MJ Keller is originally from Hilton Head, South Carolina, and she spent her summer internship as a Tech Venture Fellow. We recently caught up with MJ to discuss her business school decision, what she’s enjoyed about Darden so far and her advice for prospective students.
How/why did you choose Darden?
I was compelled by three things – 1) The value proposition of doing 12 cases per week, 2) Darden’s commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation (iLab, the expanding curriculum, summer fellowship opportunities, etc.) and 3) Access to faculty.
What’s been your favorite thing about your experience so far?
My interactions with the entrepreneurial community here. This includes everything from learning about classmates’ start-ups, to advising on pitch decks, to diligencing for the UVA Seed Fund (and more). It’s definitely an exciting time to be in the entrepreneurial ecosystem at UVA/in Charlottesville.
What’s been the most surprising thing about your experience so far?
How much fun I have, all day, every day. While the academic work is hard, and my leadership responsibilities are stretching me, and there never seems to be enough time in the day, I am truly having the best time of my life. I am challenged daily. I am learning about new business models and emerging industries. I am meeting and developing relationships with fascinating and accomplished people. And I am constantly adding new skills to my quiver. It is so much fun!
What are you looking forward to accomplishing during your final semester?
I am looking forward to continuing my work at the UVA Seed Fund. This is a fund that was created to launch and support new ventures emerging from the University portfolio. Darden students perform due diligence and leverage the fund’s resources to make early equity investments in those ventures we think can produce a return. It’s incredibly hands-on, practical, venture capital work. I’m excited to see what companies we invest in this year, and which ones succeed in the long-term.
What’s one thing you wish you would have known when you were a prospective student?
Be your whole self. Be true to your story, your experiences, what you care about, and what you really truly want but may just be afraid to say out loud. In the admissions process, I constantly felt exposed and vulnerable to rejection and failure. I wish someone had told me the best way to fight that fear is to be courageous, to be more vulnerable, to show up and be my whole and true self.
So tell your coworkers, friends, admissions personnel, career counselors, etc. your hopes and dreams. A lot of people may say “That’s really ambitious, that’s a hard school to get into, you don’t have the right experience to get into that industry, etc.” Whatever. Go get it. Read anything by Brene Brown, and she will expertly lay out the ethos of the point I am trying to make here.
Any advice for prospective students considering Darden?
Look for business schools that are investing resources into equipping students to enter the industries that are driving the economy. The experiences and skills industry leaders need has been rapidly changing over the last two decades. What school(s) are going beyond Finance 101 and 4P Marketing?
Also, read, read read! Read business books like “Zero to One”, history books like “Team of Rivals”, science books like “Soon-ish”, philosophy books like “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, Mary Oliver’s poetry, and the stories of Steinbeck, Orwell and Flannery O’Connor. Schools are looking for authentic and interesting individuals, and reading is a great way to develop curiosity, learn about a wide range of topics and spark your unique imagination.
And last but not least, set aside some savings now and take time off before you go to school. Take on a personal challenge, travel, volunteer, etc. I left my job in March and traveled for four and a half months. In that time, I spent six weeks on my Trek 520 cycling from Canada to Mexico down the Pacific Coast. Truly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!