2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Tyler Kelley, University of Virginia (Darden)

Tyler Kelley

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

“I am a storytelling world-changer who lives purposely, seeking to build bridges and empower others.”

Hometown: Anderson, IN

Fun fact about yourself:

  • I’ve danced on national television three times on BET’s (Black Entertainment Network) 106 & Park (video countdown show).
  • I’m married to the former Mrs. Indiana (and 1st runner-up to Mrs. America).

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Indiana University Bloomington (B.S. in Psychology)
  • University of Virginia School of Education (M.Ed.) – Current

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Indiana University – Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies – Director of Recruitment and Student Services

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Deloitte Consulting – Summer Associate – Government and Public Services – Arlington, VA

Where will you be working after graduation? McKinsey and Company – Associate (Generalist) – Washington, DC

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • President – Darden Student Association (student body) – 2nd year
  • Chair – First-Year Student Admissions Committee – 1st year
  • Student Program Advisory Committee
    • Member – 1st year
    • Chair – 2nd year
  • First-Year Liaison – Black Business Student Association – 1st year
  • Consultant – Community Consultants of Darden – 1st place winning consulting project team – 1st year

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my tenure as student body president because I have been able to work with my team and other club leaders to create a Darden where students from all backgrounds feel seen, heard, valued, and supported. With the Executive Vice President, I solicited funds and support from the Darden administration to make extracurricular involvement more affordable for first-generation and low-income students, resulting in a record 99% participation in the Darden Student Association. Additionally, I launched the Darden Affirmations initiative, designed to promote belonging, support, and a culture of care among students, staff, and faculty. This encouraged the community to consistently share their appreciation for one another, especially during difficult moments. Finally, I led the charge in increasing academic support for first and second-year students via the addition of differentiated methods for tutoring and student-led review sessions, ensuring that students from all learning styles and levels received what they needed.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of having been selected as the 2019 Outstanding Male Leader for the City of Bloomington, Indiana, an honor that is given to one recipient annually for their community service and professional work. I am proud of this accomplishment because it allowed me to promote my life’s mission of making the world a better place through service, mentorship, and leadership. I was proud to share this win with my Little Brother from Big Brothers, Big Sisters, serving as a positive example of a Black man from a similar low-income background who has pushed past those odds.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Darden because it was where I felt I could thrive and grow academically and professionally while being my complete self without fear of judgment or exclusion. At Darden, I can acknowledge and embrace that I am a first-generation student from a low-income single-parent home without shame. From the moment I met a Darden recruiter to starting my application to now having experienced the program, my entire family has felt included and cared for, making this major transition more manageable. The faculty members are stellar, and they genuinely care, making time to get to know students outside the classroom. The staff spends a great deal of energy and effort facilitating programs and implementing processes that promote belonging and support. And my classmates have been more amazing than I could have imagined, becoming my family away from home.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? I’ve LOVED nearly every course I’ve taken at Darden, but my favorite was “Managerial Finance.” Coming into Darden, I was terrified of finance and accounting, having previously majored in psychology and worked in education. Honestly, I was very insecure about these subjects at the beginning of my Darden career. “Managerial Finance” was designed for people like me – those without plans to work in finance post-Darden. As such, the materials were digestible, and the book and cases were fun to read, allowing me to apply my learnings in real life. By the end of the class, my confidence had increased so much that I could lead class discussions and teach my wife a thing or two, helping her with her new small business.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite Darden event is the Global Food Festival which brings together the entire Darden community over food, the arts, and culture. Students from different backgrounds host tables, showcasing their favorite foods and drinks from their respective countries. Students and staff also perform and showcase their talents on the stage throughout the event, bringing an energy that is incomparable. This tradition runs deep in the Darden community and highlights the diversity within the school, promoting cultural pride and inclusion.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Many people don’t think of Darden as a social school, which couldn’t be farthest from the truth. Academics are core to the Darden experience, but next to that are social life and community building. There are tons of things to do around Darden, UVa, and Charlottesville, and we’re very close to DC for folks who want to tap into city life. There’s never a dull moment at Darden, and nearly everything opportunity is created with the student (and their family) in mind, allowing partners and children to fully participate in the Darden experience.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Charlottesville (C-Ville) is so much fun! I love that I can get a taste of city vibes mixed with the beautiful natural landscape that surrounds it. There’s no shortage of amazing restaurants and stores – local and chain – and the music and entertainment scenes are vibrant too. Charlottesville is a strong and connected community, and I’ve felt that every time I’ve stepped outside of UVa. I get the best of many worlds living in Charlottesville!

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Many people tell me that my edge comes from my ability to tell my story vulnerably and authentically. My story is one filled with trauma and loss but also strength and encouragement. When I wrote my Darden essays, I reminded myself of the power of my story. So when I wrote, I shared snippets of short stories, writing in a conversational way that made the reader want to know more. I shared highlights from my life – the wins and accomplishments – and the tougher times, highlighting how I’ve overcome them with the support of a fantastic “village” (family and friends). I was human. I embraced that, and I think that spoke to the heads AND hearts of the admissions team.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is a hard one because I admire so many of my classmates. Moriah Horner is a classmate who is high on that list, though. She serves as the Executive Vice President of the Darden Student Association and previously served as the Diversity Representative for her section. Moriah cares deeply about making Darden a better place, always advocating on behalf of our peers, especially students from minoritized groups, to ensure they have everything they need to be successful at Darden. She played a critical role in our efforts to secure financial resources to support low-income students at Darden. Plus, Moriah is one of the most intelligent people I know, sharing her knowledge and understanding of difficult concepts with classmates, including me. Moreover, Moriah is a dual-degree student in the MBA/M.Ed. program, excelling at everything she does. Moriah is the definition of a leader. I’m forever grateful for having worked alongside her.

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

* I would love to start a social enterprise with my wife designed to make the world a better place via empathy-building, storytelling, and thoughtful leadership.

* My wife and I want to live and work on the continent of Africa, to connect more deeply to our recently discovered African roots, and to serve the community.

What made Tyler such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“It is both hard and easy to capture in words what made Tyler Kelley such a valuable member of the Darden Class of 2023. Easy because Tyler has had an incredible impact in his time at Darden, both on the institution and community in his leadership roles and on his peers and individuals around him through his compassion and care for others. Hard because it is challenging to capture in just a few words the many ways Tyler has exemplified the best of Darden and our values in his two years here.

Tyler has sought out ways to serve the school and have a positive impact since arriving, pursuing his passion areas of attracting, welcoming and encouraging a diverse and inclusive student body, providing academic resources and support to enable every student to succeed, and finding ways to bring all members of the Darden community together. As co-chair of the first-year student admissions committee, Tyler partnered with the Admissions Office and his peers to host inclusive admissions events and reach out so that every admitted student felt a connection to Darden. His passion for communicating the value of an MBA to a wide audience carried through in the work that he did with prospective and admitted students.

As Darden Student Association President, Tyler set out to enhance the Darden community and student experience. From providing enhanced financial inclusion and access to student events to partnering with faculty leadership on academic support resources, Tyler has been a change-maker in the best ways. His impact is not just in the macro leadership roles, however. Tyler has a deep grounding in his values and care for others, and this shines through. From supporting fellow student leaders to being a friend for anyone in times of need, he is an authentic and caring member of our community.”

Marc Johnson
Associate Dean and Chief Innovation and Student Engagement Officer


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