meaningful professional achievement to date. The organization went through a major restructuring during my time there, consolidating from a team of 5 to a team of 2, and I often spent long days in the car driving to remote prison facilities to teach 3-hour classes only to come home to more emails and work. But I still have graduates who send me texts and emails reminding me of the lasting impact of that time, reminding me of times I made them do their homework or held them accountable or even just showed up for class. To me, these times were unmemorable, but they made a difference to them. Witnessing them build lives after their release on Facebook or phone calls is the most sobering reality checks and a real source of joy for me. I even had the chance to pick up a student the day he was released after 30 years behind bars (who, after winning the in-prison pitch competition for his fitness training program, turned it into a business I can now follow on Facebook.) That work really shaped my understanding of our society, the people in it, and the impact I want to have in the future.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Darden for two main reasons: its dual MBA/M.Ed. program and its use of the case method. My long-term goal is to work at the intersection of business, technology, and education – and my work with Defy showed me just how important having skills in both areas really is if you want to enact meaningful change, especially in education. I also knew that standard lecture-based classes would be tough for me, having never taken finance, accounting, or statistics; my college experience at a liberal arts school made me really appreciate the value of discussion-based classes. I knew these two aspects of Darden would help me maximize my two years, and I can say with certainty that they have.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? I think the Building Goodness in April Auction is a very cool Darden tradition. Each section builds a deck with items donated by students and professors—ranging from poker nights to pep talks to tennis with the dean—and then a live auction ensues to benefit Building Goodness, a local organization dedicated to providing homes and buildings for disadvantaged populations. Everyone gets super creative with their submissions, and I learned a lot about my classmates’ hobbies and interests (including that Mack has a future in auctioneering if investment banking doesn’t work out.) It’s fun to see some portion of signing bonuses disappear on a live tracker as each section competes to outraise each other.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I think myths by definition have to be false, but I had heard over and over that Darden is one of the most academically rigorous schools. It’s true…it’s hard. The academics and professors really ask a lot of first year students.

What surprised you the most about business school? Honestly, it was my classmates. I made a fairly unexpected decision to come to business school. With my liberal arts undergrad, non-profit background, and limited exposure to the whole process, I didn’t really expect to make too many friends here. Plus, business school students don’t exactly get the best reputation. But I’ve met some of the most interesting, smart, kind people here—friendships I’ll likely hang onto for the rest of my life.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I think the school wants to continue to expand the MBA/M.Ed. dual degree program, so my commitment to it definitely gave me a slight edge.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I was lucky enough to be assigned a seat next to Will Shepherdson Q1 of my first year and I’m so grateful for it. Will demonstrates a genuine sense of care and interest in every single one of his classmates. His patience for my constant nudging request for clarification in Finance was endless, and he regularly (and without being asked) took meticulous notes for students who he noticed were absent in class and put them in their mailboxes to ensure they didn’t fall behind. Forever our tech rep, he was truly an asset to our section in so many ways. Plus, there is no way you can see a Will Shepherdson smile and not start beaming instantly.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? Since all of my education coursework was done asynchronously online starting in summer 2019, the shift to online learning wasn’t drastically different for me. I did really miss the Darden classroom and running into friends and peers on grounds, so I opted into some in-person learning this spring. I’ve been pretty impressed with our professors’ and tech staff’s quick adaption to hybrid technology. The option to be remote also allowed me to do things in the fall I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do, so I can say I was pretty fortunately undisrupted.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? The fact that I was teaching an entrepreneurship course to hundreds of people who had to develop a business plan as part of their graduation requirements when I had never studied an ounce of business is what really sparked my initial interest to pursue an MBA. Additionally, I worked with local Bay Area entrepreneurs to mentor and network with Defy program participants. Seeing the significant impact their mentorship, connections, and experience had on program participants made me want to be able to have and share that type of knowledge as well. One month, we brought in a financial expert for in-prison and post-release workshops. I saw the faces of students who had been incarcerated for basically their whole lives light up after learning they could build their credit from inside prison or that it wasn’t too late to rebuild it once they were released. That knowledge was truly transformative for them. It sounds trite, but I saw firsthand how it really is possible for business leaders to use their influence for positive impact.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

Be the boss: Pretty self-explanatory, but I’d like to work for myself one day.

Improve fair chance hiring practices where I work: As of right now, 25 states still require job candidates to indicate they have a criminal history on their job application. There is enough research demonstrating how harmful (and ineffective at screening strong employees) this practice is. I witnessed how getting a job is often the most crucial determinant of whether or not someone returns to prison. While these changes can happen at the state or city level, I think these changes start small, and I’d like to expand fair chance hiring and chip away at the stigmas that underlie them at every future employer.

What made Amanda such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Amanda is a gem! She was a student in my First Year Marketing Course. Early on in the term, I was immediately struck by her thoughtfulness, insightfulness and the will in her being. She is the type of person who lights up a room when she enters it and brings up those around her. Amanda has the energy and drive to lead, humility and curiosity to follow, and the motivation to do both, gently and elegantly. Not only does she have a strong mind, she has a warm heart and some wild skills on the basketball court. Overall, we have been very lucky to have her as part of our community and whoever can convince her to join their team in the future will be lucky to experience her magic.”

— Darden Professor Lalin Anik



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