Career, Executive MBA

Executive MBA Innovation Spotlight – Professional Advancement Modules

By Brett Twitty-

In this blog series, we take a closer look at the innovations detailed in our recent Executive MBA Program press release. Today, we explore the new, expanded professional advancement modules that will be launched with our Class of 2021. Pro Tip: Be sure to also check out our podcast interview with Jim Detert for additional insights about these innovations. Darden’s executive formats in (digital) print AND stereo!

Dedicated career advisors. Career-related programming. Virtual job fairs. Access to recruiting. A Professional Advancement course. Executive coaching. There has never been more career support for executive format students at Darden than right now. And you can add to this ever growing list a new course that will allow students to deeply investigate their professional goals as they chart the next chapters in their careers.

Reflecting on the motivations for this innovation, Associate Dean, Jim Detert, notes, “The real test of education at the Executive MBA level is whether it helps students set and achieve their professional objectives. So, ultimately our intent – and the measure of value for these new experiences – is that they contribute in demonstrable ways to students’ professional development and advancement.”

We recently caught up with Connie Whittaker Dunlop, who ExecMBA podcast listeners know currently leads our Professional Advancement Course, to chat about this new offering. Connie is part of the working group that is designing the course curriculum.

What are you most excited about with respect to this innovation?

I am excited about engaging with my talented colleagues to design and deliver transformative learning experiences for students.

For you, why is this update important?

In 2006, when Darden launched the MBA for Executives program, the majority of our students were climbers, seeking promotions within their current organizations. Over the last 12 years, the profile of a Darden executive MBA student has evolved. We have seen a decline in the number of students who come to Darden to climb the corporate ladder and a corresponding increase in the number of students who view the Darden MBA as a means to switch careers.

Some of the switchers want to make a small shift – leveraging their experience in a single industry or function to take on a similar role with a different employer. An example of a small switch is a product manager in a technology company seeking a similar role in a competing technology company.

Other switchers seek a complete career reinvention, hoping to simultaneously change industry and function. An example of a big switch is a Naval Officer who retires from the military to lead a business unit for a Fortune 100 company. Against this backdrop of an evolving executive MBA student profile, it is important for Darden to update its curriculum.

How will this new course deliver value for students?

We recognize that students come to Darden with unique professional goals. And we recognize that students’ professional goals may change as they move through the 21-month experience that is the Darden MBA. The newly designed course will meet students where they are and support them in achieving their full professional potential as climbers, switchers, and entrepreneurs. The course is designed around five key principles:

  1. ASSESSMENT: Assess the current state of development, leader development for climbers, career development for switchers, and venture development for entrepreneurs
  2. EXPERIENCE: Engage students through a series of transformative learning experiences designed to disrupt habitual thinking and shift meaning perspectives
  3. GUIDE: Guide students through the development process with leadership coaches for climbers, career advisors for switchers, and mentors for entrepreneurs
  4. DELIVERABLE: Create the conditions of learning throughout the course, starting and ending with a case study deliverable, a developmental narrative that is punctuated by real-time accounts of experiential learning
  5. COMMUNITY: Nurture reinforcing communities of practicing climbers, switchers, and entrepreneurs that connect students within and beyond the cohort.

What is your approach to working with executive format students on their career goals?

In my role as Executive Director for Professional Advancement, I teach and coach MBAs toward their full potential. In my classroom and in my one-on-one coaching sessions, I engage students in a proven learning process. The process begins with powerful questions and active listening. Then, I bring structure to random thoughts and find patterns that focus conversations on what is truly meaningful. Finally, I partner with students to ground them in the present, while spurring them to take action toward their desired futures. My purpose in life is to illuminate potential paths so that others can find their way.

Interested in learning more about career resources for Darden’s executive format students? Be sure to check out the ExecMBA Podcast for additional career-related conversations!