Learning About Leadership in the Galiuro Mountains of Arizona

As more students have become interested in taking experiential learning courses, Darden has responded by offering new pilot programs through partnerships with organizations such as the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Earlier this year, 13 Darden students spent a week in the Galiuro Mountains in Arizona with Darden professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne, a Darden alumnus and three NOLS instructors. Darden Second Year Alex Fife reflects upon their journey:

“As the last light faded and I clicked on my headlamp, two things had become clear: 1) it is very dark in the wilderness, and 2) this was not going to be a simple walk in the woods. Though night had fallen, we still had to cover a considerable distance before reaching and setting up camp. I thought back on the day: we had hiked at least six miles, first across an expanse of cactus and thorns and then through a rocky canyon with gnarled Arizona sycamore trees. When not hiking, our time had been filled with instruction on fundamental outdoor skills such as how to cook with a camp stove, how to read a topographic map, and the multistep process for going to the bathroom in the woods. It was the beginning of a class unlike any other offered at Darden.

This January marked the first Darden collaboration with the National Outdoor Leadership School, NOLS for short. In addition to running custom programs for companies like Google and Salesforce.com, NOLS Professional Training has offered courses for a number of MBA programs. Jake Freed, Assistant Director of NOLS Pro and one our instructors, believes that “the wilderness actually draws many parallels with the landscape business school graduates will face. It is an ambiguous, dynamic setting where decisions with real consequences must be made, often with incomplete information.” Dr. Freed notes that the course structure encourages participants to ‘practice leadership skills in a challenging, unfamiliar environment where it is OK to fail and where both success and failure ultimately lead to profound learning.’

Photo credit: Mark Silvers

Photo credit: Mark Silvers

When asked about Darden’s decision to collaborate with NOLS, Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne responded that ‘The Darden/NOLS field elective was about experiencing leadership. The idea was to empower our students by allowing each and every participant to discover their capabilities as leaders, while operating in a unique and challenging setting. When the decisions you make as a leader can result in your team hiking in the dark, getting lost, or not having enough water, outcomes are direct and consequences clear. Leaders and team members alike are called to think and care for each other in new ways and to rely on trust, extraordinary teamwork, non-selfish behavior and mutual respect.’

Our course took place in the Galiuro Mountains in Arizona. Never heard of the Galiuro Mountains? Neither had we, but being in the desert in January sounded reasonably warm and the course description spoke of an area ‘renowned for its rugged terrain, spectacular Sonoran ecology and beautiful vistas.’ It is also a treacherous place where, in the words of Second Year student Amanda Miller, ‘EVERYTHING will bite, prick or sting you.’ So it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that 13 second year students, Yael, one alumnus and three NOLS instructors ventured into the wilderness.

The objective for the week was clear: to hike south through the mountain range, a distance of roughly 40 miles through canyons and high mountain passes. While our NOLS instructors would serve as advisors, Darden students were responsible for almost every aspect of the expedition. Every day three students would act as expedition leaders, each responsible for leading a small team from dawn until dusk. These leaders would plot the course for the day, draw up contingency plans, and make dozens of critical decisions along the way. NOLS instructors would give their advice when asked, but would not intervene if a leader made a mistake.

‘We had to make real managerial decisions in the middle of nowhere,’ said Amanda Miller, ‘We had to manage our peers in uncharted territory.  We had to use a compass and a topographical map to figure out how to get down mountain faces by the light of a headlamp with no trail in sight.  We all learned about our leadership styles and how they can evolve when you move between carefully planned scenarios and chaotic uncertainty.’

‘We were able to exercise both our leadership and active follower skills while receiving concrete feedback from our Darden peers and NOLS instructors,’ noted Kat Baronowski, a Second Year student and DSA President, ‘It was a great opportunity to put into practice a number of the lessons we’ve learned in the Darden classroom.’

Mark Silvers, a Second Year student and Marine Corps veteran, agreed that the experience was a dramatic departure from learning leadership in a classroom. ‘It is completely different to lead a team in an environment where a leader’s mistakes can cost daylight, calories, warmth and morale.’ he said, ‘Darden students aren’t Marines, and the trip provided an extraordinary opportunity for me to adapt my leadership style to a diverse group with a wide range of backgrounds, risk tolerances, and priorities.’

Our NOLS instructors also pushed us to improve our ‘expedition behavior,’ a mantra that embodies good teamwork, active followership and mindfulness. If you see something that needs to be done in camp, do it. If you have a suggestion for a better route on the map, speak up. If you see a teammate struggling, offer to carry some extra weight to lighten their load. Share the precious last Fig Newton you had been saving when you notice someone needs an energy boost. The Darden team fully embraced this mentality and their small acts of unselfishness had a huge impact on the success of an expedition. I will be forever grateful for the untold number of sacrifices, words of encouragement and respect that my teammates gave me.

Never was that spirit more critical than on our final day, when we rose before sunrise and hiked five miles to reach our rendezvous point. Bone tired and freezing cold, it took every ounce of energy and will to keep going. Yet despite our miserable state, all I could hear in the darkness (on our supposedly ‘silent hike’) was laughter and encouraging comments. One student sang a song about breakfast burritos and we chuckled to discover another, in the dim light, proudly sporting his favorite purple long johns sans pants.

As the rising sun filled the canyon with a red glow, I was struck with a pang of sadness that our journey had come to an end. I was going to miss the camaraderie, the cheesy bagels fried over a carefully balanced camp stove, and our intense sense of common purpose. Yet as I hiked the last miles of the trip, I took heart in the fact that the hard-earned lessons of the past week extended far beyond the trail.

Truly, this course was unlike any at Darden.”

Photo credit: Kenny Schulman

Photo credit: Kenny Schulman

Leave a comment

Diversity of Thought at Darden

The case method’s success stems from the diverse range of backgrounds and views in the classroom. In the guest post below, Second Year Bill Besash discusses what diversity means to him as a student leader:

Bill Besash MBA Class of 2014

Bill Besash
MBA Class of 2014

“I came to business school with a couple purposes in mind. First, I wanted the ability to switch careers, moving into a strategy consulting or internal strategy role as I had been focused on the finance side of a business up to that point in my career. Second, I wanted to immerse myself in a rich experience for the next two years, becoming a part of a strong network and community. I found this in Darden and continue to be amazed every day.

While at Darden I have had the opportunity to be involved in a number of student-led organizations and clubs. During my First Year, I was nominated and elected as my Section Representative and served on the Darden Student Association. In addition, as a Second Year I have had the pleasure of serving as a VP of Finance for both the Consulting Club and Wine and Cuisine Club and VP of Events for the Adam Smith Society. Also, as a member of the MBA Program Advisory Committee, I have been involved in the planning of next year’s full-time MBA program schedule and curriculum. Lastly, my role on the Diversity Student Advisory Group has been the most interesting and rewarding, as I see diversity as a crucial piece of the community at Darden.

Diversity is incredibly important to me. Diversity is not just a person’s background, ethnicity, or gender. I see diversity much more in the diversity of thought. I believe that everyone’s experiences, opinions and thought processes are things that I can learn from, and I will continue to absorb and learn from throughout my life. I believe this is important for any individual, and especially important in an MBA program.

Darden’s diverse community offers exactly this and creates an environment I truly appreciate and enjoy every day. Inside the classroom, I have had the pleasure of hearing opinions on domestic and international issues from a wide range of nationalities and backgrounds. These conversations have opened up my eyes to how others perceive issues that I had before thought of more as black and white. The gray is much more fulfilling to investigate and ponder than strictly looking at a problem as a yes and no.

Outside the classroom, I love conversing with my fellow European and Latin American football fans everyday about games, players and news. In fact, I love it so much I will be traveling to Brazil for the World Cup this summer with many of my classmates. This is just one instance of how diversity has impacted me at Darden and what it means to me.

In the end, I can’t say enough about the Darden community and the way diversity is such a strong part of it. I try to bring my experiences, interests and views to the community as I know everyone else does as well. This is what makes Darden such a great place to continue to learn and grow as an individual and member of a larger team. I look forward to welcoming future candidates to join in on the experience as well and hopefully become future alumni and friends.”

Bill Besash was raised in the suburbs of South Jersey in a small town called Voorhees. Upon high school graduation, he ventured south and attended Wake Forest University. While there, he studied finance and accounting, and enjoying the adaption to the southern lifestyle. Post Wake Forest, Bill moved to Washington, D.C. for the next five years working his first three years in a mid-size litigation consulting firm called Navigant Consulting and then spent two years working at Fannie Mae. 

Leave a comment

International Study Opportunities for Darden MBA Students

In addition to term-long global exchange programs, Darden offers students the opportunity to travel around the world with their classmates and faculty for one- to two- week periods in March and May.

Global Field Experiences (GFEs) are MBA electives that give small teams of students the opportunity to provide consulting services to an international company or organization while working closely with a Darden faculty member. GFEs are frequently mission-driven with a focus on areas such as sustainability, education or renewable energy. TriplePundit recently published an article discussing four recent Darden GFEs — World Bicycle Relief in Zambia, INASante in Tunisia, Freeset Global in India, and Rotary Club of Calapan City and Baruyan in the Philippines.

Global Business Experiences (GBEs) are different from GFEs since the learning experience centers around a business theme rather than consulting with an individual company. Each course includes structured classes and practitioner presentations as well as visits to companies, governmental agencies and important cultural sites. Several GBEs also include an experiential consulting project with companies in the country being visited.

This year, GBEs were offered in Brazil, China, Turkey, Spain, South Africa, Argentina, Israel and Sweden, focusing on themes that included “Business Growth in Developing Countries,” “Wine Industry Exploration,” and “Sustainability, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.”

In the guest post below, Darden Partner Fareine Benz describes her experience in Barcelona, Spain with Darden MBA students and alumni taking Professor Jeanne Lietdka’s GBE course “Strategy as Design.”

“The closeness and accessibility of Darden’s community extends beyond student clubs and social events, and into the academic environment. As a Darden partner, I have been pleasantly surprised at the endless opportunities I’ve had to be involved in the Darden experience.

This past March, another Darden Partner and I joined over 20 Darden MBA students, 2 MBA alumni and an EMBA alumnus on a Global Business Experience to Barcelona. During the weeklong experience, we were fully immersed in participating in classroom discussions, visiting prominent cultural landmarks, and learning about how the strategic design process shaped the history of Barcelona.

Spain1

Learning Team Meeting at IESE

Each morning, we spent time in small groups discussing the assigned readings over a cup of coffee before diving into the class discussion. Topics we covered included the design process that went into city planning and architecture, the tension that occurs among different stakeholders throughout the design process, and the impact that creativity and innovation has on business.

After lunch, we explored Barcelona and the surrounding region to see the impact that design had on the city and its culture. Our visits included a walk through Eixample, a modernista neighborhood built in the 19th century to accommodate the Old City’s expansion; touring Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, and Casa Batllo; and driving along the Costa Brava to visit Salvador Dali’s Mediterranean seaside home.

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

Parc Guell

Parc Guell

Colonial Guell

Colonial Guell

Costa Brava

Costa Brava

Costa Brava

Costa Brava

However, one of the biggest highlights of the GBE was being able to bond with all the students and alumni on the trip. After a day of classes and cultural excursions, Dana Niedzielska (MBA ’97) invited the class to her home sitting atop of Tibidabo for a small gathering in which we were able to watch the sun set over the city while enjoying Spanish wine and local cheese.

View of Barcelona from Tibidabo

View of Barcelona from Tibidabo

Although the GBE schedule was typically packed with activities each day, we still had enough time to watch a football game at Club Nou, dine at el Bulli chef Ferran Adria’s new restaurant 41 Degrees, and take a stroll through Las Ramblas.

Barcelona GBE 2014

Barcelona GBE 2014

The fact that Darden opens these global opportunities up to alumni, staff and partners is a testament to the inclusiveness of the community. Through these global courses, students are able to take what they learn in class through the case study method and apply those lessons internationally in real time.”

Leave a comment

Experiential Learning at Darden

While all Darden students are required to complete the core curriculum during the first four terms of the First Year, they are able to customize their academic experiences beginning in March by choosing from over 100 elective courses and for-credit experiential projects.

Many Second Years choose to enroll in a Darden Business Project (DBP), an independent or group project focusing on one of three areas: consulting, venturing or case development. Through DBPs, students work under the direction of a faculty advisor to frame issues, analyze data and present solutions to real businesses. Read more about DBPs in a recent article by Clear Admit.

We encourage you to learn more about experiential learning opportunities at Darden and other elective opportunities in your area of interest.

Leave a comment

Weekly Wednesday Chat With Darden’s Admissions Committee

Every Wednesday, a member of the Darden School Admissions Committee hosts an online chat at 12:30 – 1:00 p.m. ET. Learn more about the admissions process and the three formats of the MBA program directly from the decision makers. To participate, simply log into the chat at 12:30 p.m. on any Wednesday (except for holidays).

Here’s a transcript from last week’s chat:

Question: What are the admissions requirements for your MBA program?

Answer: We take all aspects of a candidate’s application into account.  We will review undergraduate work, professional experience, GMAT scores, essays, professional letters of recommendation, etc. We are trying to get to know you as a person as much as we can.

We are looking for applicants with strong leadership potential who will bring a global mindset and a willingness to share their experiences and perspectives with their classmates. Our students are actively engaged in the classroom as well as outside the classroom, so we are looking for people who want to get involved.

Question: Would you mind telling us a little more about the community at Darden?

Answer:  Darden is known for the combination of three key things: 1. The case method of instruction, which involves actively discussing cases about real business problems and solutions in class (rather than just listening to a lecture); 2. our top-ranked faculty who are very student-focused (open door policy, focus on teaching); and 3. our tight-knit community. Students, faculty and staff are all highly involved in student life. It is not uncommon for students to be invited over for dinner at a professor’s home.

Question I just submitted my application recently. When will the Admissions office send out the results?

Answer: If you applied in the 3rd round, interview invitations will be released starting in mid-April and may continue up until the decision notification date on 6 May.  All decisions for the round will be released together on 6 May.

Question: Could you please estimate how many case studies one can expect to go through during the two years at school?

Answer: 600+ case studies during your two years!  So you will become an expert at dissecting a case, identifying key issues, and coming up with potential courses of action.

Question: Are there any courses on digital marketing? I am interested in this area.

Answer: Yes, we offer some electives covering digital marketing.  Please view our electives here: http://www.darden.virginia.edu/web/MBA/Academics/Curriculum-Electives/Home/

Question: Are there many seats left in the class of 2016?

Answer: We don’t have a set number of seats at this point, as we just released our Round 2 decisions, and those candidates have until 2 May to remit their deposit.

Question: Do you have a minimum TOEFL requirement? And how do you evaluate a candidate’s test scores?

Answer: We don’t have a minimum TOEFL requirement.  Most of our successful candidates have TOEFL scores that exceed 100. And yes, we do get all of the score reports, but we will use your highest score in the evaluation of your application.

Question: How important is one’s international experience/exposure?

Answer: International experience can be a key strength in someone’s application, and it can manifest in a variety of ways — study abroad experiences, professional exposure, work with multinational teams.

Question: Who conducts off campus interviews?

Answer: Alumni conduct our off-Grounds interviews around the world.  In some remote areas of the world where we don’t have alumni, we may conduct a Skype interview. On-Grounds interviews are conducted by an Admissions Committee member or Second Year student.

Question: Does Darden have on-campus housing?

Answer:  We have both on- and off-campus housing options close by.  Most of our students prefer off-campus, as there are more options (e.g., newer apartments with more amenities).

Question: I am specifically interested in the EMBA program. Do you have a lot of EMBA students who travel long distances to attend?

Answer: Our EMBA program has grown tremendously over the past few years, and we have folks from the Midwest and as far as the West coast. Our program is structured that you have to come to Cville only once a month to make balancing your schedule easier.

Leave a comment

Full-Time MBA Class Visits

Rather than lecture, Darden professors teach students through the highly engaging case study method. Class time is spent discussing a real business problem and collaborating with your peers to analyze data and propose potential solutions.

We invite you to experience Darden’s case study method firsthand by attending a class in April. During your visit day, you will have the option of attending lunch with a current student, meeting Darden staff and faculty and touring the Darden Grounds.

Class visit opportunities are available Monday through Thursday beginning on 2 April. The last class visit day before summer break is on Wednesday, 23 April. Fall classes will resume in September.  If you would like to attend a Darden class before the fall, we encourage you to register for a class visit soon.

There will be additional dates reserved for Round 3 MBA applicants who are invited for an interview. We ask that if you are a Round 3 applicant, please wait and see if you receive an interview invitation before registering for a class visit. You will have the opportunity to register for a class visit after you schedule your interview.

Leave a comment

Round 2 Decisions Released; Round 3 Applications Due on Thursday

Round 2 Decision Update

Darden has released all MBA Round 2 decisions. If you submitted your application in Round 2, you should be able to view your decision by logging into our application system.

For those who have been placed on the waitlist, we encourage you to watch MBA Admissions Dean Sara Neher’s video blog regarding the waitlist process, recorded earlier this year. You will be assigned a waitlist manager who will reach out to you via email when we reevaluate the waitlist in April and May.

If you were not offered admission to Darden, the Admissions Committee offers the opportunity for you to receive feedback on your application at the end of the admissions cycle. If you plan to reapply to Darden next year and would like feedback on your application, you will be able to sign up for a feedback appointment in June.  Details will be available on our website in late May.

Round 3 Deadline

Are you applying in Round 3? Applications are due this Thursday, 27 March at 5:00 p.m. EDT. Round 3 interviews will be conducted in late April and those decisions will be released on 6 May. Submit your application.

Leave a comment

Darden Second Year Electives

Beginning in March of their First Year, Darden students can customize their learning experience by taking electives in a variety of areas — including courses specializing in a particular job function or industry, global and study abroad opportunities, independent consulting/venture projects and other experiential learning opportunities.

Read about our Darden student bloggers’ experiences in these elective courses:

Leave a comment

Guest Blog: My Experience With Diversity at Darden

In the guest post below, Second Year student Maribel Garcia goes beyond the classroom and writes about the events during one weekend at Darden:

Maribel Garcia
MBA Class of 2014

“When asked to write a blog entry I was a bit disoriented on where to start.   What’s my message?  Do I need an overriding theme?  Who am I talking to?  Is this a diary?  And then the weekend came — dinner with global leaders, executing a global conference and a drag brunch.  My weekend was the perfect inspiration for this blog: My Experience with Diversity at Darden.

The weekend kicked-off with Darden’s Inaugural Global Conference.  While the conference is meant to promote diversity at Darden, for me the true essence of diversity came in the months of planning with eight different affinity club leaders, all from different countries: China, India, Ghana, France, Argentina, Japan and the United States. I took the role of conference co-chair thinking that the job would entail event planning and project management, but boy was I in for more!

Our first meeting last spring was scheduled for 30 minutes, yet the meeting went on for over two hours!  I remember leaving the meeting with a headache and at the same time a thrill for the challenge that lay ahead: the unchartered path of putting on Darden’s Inaugural Global Conference, the opportunity to make a mark, a clean canvas to design the conference the way we wanted, and of course coordinating six different international clubs and leading people of different cultures and backgrounds towards a common goal.

Being of a multi-cultural background myself, I felt I was “in my salsa” as they say in Spanish — meaning this was my natural habitat.  I grew up learning to navigate seamlessly between my European and Latin American background and the melting pot where I was raised — New Jersey.  But even that expertise was put to test at Darden.

Working closely in a diverse, professional setting for months is a completely different experience from having everyday small talk with individuals of different backgrounds.  Here, I had to get buy-in from leaders with different priorities, cultural norms and interests.  My leadership skills, cultural sensitivity and emotional and social intelligence were truly put to the test.  The results were a success, even more so for an inaugural event!  We had over 20 speakers come from countries around the world representing a wide variety industries. We had speakers from Walmart, to the World Bank, to the NGO Village Capital.  And just as Darden promised, I got to experience in real-time what it takes to be a global leader.

On Sunday, I was back at it — I went to Fellini’s for brunch — a great Italian-American restaurant in Charlottesville that puts on drag brunches the first Sunday of every month.  In the spirit of ‘Love is Love’ month, the GLAD club (Gays, Lesbians and Allies at Darden) kicked-off the month at Fellini’s.  ‘Love is Love’ is a series of events held at Darden throughout the month of February (coincidentally with Valentine’s Day), promoting the inclusion of the LGBT community.  What I thought was simply a social event turned into an educational one.

As the music turned up and picked up its pace, the crowd began to part to make way for the ladies and their lavish attires.  An international student next to me applauded and said to our table, “I don’t get what this has to do with the LGBT community.”  “Neither do I,” I thought to myself, but I wasn’t about to admit it out loud.  A board member of GLAD explained to the student that drag was not about the gender or sexual preference of the person. The GLAD member went on to explain that drag is an art, a form of expression in which individuals act out and play with the varying elements that traditionally define gender.  As a community that is largely misunderstood, the essence of drag and expression is very important in the LGBT community.  Ah ha!  And if I had stayed home and had cereal, I would have missed out on this tid-bit of education that takes place outside the classroom.

While my experience this weekend is not the norm at Darden (who has dinner with global leaders every weekend?), in some way I think it is very representative of the diverse experiences that I have here.  One can attribute my experience to the clubs that I am involved in, but my experience and definition of diversity go beyond these clubs.  Diversity to me goes beyond nationality, sex or race — it’s the accumulation of life experiences that make an individual unique in his/her thoughts and views.  More importantly, diversity at Darden is about not only making these experiences come together in a room, but also about making them work.  At Darden we strive not to color within the lines when it comes to diversity — we go Picasso and make the definition our own.”

Leave a comment

Round 3 Deadline Approaching: 27 March 2014

If you would like to be considered for admission into Darden’s full-time MBA class starting this August, submit your application by the Round 3 deadline on Thursday, 27 March.

Start Your Application

Have Questions?

If you have any questions about the admissions process or want to learn more about the Darden School of Business, you can chat with an admissions committee member on Wednesdays from 12:30-1:00 p.m. (ET). Simply login on a Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.

Darden Tour

You can also learn more about Darden by taking our virtual tour, which includes videos describing student life and 360° panoramic photos of the Darden Grounds.

We look forward to reading your application soon!

8 Comments