Your professor’s eyes dart across the room. You know what’s coming. She will call a name and pose a question. If it’s you, this is your time to shine – or stumble.
In management, you’re always in the spotlight. You have to ready-and-able at any moment. You can’t fall back on prepared statements, either. Instead, you’re expected to make clear, credible, and compelling arguments. Chances are, someone will challenge you too. That’s why business professors put students on the spot with the cold call. Call it a test of your preparation and commitment. Not knowing when or what, the cold call checks your ability to think on your feet. Even more, it harnesses the community’s collective experiences. By bringing every voice into the arena, everyone contributes and everyone matters. You can’t hide. Sooner or later, you have to step up. When you do, you’d better add value.
A MATTER OF REPETITION
The cold call also reflects the culture of the University of Virginia, Darden School of Business: exacting academically, inclusive socially, and realistic professionally. The MBA program has been called “high touch, high tone, high octane” – with its Socratic case methodology requiring intensive preparation to match unpredictable class discussions. You could also call the Darden approach ‘heavy analysis, heavy teamwork, heavy commitment.’ Here, students digest over 500 cases, honing a problem-solving and decision-making process through repetition and reflection. Every class, they wrestle with ambiguous situations, devising strategies and confronting alternative perspectives. Every class, they learn about new industries and functions. Every class, they are absorbing the best practices and painful lessons on situations ranging from transforming cultures to entering markets to building technology infrastructures.
To contribute at the Darden School, you need to offer more than an opinion – you need to craft a plan…every time out. That makes casing the ultimate experiential learning platform, a means for turning learners into leaders and raw talents into refined practitioners. This transformation, long perfected by Darden’s elite faculty, is why professionals like Fernando Matheus Duarte Casarotti flock to Charlottesville every fall.
“[Darden] has an immersive nature that cannot be replicated, in which students develop skills to crunch huge amounts of data and quickly analyze them to get to a synthesized conclusion,” Duarte Casarotti, a first-year MBA, tells P&Q. “Also, the “cold call risk” makes people adapt and confront even the most challenging subjects. Those are essential traits for managers in the fast-paced business world in which we live, where new technologies pop up almost daily.”
THE KEY SKILL: LEARNING TO SET PRIORITIES
The case training also makes Darden MBAs valuable to employers. When it comes to the lifetime value of an MBA degree, Darden MBAs enjoy a $2,968,384 return on investment, third only to the Wharton School and Northwestern Kellogg. This year, the school reported that 2022 grads pulled in $175,000 in mean base pay. That represents a 21% jump in pay over the previous year – and doesn’t include signing bonus or perks like reimbursement, stock options, and 401K match. That news would hardly be surprising to Tre Tennyson, a ’21 alum and McKinsey consultant. For him, the Darden difference involved simulating everything he needed to be successful in the c-suite.
“Darden did a fantastic job not only preparing us academically but also in pushing us to realize the full value of our most important and most limited resource – time,” Tennyson explains. “The nature of the program is such that you must prioritize where to balance schoolwork, networking, and recruiting to do all of them successfully. As any leader can attest, learning where and when to say no – where and when to confirm your priorities – is a crucial skill. Darden facilitates learning that skill in a way that has prepared me to successfully set priorities in my own life now beyond school. Additionally, Darden’s focus on conscientious leadership is, in my opinion, such a critical feature of the curriculum, as the world’s problems have become increasingly complex with implications for human lives at the end of every decision.”
What about the Class of 2024 members following in the footsteps of alumni like Tennyson? Let’s just say the case classrooms will be rich with global experience and functional expertise. Dawna Clarke, Darden’s executive director of admissions, notes that 118 of the 349 class members have studied abroad, while another 120 speak three or more languages – including 81 who have mastered sign language. By the same token, 18.9% of the class hold advanced degrees. Overall, Clarke adds, first-year Darden MBAs have worked in 32 industries and for 290 employers.
“Collectively and according to your resumes,” Clarke told the class at orientation, “you’ve led it, analyzed it, compiled it, managed it, improved it, migrated it, streamlined it, initiated it, and we know what you’re going to do at Darden, you are going to crush it.”
SELF-STARTERS WHO FINISH
It’s an easy prediction for Clarke to make. After all, the Class of 2024 were accepted into Darden because they crushed it elsewhere. Take Victoria Velasquez. She describes herself as “employee number two” at Simatree, “a startup data, analytics, and technology strategy consulting firm” that was eventually sold to a financial holdings company. Over three years, Velasquez says, she helped the firm add over $1.5 million dollars in contracts and grow to 20 FTEs. However, her biggest achievement, she adds, was being a culture setter at Simatree.
“The company’s culture is one that is equitable and inclusive, with team members at every level of the organization being encouraged to share their diverse perspectives and feeling empowered to execute on their innovative ideas. Additionally, it is a culture where team members and leaders can be the most authentic versions of themselves because we know that by harnessing each individual’s unique passions, interests, and life experiences, we can better serve our clients. I hope to continue to drive this kind of positive cultural change at Darden and throughout my post-MBA career.”
Indeed, many class members don’t boil their biggest achievements down to high profile promotions or eye-catching numbers. Instead, they often revolve around service. Before Darden, Carlos Saballos climbed the ladder to senior vice president at PNC. However, he takes great pride in growing the Chapman Partnership, a Miami-based homeless assistance center serving 200 children, where he helped raised $190,000 and nearly quadruple group members to 150 people. In the Memphis Title I Charter School System, Benjamin Friedlander negotiated new agreements that enabled schools to “free up millions of dollars” to invest in students. Similarly, Fernando Matheus Duarte Casarotti led an information technology initiative that saved the Court of Justice of Sao Paulo millions of dollars. In the process, he became the youngest prize to receive a service award from the court president. During the 2020 census and election, Alyssa Tulabut conducted outreach in Cambodian, Hmong, Lao, and Vietnamese communities to ensure their voices weren’t ignored by local and national leaders.
“These pivotal civic engagement milestones in 2020 positioned me to strengthen invaluable muscles leading a coalition of partner organizations to get out the count and the vote within Southeast Asian American communities,” she writes. “I am especially proud of my work producing in-language text and audio voter guides to make the candidates’ platforms as accessible as possible to limited English proficient community members. I’m grateful for role I was able to play in our collective efforts to ensure these communities were counted and heard.”
FORMATIVE LESSONS FROM SPORTS
Yonah Greenstein’s philanthropic spirit was kindled as a Bard College undergraduate. Here, he started Dream to Achieve (DTA), a non-profit that provides sports camps, tutoring, and mentoring to underprivileged high school students around Hudson, New York. Over the past years, DTA programming has expanded to 250 students a year – and its impact has extended beyond participants’ formative years.
“I’ve stayed in touch with so many of amazing people who were DTA participants – celebrating graduations, the birth of children, and other life events,” Greenstein adds. “Just recently, one reached out to me as they’re beginning a new mentoring program in Hudson, and another reached out as they’re interested in pursuing their MBA. It’s inspiring to know that I played some small part in supporting this next generation of transformative leaders.”
Looking for a feel-good story in the Class of 2024? Start with Devin Waddell, a chemical engineer who became a banker (and already holds a Master’s in Management Student from Duke University). As an Auburn undergrad, Waddell played basketball in the talent-rich SEC Conference. Despite not being recruited in high school and being cut as a freshman, Waddell persevered and eventually earned a full-ride athletic scholarship. He credits the achievement to the value of “persistence, continual self-development, and a positive mindset.” And these lessons have carried on to his career.
“My collegiate basketball experience gave me the confidence to contribute to special projects such as setting group lending limits and streamlining the credit underwriting process while supporting more than 15 large multinational clients for HSBC. It also gave me time management skills and the abilities to excel in high-pressure situations and work on teams.”
MUSICIANS AND DANCERS
Speaking of sports, Benjamin Friedlander has coached track, football, and basketball, with his experience ranging from elementary school to NCAA D1. When it comes to long odds, look no further than Victoria Velasquez. She is the first person in her 30-member family to graduate from college. Outside work and school, Carlos Saballos has played drums in funk, reggae and classic rock bands. Not only does Fernando Matheus Duarte Casarotti play piano, guitar, and harmonica, but he is a ballroom dancer on the side. One better: Elsie Zhang is a US National Champion in American smooth dance. And when you’re around Alyssa Tulabut, you’re truly part of elite company.
“When I’m not roleplaying as a student who’s confident about answering a cold call, I roleplay as a high elf wizard in Dungeons and Dragons!”
Ironically, cases may be the small-c attraction at Darden. For many, Community has been the Big-C closer that made the Class of 2024 leave their promising career tracks to pursue their MBAs. Tulabut experienced this differentiator herself during opening week, when the power went out when students were sharing their personal stories.
“We went full acoustic mode, complete with cell phone flashlights to illuminate the stage,” she recalls. “I was so impressed by how present everyone was. People weren’t on their phones or whispering amongst themselves – so much so that the speakers were able to continue on without microphones. To me, it exemplified how Darden students show up for one another, respect each other, and demonstrate their curiosity and enthusiasm to understand each other on deeper levels.”
Next Page: A Class Profile
Page 3: Profiles of 10 Darden First-Years and An Interview with Senior Assistant Dean Dawna Clarke