2023 MBA To Watch: Pooja Vittal, University of Virginia (Darden)

Pooja Vittal

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

“Lifetime learner who is passionate about creating equitable and inclusive spaces in every community.”

Hometown: Albany, NY

Fun fact about yourself: Although I did not play any sports growing up, I coached the girls’ soccer team during my first year of teaching (and we got one glorious win!). The team needed a coach to play the season, and everyone else had said no. I was learning the rules and tactics along with my athletes, but it was an experience I will never forget.

Undergraduate School and Degree: New York University, Stern School of Business – B.S. in Business Administration with minor in Social and Public Policy, concurrently pursuing M.Ed. from University of Virginia, School of Education and Human Development

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Granville County Schools, North Carolina (Teach for America), High School Math Teacher

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Walmart Connect in San Bruno, CA

Where will you be working after graduation? Strategy Manager at Walmart Connect in Hoboken, NJ

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Leadership: VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Darden Student Association, Second Year Coach, Second Year Tutor

Awards: William Michael Shermet Award for Academic Excellence, Forte Fellow, Class of 1986 Peter J. Niehaus Merit Second Year Scholarship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the work I have done this past year with the Darden Student Association (DSA) in my role as VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. My focus has been on developing strong relationships with first- and second-year students and relaying their feedback to Darden faculty and DSA. Much of my work has been on research and advocacy for sustainable inclusive practices within the academic and social contexts. I have also collaborated with other members of DSA and club presidents of affinity clubs to support the Darden community. I have enjoyed getting a chance to know my fellow students and grow more into the type of leader I want to be.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of the work I did as a high school math teacher during my third and last year of teaching (2020-2021 school year), at the end of which I received a teaching award from my school for successfully engaging at-risk students. This last year was an immensely difficult year teaching because it involved navigating fluxing remote and hybrid learning environments during the height of COVID. I was worried that I would not be able to develop strong relationships with my students if we were meeting over Zoom (and I did not know what most looked like), but I worked hard at using different EdTech tools, engagement methods, student encouragement, and parent contact to still create a supportive classroom environment. As a result, I had students who were engaged to the best of their ability, and I grew as a teacher and leader. I am glad to have ended my teaching career on a sweet note.

Why did you choose this business school? I wanted an academically rigorous environment that would challenge me and help me truly learn the material, while also providing a tight-knit student community. I wanted to learn in this environment from professors who cared about teaching and where my learning was deepened through discussion with fellow students. Darden is known for its case method, its professors, and the student community, so it seemed like the best fit, and it is a choice I am grateful to have made.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? There are too many to choose from at Darden, but one of my favorite MBA professors has been Tami Kim, who I had for first year core Marketing and an elective, Digital Marketing. Tami was one of my section’s favorite professors for her energy, love of engaging with students, and for how she challenged us to think. Tami helped me develop a love for marketing and a desire to pursue something related to marketing post-Darden. She also was helpful during the recruiting process in going over elevator pitches,

What was your favorite course as an MBA? My favorite course has been Leadership, Diversity, and Leveraging Difference with Martin Davidson (another one of my favorite professors!). This was a leadership class focused on how we, as future managers, can effectively manage with diversity, equity, and inclusion in mind. This is a subject I am passionate about, and I often think about some of the lessons from the class, especially with my leadership role at Darden and in tandem with my focus in my Master of Education. I loved how Martin’s energy and the discussions we had in class created an engaging environment!

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? One of my favorite Darden traditions is the Global Food Festival, which is one of the first events during the school year. Students cook amazing food and represent their countries and cultures. I love how I get to learn about my fellow students’ cultures and I love how the entire school comes together to eat amazing food and celebrate our international community!

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I’m honestly happy with how I have navigated the experience and balance of social, academics, and recruiting. The only thing I wish I had had more time for was to take more quantitative elective classes to get outside of my comfort zone.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that Darden is an extremely rigorous school with little time for fun. While Darden is certainly very rigorous, particularly during the first year, we have an amazing community and there is usually at least one event every weekend with clubs or the entire Darden community. There are many supports available in the form of second year students, faculty, and the larger community – so while there is rigor, there is also support and fun.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? I love how beautiful Charlottesville is during the Fall! The colorful leaves are amazing, and particularly wonderful to enjoy from one of the many pretty wineries in the region!

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised by how close I have become to so many classmates and how deep the friendship runs. I studied business in college and did not necessarily find deep connections within the business school because I had different interests. However, here, I have found amazing friends with whom I have gone over cases for hours (shoutout to my learning team), traveled with, attended class with, and discussed all the personal things. I have connected well to so many, even those with different interests or perspectives, and it has been the best surprise.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I think that I have an interesting background that is unique compared to most other MBA applicants, and I was authentic to myself for the application essays and interview. I discussed what I was passionate about, and connected that to the type of impact I could have at Darden.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? There are so many awesome Darden students having an impact on our community, but the first person who comes to mind is Tyler Kelley. During the first quarter of my first year, I was lucky to be seated next to Tyler and we became quick friends. He was instrumental in convincing me to add a Master’s of Education to my MBA by talking about his passion for the program. He has been a voice of advocacy for the student body this year as the Darden Student Association President. Tyler is an authentic, vulnerable, hard-working, and resilient leader and friend. He will always check in to see how people are doing personally, while cheering them on in their academic and professional lives. I do not know how he accomplishes so much each day, but I know I am lucky to know him and be positively impacted by him.

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

1) Join an early-stage education and/or racial equity focused startup later in my career and help build it up. I am taking the next few years in my career to learn how to work at a larger place and learn how to be operational.

2) Return to teaching in some capacity, perhaps as a college or graduate professor!

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

“From the very first day of class, Pooja stood out with her commitment to learning and development. I was continually impressed by her ability to think on her feet and synthesize complex sets of information quickly and eloquently.

She also cares deeply about diversity, equity and inclusion and played an integral role in the section to amplify minority voices.”

Professor Tami Kim


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