Meet Virginia Darden’s MBA Class Of 2024

First day of classes at the Darden School of Business 2022. Photo/Andrew Shurtleff Photography, LLC

A Q&A WITH DAWNA CLARK

P&Q: What are the two most exciting developments at your program in the past year and how will they enrich the MBA experience for current and future MBAs?

Clarke: “There are incredible enhancements occurring on Darden Grounds in Charlottesville. In spring 2023, we will formally open a new boutique hotel — managed by Kimpton — and lifelong learning center. The hotel and lifelong learning center will support Darden’s academic mission as a setting for several programs, including MBA student events and faculty conferences and symposia. Additionally, we are dramatically transforming our outdoor classroom and wellness spaces, with a new five-acre botanical garden and arboretum on Darden grounds, complete with a stream running through it.

We have also rolled out a number of programs and initiatives under the banner of inclusive excellence, including Women@Darden, which seeks to ultimately make Darden the graduate business school of choice for women leaders across the world.”

P&Q: If you were giving a campus tour, what is the first place you’d take an MBA applicant? Why is that so important to the MBA experience?

Clarke: “First Coffee. Darden is all about the community, and First Coffee provides a central gathering point for students, faculty, staff and visitors to come together, make connections, network, and get to know people from all aspects of the rich Darden community.

Then, of course, there is the amazing energy in the classroom, which is the reason why we encourage students to sit in on a class or participate in a mock case. The classroom really sets Darden apart, with our unmatched faculty orchestrating case method instruction, which simulates real-world business decisions every day and helps students engage with each other and develop their leadership voices.”

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business, MBA Program at the Charlottesville Campus

P&Q: What is the most innovative thing you have introduced into the MBA program in recent years? How has it been a game changer for your program?

Clarke: “Test flexibility has been a meaningful change for Darden. First introduced as a way to show compassion and maximum flexibility at the outset of the pandemic, test flexibility and, in some cases, test waivers, has helped us attract talented students from across the world while setting new records for academic excellence. We find that our candidates often have alternative evidence to show their readiness for a top MBA program and test flexibility allows them to be strategic and opt for the best approach to demonstrating their academic capabilities.

More recently, the Part-Time MBA has been a great early success. We realized there were students in the Washington, D.C., area who wanted a Darden MBA, but needed more flexibility than what we could offer with the Executive MBA and Full-Time MBA, both of which are two-year, lockstep programs. We recently welcomed nearly 70 amazing students to the new program and are thrilled with the early reception.”

P&Q: What have MBAs told you is the most memorable, signature experience they’ve had in your program? Why did it resonate so much with them?

Clarke: “There are many Darden hallmarks that resonate with students, but if I have to choose one, I’ll highlight the Darden Worldwide Courses.

Every Darden student is offered a scholarship to take a global course, which nearly everyone takes advantage of. Last year, students studied luxury goods in Italy, ESG investing in Israel, artificial intelligence in Germany and sustainability in Costa Rica, among a host of other courses. In addition to experiential learning on the global stage, the courses provide new opportunities for creating deep bonds among students and with faculty members.

On Grounds, we frequently hear about the impact of the Second Year Career Coach program, in which incoming First Year MBAs are paired with Second Years pursuing similar roles. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership, with Second Years flexing their mentorship and leadership muscles and First Years learning from their more experienced peers.

Finally, a purely fun one: The Darden Cup, which is a series of extracurricular events taking place throughout the academic year in which Darden’s five sections compete against each other for the Darden Cup and a year’s worth of bragging rights. The competitions bring together students and faculty for good-natured competitive events in soccer, cricket, basketball, trivia, and a talent competition, among various other challenges and games. It’s a great stress release and offers another opportunity for bonding outside of the classroom.”

Dawna Clarke, executive director of admissions at Darden

P&Q:  How does your program infuse diversity, equity, and inclusion into your coursework and extracurricular activities?

Clarke: “We always say that the case method classroom only works when a diversity of viewpoints is present, and professors are cognizant of lifting different viewpoints as they orchestrate the discussion. There has also been a concerted effort in recent years to introduce more cases with diverse protagonists.

The School offers dozens of affinity groups, including the Black Business Student Association, the Darden African Business Organization, the Darden South Asia Society and Pride at Darden, just to name a few, that aid in a sense of belonging once on Grounds.

In recent years, we added a new option to the Darden Annual Fund, allowing alumni and supporters to give directly to DEI initiatives, and it’s clear that our supporters are serious about enabling us to continue to foster an inclusive community that propels our students to excel.”

P&Q: What is the most underrated part of your program that you wish students knew more about? How does that make your graduates more valuable to prospective employers?

Clarke: “Darden has long been known for what many people still describe as its “General Management” curriculum. But what that really means is that Darden students have a holistic view of an enterprise, with a broad and deep skillset that will support a career in any sector or industry.

Long-term, the Darden MBA prepares a student to lead an organization, to be a CEO. A Darden graduate is truly well-rounded and can add value across an organization, and employers know and respect this.”

P&Q: Where are some of your students’ favorite hang-outs? What do they do and why do they gravitate there?

Clarke: “There is so much to do in Charlottesville.

Charlottesville is a mid-sized college town with big city amenities. With the Blue Ridge Mountains as the backdrop and located just a two-hour drive from Washington, D.C., Charlottesville offers an incredible concentration of excellent restaurants, live music venues of every size, unparalleled college sports and a thriving, diversified economy.

Darden students tend to love their time in Charlottesville, and hundreds of Darden alumni move back to the area after graduation — and with the rise of a multitude of career-ladder jobs, many come for Darden and never leave. They hang out on The Corner, a collection of restaurants and bars right across the street from UVA, as well as the Downtown Mall, a pedestrian area of still more restaurants and music venues right up the road from Darden.”

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

REASONS TO CONSIDER THE DARDEN MBA

1) International Trek: Darden’s commitment to creating transformational experiences for its students was important. Darden allows every student to participate in one Darden Worldwide Course (international trek) at no additional fee through its new Batten Foundation Darden Worldwide Scholarship program. This opportunity was very attractive to me given my prior background at a global institution and goal to become an international business leader.
Devin Waddell (’24)

2) Case Method: “The case method attracts students who want to be challenged to grow as leaders. It teaches students to open up to listening to other perspectives and approaches (which may contradict our own) and expands our avenues of learning to also include our fellow classmates. The classroom experience builds students’ skills in facilitating the learning of our peers and effectively articulating our positions and recommendations. In doing so, Darden students emerge as managers who lead with curiosity, remain agile and flexible in their analysis, and communicate with clarity.”
Alyssa Tulabut (’24)

“I love how every case requires you to make a decision using data and information from real business scenarios. The variety in industries and company sizes that the cases come from keeps things interesting. I’m particularly proud that Darden professors write and publish almost all of the cases they use, and it shows in their teaching!”
Benjamin Friedlander (’24)

3) Charlottesville: Location and people. I love the outdoors, so Charlottesville was a perfect fit. I can hike, fish, and kayak within 30 minutes of leaving my apartment. My favorite places to visit are Wintergreen and Sugar Hollow. As for people, every single person I talked to in the interview process treated me like a long-lost friend. From the receptionist at the front desk of the old Darden Inn to my second- year interviewer, I felt at home throughout the duration of the application process.”
Grant Guess (’24)

4) Darden Cup: The Darden Cup is a huge part of the Darden culture and community. Each section (first years and second years) competes against each other in a myriad of events (soccer, MarioKart, relay races, talent show, etc.) and wins points throughout the year. It’s a great way to bring the sections- student and faculty alike – together for some classic fun and competition.”
Katie Winebarger, University of Virginia (Darden)

5) Darden Capital Management: “I am excited to participate in Darden Capital Management (DCM). The club manages about $30 million of total assets of the Darden School Foundation endowment through 6 different funds. I have always been passionate about investing and enjoyed reading books about famous investors such as Warren Buffet and Ray Dalio. I can’t wait to participate in stock pitch competitions, the University of Virginia Investing Conference, and DCM fund meetings.”
Devin Waddell (’24)

For a long list of extraordinary achievements during his six years in the job. UVA Darden Dean Scott Beardsley is the Dean of the Year for 2020

ADVICE TO PROSPECTIVE APPLICANTS

“Be intentional about Darden. At the end of the day, it all comes down to one question: why do you want to be here, and not somewhere else? Combine this answer with your “unique selling points,” and you’ve got all you need. Finally, remember this: everyone struggles with standardized tests, which are only a piece of your application. However, you’ll overcome it all, as you have done your entire life to be where you are.”
Fernando Matheus Duarte Casarotti (’24)

“All Darden classes are case studies. The opinions and ideas of each student’s unique experience make up all of our classes. Among them, the opinions of international students will include the unique and wonderful values of each country. My advice is to share your thoughts and experiences in the interview. The interviewer can surely imagine what role you would play if you were in the class.”
Aya Kirihara(’24)

MBA Student Hometown Undergrad Alma Mater Last Employer
Else Drooff Annapolis, MD Dartmouth College Coschool
Benjamin Friedlander Mobile, AL University of Oklahoma Memphis Education Fund
Yonah Greenstein New York City, NY Bard College iMentor
Ayano (Aya) Kirihara Chiba, Japan Tokyo University of Science Daiwa Asset Management Co.
Fernando Matheus Duarte Casarotti Sao Paulo – Brazil Pontifical Catholic University of Campinas Court of Justice of Sao Paulo
Carlos Saballos Managua, Nicaragua Saint Louis University PNC
Alyssa Tulabut Chesapeake, VA University of Virginia White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders
Victoria Velasquez Moorpark, CA University of Notre Dame Simatree
Devin Waddell Summerfield, NC Auburn University HSBC
Elsie Zhang Shanghai, China Tongji University Jerry Pate Design

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