Meet Virginia Darden’s MBA Class Of 2023

Darden students ask for it. They aren’t under any delusions when they signed up. Dissecting 500 or more case studies? Bring it on. Intense class preparation followed by withering Socratic questioning? They wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s because Darden MBAs want to become leaders.

In a VUCA world, that requires a lot. So much, so fast — so many people and so many variables…and so little time to think, act, and refine. In times of crisis or change, there is no shortage of counsel, just an absence of certainties. Leaders can run the scenarios, calculate the risks, and create the systems.

In the end there are no easy answers. Forget precedent, the options they’ll formulate are riddled with conflicting data and subject to changing conditions. To adjust, leaders must be able to quickly size up what matters and what’s connected; what can be controlled and what can be measured. At the same time, they’ll speak to different audiences, ones with different expectations and stakes. To do that, they must be perceived as cool custodians, clear communicators, and courageous catalysts.

Darden MBA 2023 Class Profile

For some, the Darden School has perfected leadership development through the case method. Using case readings — a story that summarizes a real-life business situation — MBAs learn how to delve into issues and devise options and arguments. Listening to their classmates, they are exposed to best practices from other functions and industries. Even more, student feedback helps them understand the impact of various decisions across different constituencies.

Bridget Nolan, a first-year who studied political science at rival Duke, has found that cases best simulate what leadership is truly like. “It gives students the opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of managers or decision-makers at so many different types of companies,” she tells P&Q. “I can’t think of a better way to prepare for the business world than to see real challenges that companies have faced and think for yourself about how you’d handle them.”

Nolan’s classmate, Daniela Fernandez, describes the case method as “empowering” — a means to gain self-awareness and openness to new ideas. “There are no right or wrong answers in the case method and no magic formula to solve it,” she observes. “It’s all about digging deep in your convictions and knowledge. When you know yourself so well, it’s easier to identify the value you can add to an organization. It’s also a great way of developing strategic thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills.”

The annual Darden multicultural Food Festival held at Flagler Court at the darden School of Business. Photo/Andrew Shurtleff Photography, LLC


The case method operates on multiple levels, not just honing decision-making skills. For one, leaders are expected to be elite communicators, able to connect, simplify, persuade, and inspire in a single engagement. That’s exactly what the case method trains MBAs to do. It is a matter of repetition, where students rehash an analysis and communication process until it becomes second nature to them.

“The case method ensures that you practice public speaking, active listening, and mental agility – all extremely important skills at the disposal of a successful manager,” notes Wade Clement, another Duke alum who studied anthropology. “You learn how to deliver comments with confidence and clarity, and even get the invaluable experience of making (and recovering from) mistakes! I think it develops more humble, open-minded, and articulate leaders.”

And leaders who aren’t afraid of the spotlight either, adds Danny Rosa, a University of Chicago alum who worked at Stanford University. “In the case method, you can’t hide from the professor or stay quiet during class period,” he asserts. “You have to be constantly engaged to provide your thoughts on the case at hand and be prepared to be cold called by the professor. To me, this is exactly what I wanted in my MBA academics because I knew it would mimic what being in the real world would be. For example, when you’re meeting with a client or in a strategy meeting, you might get called on by the higher ups to express your opinion. I knew that the case method would best prepare me for these types of scenarios.”


The case method is only part of Darden’s appeal. Wade Clement, for one, has noticed the care that Darden invests into its first-year Learning Team, six member teams that gather to prepare for cases and classes. Darden structures these groups to include students from a variety of backgrounds – my team has members from 3 different countries and experience in architecture, consulting, industrial design, finance, and accounting! This mix provides the chance for us to share our strengths, cultivate trust, and feel confident as we strengthen our weaknesses. We learn with and from each other, becoming closer as we do so.”

At Darden, the classroom is emphasized, with teaching scores valued higher than research citations. By placing students truly at the center of the experience, the school earns praise from alumni and students alike. In a 2021 student survey conducted by The Princeton Review, Darden racked up the 3rd-highest scores for its classroom experience, while ranking among the ten-best in the world for campus environment and family friendliness. More impressive, Darden earned the highest marks for Teaching Excellence, as faculty places heavy emphasis on preparation and access. One professor who epitomizes this ethos is Tom Steenburgh, a marketing and management professor who also moonlights as the school’s senior associate dean.

“He made me fall in love with the subject and simultaneously highlighted why the case method is so effective,” explains 2021 grad Harsha Gummagatta. “Prior to his course, I perceived that Marketing was a creative field that encouraged a free flow of ideas and imagination. While this is true, Tom, in his unique style of calm intensity, emphasized the importance of grounding our answers in evidence, data, and facts as opposed to preconceived notions or intuitions. As simple as it sounds, Tom’s class highlighted the importance of evidence-based thinking and is something I continue to practice and learn.”

By drawing great teachers, Darden produces across-the-board expertise. In the same Princeton Review survey, the school ranked #1 for its consulting programming and #2 for management (and top 10 for finance and marketing). However, great teachers also carry high expectations — as the Class of 2023 quickly learned. That may translate to a lot of work on the front end but it results in confident and versatile graduates ready to hit the ground running, says Prateek Sinha, another 2021 alum.

“The biggest myth is that Darden, especially the first-year core curriculum, is too hard and not applicable to all career tracks. While it is hard, the support structures in place – professors, learning teams, section peers – make the learning process fun and manageable. The core curriculum helped me build a solid foundation across subjects that I had never been exposed to like accounting. I saw later how the cross-disciplinary exposure was instrumental in succeeding during my internship.”

First week at Darden


The Class of 2023 will enjoy an additional exposure to various trades, roles, and business cultures through their classmates. And that extends to admired companies, prestigious institutions, and promising startups too. Take Kevin Gillespie. Want to know what it takes to land a job at Google? Gillespie would know: He spent over three years there as an executive recruiter — earning two promotions in the process.

“Promotion at Google is a particularly daunting and ambiguous journey particularly for Black employees. In both instances, what was transparent to me was the team effort and advocacy that went into helping me achieve the series of accomplishments that justified my promotions.”

Daniela Fernandez also earned a promotion at Mattel Latin America. She was elevated to being the brand manager for Barbie, where she handled marketing and public relations for the doll icon in 20 countries. Her big lesson: bring value to customers’ lives — a takeaway that hit home when she was previously marketing infant formula.

“I created more than 250 friendly science-based articles and a robust CRM program that accompanied the parents through their new journey, eventually leading to a sales increase,” Fernandez writes. “For me, the best marketing is when the product positioning comes as the consequence of empowering consumers to make the best decision for their needs. I’m proud of implementing this consumer-centric approach throughout my career, most recently in an amazingly inspirational brand.”


Google and Barbie are just two brands where the Class of 2023 left their mark. Before Darden, Danny Rosa served as an admissions counselor at Stanford University’s Office of Undergraduate Admission. Here, he encouraged his peers to look beyond traditional measures to consider the obstacles faced by underrepresented students. It is a mission, Rosa says, that he hopes to move into the mergers and acquisitions division of an investment bank.

“Banking appeals to me because of its rigorous demands, team-centered approach, and quantitative work. I’m acutely aware that people of color and LGBT individuals are severely underrepresented in the banking industry, let alone someone who lives both identities. I’m interested not only in being challenged daily in the work I do but also thinking about how I can work to make the banking field more inclusive to diverse individuals.”

Thanks to his classmates, Rosa believes he can make this transition. “I was incredibly nervous to start my MBA given that I’m a career switcher from a non-quantitative background,” he adds. “But I’ve found that my classmates have been tremendously supportive in bringing me up to speed with the material. If I have questions about accounting processes or financial modeling, there’s always someone able and willing to help. At times, it’s difficult for me to ask questions and admit that I’m struggling but the supportive nature of my classmates gives me the comfort to voice my knowledge gaps.”

The 2021 Commencement and Graduation Ceremony for the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. Photo/Andrew Shurtleff Photography, LLC


If you watch CNN, then you’re probably familiar with Bridget Nolan’s work. She was the producer for Dana Bash, CNN’s chief political correspondent. Chances are, Nolan has already connected with Jacqueline Modesett. Her last role was serving as the Communications Director for the 2020 Congressional campaign run by Wesley Hunt, who fell just short of representing Texas’ 7th district. Before that, she worked in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services.

“Some of my favorite professional accomplishments include having a seat at the table during high level security briefings with senior defense officials,” Modesett tells P&Q. “It was incredibly motivating and inspiring to work alongside such accomplished and dedicated counterparts and to dig into the real threats, challenges, and opportunities facing the U.S. defense establishment.”

You’ll also find successful non-profit sector professionals in the Class of 2023. Quinn Rhi has held roles in grant writing and outreach for organizations like the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development. By the same token, Jake Eichengreen was chosen by four college presidents to launch the Quad Innovation Alliance, a program designed “to prepare students for professional impact.” By the time Eichengreen had left for Darden, he had grown the organization to 5 staff members who supported 70 students. At Team Prime, an after-school program for at-risk youth, Wade Clement helped grow its inclusive sports league from 7 to 70 schools over four years.

“The program’s unique peer-mentor model pairs at-risk students and their classmates with disabilities and created an opportunity for more than 2,000 students to participate in school-based sports together. I believe strongly in the power of teams, not just as an instrument for collective achievement, but as a catalyst for individuals to develop a sense of purpose and self-worth. Participating in sports did that for me, and I am determined to provide youth with access to similar transformational experiences.”

Next Page: Q&A with Dawna Clarke, Senior Assistant Dean of Admissions

Page 3: Profiles of 12 Darden First-Year MBAs

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