Meet the MBA Class of 2025: Brianna Huff, University of Virginia (Darden)

Brianna Huff

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

“Entrepreneurial and social impact-focused trailblazer, who is bridging the gap between socioeconomics and travel.”

*Hometown: Camp Lejeune, NC

*I grew up in a military family so I do not necessarily have a hometown. I have lived in the Midwest, South- and Northeast, as well as abroad in Asia and South America. However, I was born on Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in Eastern North Carolina.

Fun Fact About Yourself:  My travels as a military dependent exposed me to diverse perspectives and sparked my adventurous spirit. From teaching surfing in Chile to glassblowing in Japan, my youthful adventurous spirit continued throughout adulthood. Noticing the lack of diversity among women travelers, in 2018, I founded SimplyBriee.com to share budget travel tips and encourage women to solo travel. Since launching SimplyBriee.com, I fostered a community of 2,500 subscribers and was recruited as a travel expert to represent Delaware’s Visitors Bureau.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Majors: Communication Studies and History

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Social Marketing Influence LLC, Founder and Chief Marketing Officer

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager?

Having worked closely with the C-suite throughout my marketing and public relations career, I’ve recognized a few key aspects that make the case method an attractive means to become a better manager.

1. Gaining Deeper Insights into Decision-Making Processes: Early in my marketing and public relations career journey, I had the privilege of collaborating with the C-suite; However, I often found that I did not quite understand how strategic decisions were made. I believe that the case method holds the potential to bridge this gap by allowing me to step into the shoes of executives facing tough and impactful decisions.

2. Enhancing Communication and Collaboration Skills: A strength of the case method lies in its emphasis on collaborative learning. In my pursuit of personal and professional growth, I am drawn to the opportunity to work closely with diverse peers in dissecting complex scenarios and devising actionable solutions. Because the case method facilitates open and respectful discussions among classmates, I envision refining my communication abilities, honing the art of articulating ideas persuasively, and learning to navigate constructive debates – all of which are paramount for successful managerial roles.

3. Embracing Risk and Quantitative Analysis: The case method encourages a dynamic approach that mirrors the real-world challenges faced in the corporate environment. I participated in Darden Before Darden (DBD) to immerse myself early into the case method. During DBD, I noticed that the case method compelled students to step outside their comfort zones, engaging with unfamiliar concepts, and adopting a proactive stance towards risk-taking. The case method’s focus on applying analytical tools within a classroom context directly aligns with the demands of the professional world, where risk assessment and quantitative insights are pivotal for effective leadership.

Simply put, the case method offers a multifaceted learning experience that not only facilitates a deeper understanding of decision-making processes but also nurtures strong communication skills, teamwork, and the ability to confidently navigate risks.

Aside from cases and classmates, what was the key part of Virginia Darden’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? A key part of UVA’s Darden School of Business that strongly influenced my decision to commit to its MBA program was the unwavering commitment of its faculty to ensuring student success – within the classroom and beyond.

A pivotal moment that solidified the importance of this commitment for me was my experience during Darden Before Darden (DBD). Throughout DBD, I witnessed first-hand how the faculty’s dedication translated into action. Here, we delved into the nuances of navigating the case method classroom setting, tackling intricate quantitative topics, and even adjusting to the demands of returning to an academic environment. The professors displayed an incredible balance of challenge and support. It was truly remarkable to see how they expertly guided us through complex concepts while maintaining a patient and encouraging atmosphere.

Furthermore, in the case method classroom, the faculty’s commitment to our success was evident in their approach to challenging us. They didn’t just spoon-feed information; instead, they encouraged us to think critically, pushing us to develop our problem-solving skills and analytical thinking. Yet, at the same time, they provided the necessary support and guidance to ensure that we were equipped to rise to these challenges.

What course, club, or activity excites you the most at Virginia Darden? I’m excited to participate at The Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Technology at Darden. I am the founder of Social Marketing Influence LLC, a boutique digital marketing firm that has provided support to diverse businesses spanning the cannabis, financial, upscale retail, and tourism sector. My journey as an entrepreneur has been one of relentless growth and learning.

The Batten institute could support me with my long-term career aspirations in several ways:

Amplifying Entrepreneurial Endeavors: The Batten Institute presents a dynamic platform where I can refine my entrepreneurial skills and gain business acumen to take my current (or possibly a new) venture to new heights. Engaging with mentors, faculty, and fellow students through the Institute will undoubtedly equip me with the insights and strategies to overcome the challenges that arise during the scaling process.

Learning from Diverse Leaders: One of the most exciting prospects of the Institute is the opportunity to learn from a diverse range of accomplished leaders and industry experts. The Institute’s programs, events, and networking opportunities cam expose me to a plethora of perspective. Collaborating with innovators, who have navigated similar paths, will provide real-world context to the theoretical knowledge gained through the MBA program.

Sharing Insights and Fostering Innovation: My entrepreneurial journey has provided me with firsthand insights into the challenges and triumphs of running a business. The Batten Institute’s iLab presents an exciting avenue for me to not only benefit from the wisdom of others but also share the lessons I’ve learned as a business owner.

What has been your first impression of the Darden MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far. Tell us your best Darden story so far. My initial interactions with Darden MBA students and alums left me impressed by their insightful nature, remarkable willingness to assist, and unwavering support. They exuded a genuine enthusiasm for my success, akin to being the most encouraging cheerleaders on my business school journey. This camaraderie and spirit of helpfulness truly stood out and reaffirmed my belief in the vibrant and collaborative Darden community.

Last fall, I attended Darden’s first in-person Diversity Conference post-COVID-19. It was my first time in Charlottesville and on the grounds. As part of the conference, we’re paired with a first-year (FY) and a learning team composed of other participants to prep for a case. The FY prepared me for the case by sharing insights on how learning teams and the case method work. At the same time, the FY also offered support when I applied to Darden’s extended third round months later by understanding my career goals, sharing authentic insights about life at Darden and recruiting, and reviewing my essays. He has continued to be a solid rock of information that I return to (frequently) when I have “silly” questions.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My biggest career accomplishment occurred while I was a communications specialist at Navient, a top four federal student loan servicer.

Every Saturday in 2019, I mentored 20 high school students in Black Achievers, a YMCA college and career readiness program. My experiences as a first-generation college graduate and corporate marketing professional were catalysts to serving as a Black Achiever mentor. I intentionally exposed Black teens to careers in marketing and communications, where we are traditionally underrepresented, and coached them on leadership. To instill leadership skills, for example, I created team-oriented scenarios where teens developed companies and acted as spokespersons to solve crisis events. After presenting their statements to peers, many shy teens shared that they felt more confident in speaking to groups.

The limited access I had to higher education resources prompted me to support the YMCA with developing equitable college-focused workshops, encompassing topics like applying for school and financial aid. After each workshop, students expressed they felt better equipped to make well-informed decisions about college.
Not only did I accomplish my goal of removing barriers to higher education within my community but I also witnessed students’ confidence to pursue their first-degree increase.

What do you hope to do after graduation (at this point)? I plan to leverage my MBA to make a career pivot to consulting. Ideally, my short-term career goal is to work as a consultant at a firm leading in the economic sustainability space. I want to consult with economic development projects that improve socioeconomic outcomes and financial security for underbanked populations.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Virginia Darden’s MBA program?

1. Embrace Your Strengths: While it’s essential to recognize your weaknesses, don’t let them overshadow your strengths. The admissions committee is interested in understanding what sets you apart, your unique experiences, and the qualities that make you a valuable addition to the Darden community. Leverage your strengths and showcase them in your application. Be authentic in sharing your stories, highlighting how your experiences have shaped your perspective and prepared you for a transformative MBA journey. Remember, diversity of backgrounds and strengths contributes to a vibrant learning environment.

2. Network with Current Students and Alumni: Connecting with both current students and alumni who are pursuing careers in the field you aspire to work in can provide invaluable insights. These interactions can offer a more profound understanding of the program’s strengths, culture, and how it aligns with your career goals. Building relationships within the Darden network can demonstrate your genuine interest in the program.

3. Trust the Application Process: Throughout the application journey, you’re likely to experience a range of emotions, from optimism to frustration. It’s important to remember that the application process is designed to assess your fit for the program and vice versa. Trust that the admissions team at Darden is looking for candidates who can contribute to and benefit from the community. While there might be moments of uncertainty, stay committed to presenting your authentic self and showcasing your enthusiasm for learning and growth.

DON’T MISS: MEET VIRGINIA DARDEN’S MBA CLASS OF 2025

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