On a recent trip to Minneapolis, Dean Bruner and I visited with alumni at six companies: General Mills, Target, Medtronic, Chameleon, Ecolab, and 3M. The purposes of our trip varied across companies but had two common themes: to deepen our relationship with the company, and to deepen our relationship with our alumni. What blew me away, and blows me away on nearly every visit to alumni, is how much our alumni care about Darden and why?
One particular alumna with whom I met would describe her experience at Darden as less than optimal. Okay, she didn’t love it. It burned her out. Yet now she is a loyal alum. She assists her company in recruiting. No, that under-describes what she does. She comes back to Grounds for recruiting, and for extensive mock interviewing. She speaks with countless students on the phone about her career, and about their career, and about their interviews, and about how they can be successful. When the Dean and I spoke with her, she passionately described what she had learned in the real world, and how Darden could continue to improve the preparation of its students in her chosen career. She offered suggestions about the curriculum, about the CDC, and about admissions. She cares not only for her own company’s sake, but for the Darden brand’s sake. She really cares about the future of Darden and its students, even though her start was tenuous, at best.
As a student she used the career process extensively, even to the point of becoming a Second Year coach. She was in the inaugural SY Coaching class and helped shape it into what it is today. During her first year, she leveraged her transferable skills into an internship in her target area. In her SY she received an offer from a competing firm, and eventually accepted that offer. The process was not easy for her. She has an entrepreneurial spirit and was (is) deeply worried that corporate America will stomp out that spirit. Yet, in the end, she chose to trust the process, take the position, build her skill set, and see what doors open. So, though the career process “worked” for her, I can’t say that Darden fulfilled her career dreams, and that satisfying this dream has led to her loyalty.
Okay, I could go into the pedagogy, the faculty, the course work, the facilities, the honor system, the extra-curricular, the people — all of which I know, from my discussions with her (and from my own experience), were instrumental in her decision to attend Darden and were important to her success here. Yet, I know each of these also failed to completely meet her expectations. So why the loyalty?
I’ll take a guess. Maybe I can elicit a response from her in reply. My hypothesis is that the loyalty is due to her nature — it’s the type of people that choose to come to Darden. Our selection process is rigorous and we “choose” great students, but we attract a certain type of person that, after researching programs, chooses Darden. Those who choose Darden expect to invest heavily in whatever endeavors they pursue. Darden students (and alumni) have high expectations of the program, but even higher expectations of themselves. Once they graduate, these expectations continue, again, of themselves and of the program. The alumna I visited in Minneapolis still has high expectations of herself in her career. I’ve no doubt she’ll surpass those, given her talents and passion for everything she does.
So, if you are a current student, or prospective one, you should know that Darden’s expectations of you are high, but no higher than your own expectations of yourself. We (alumni) expect that you will work hard in the classroom, in the job search, in your summer internship, and then in your career after Darden. From my vantage point, your hard work in the job search is a brand-building activity. Anything short of your best detracts from the brand. Darden’s Career Development Center is here to help you from the moment you are accepted in first year until you graduate with the offer that you want.