Incoming Darden MBA Reflects on Pre-Matriculation Opportunities
Darden is a member of both The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management and the Forté Foundation. These partner organizations offer important MBA resources and a network of community for prospective and current students. Prior to matriculating, Darden students who have been admitted to The Consortium have the opportunity to participate in the annual Orientation Program (OP), and every accepted woman is encouraged to attend Forté’s annual conference. Both events boast intense networking and community building — and although these events were new to the virtual realm this year, the increased accessibility allowed record participation and new ways to engage in important discussions. Today’s guest post is authored by incoming Darden student Adriana Gadala-Maria (Class of 2022). She shares reflections on her experience attending both OP and the Forté annual conference:
Today, there are few leaders in American business that are either women or of minority backgrounds. That’s why organizations like The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management and the Forté Foundation exist. They empower aspiring leaders in business who fall in either (or in my case, both) of these categories by providing financial aid for graduate programs along with a professional support network to help these aspiring leaders succeed. The Consortium and Forté kick off this process by inviting their fellows to two well-known annual conferences: the Consortium’s Orientation Program (OP) and Forté’s MBA Women’s Leadership Conference. As both a Consortium and Forté fellow of the class of 2022, I was invited to attend both of these events, which happened virtually for the first time this year due to COVID-19. Having experienced both programs, three words come to mind when reflecting on my time at these conferences: community, inspiration and opportunity.
During my research of MBA programs, Darden stood out to me because of its rigorous academics, tight-knit community, and location. Through its case method classes, Darden is known to require more preparation and participation than other programs, but ultimately, I believe this rigor will make me a stronger and more confident professional in business. Personal connections with Darden alumni and staff also stood out. I saw their genuine passion for the school and its community, and I was excited to potentially become a part of it. Finally, Charlottesville’s growing tech and VC scene, along with its long list of great restaurants and outdoor activities, made it the perfect place for me to both grow professionally and enjoy life outside of school.
Prior to attending both OP and Forté’s leadership conference, I didn’t know if I’d make meaningful connections with other students, or with the organizations themselves. Both conferences hosted roughly 400 fellows, so how was I going to successfully navigate such large virtual environments? Recognizing the challenge of this new virtual setting, both events provided various ways for fellows to connect with one another during the conference (such as GroupMe chat groups, live conference discussion threads and Zoom happy hours).
As you might suspect, keeping up with the sheer volume of communication sounded nearly impossible. I was also worried that if I managed to keep up, I wouldn’t know what to say. After initial rounds of semi-formal personal introductions and career interest sharing, I soon discovered that the conference gave students a commonality to bond over. For example, during inspiring conference sessions, students used the in-session chat threads to express their positive reactions and gratitude for the speaker session. When attendees were having technical issues, they leaned on the live GroupMe threads for support (“Is this link working for anyone?”). And, after the long conference days, students logged into the Zoom happy hours to bond over successfully completing a full day of events. While the first time diving into these communication channels was intimidating, I found myself finding my groove quickly and enjoying meeting new students both at Darden and in other Consortium and Forté schools.
Post-conference, the student communities brought together by OP and Forté’s leadership conference are still going strong. GroupMe conversations have evolved from conference-topics to personal and professional guidance as we approach the beginning of our MBA, and I’m thankful to have this new on-going support network.
Coming into these virtual conferences, I knew that I would learn about various business industries and leadership roles that I had not previously been exposed to, such as consulting and banking. What I didn’t realize, however, was the effect the executives leading these discussions would have on me. As a Hispanic woman with ~10 years of work experience in the tech industry, I rarely saw business executives that looked like me (non-white or women) in the workplace. During the 5 days of OP and 2 days of Forté’s leadership conference, I was exposed to more diverse leaders than I had seen in my entire professional career! These leaders shared lessons I didn’t even realize I needed, such as how to be your authentic self in the workplace and how to power-up your presence in business as a woman, and I came away more empowered and confident in my ability to succeed.
One of the most important aspects of OP and Forte’s MBA Leadership conference is the sheer range of top career opportunities the conferences expose us to, and this year certainly delivered. Various industries were represented, with recruiters from top companies such as Google, JP Morgan Chase and McKinsey. These recruiters provided a safe environment for students to learn about the companies, the recruitment process, and the job opportunities available. At OP, these companies were even hosting interviews and making internship offers to students before they set foot on their MBA campuses. For me, this virtual recruiting experience was tough to get the hang of at first. But, knowing that I will need to face this challenge in my first year at Darden no matter what since recruiting will be largely virtual this year, these conferences gave me the opportunity to dust off my virtual networking skills in a “no risk” environment. The experience of digitally chatting and video conferencing with recruiters at both events helped me build the recruiting skills I now have and ultimately allowed me to successfully connect with recruiters prior to starting business school.
As I reflect on the week of OP and Forté’s leadership conference, I can’t help but think of the opening speech at OP from CEO of the Consortium Peter Aranda. At the very start of the week he instructed us to repeat after him in saying out loud: “I am proud! I am gracious! I am humble!” Keep in mind, this conference was virtual, and I forced myself to say these words out loud at 7 a.m. PDT. Yes, I felt a bit silly, but saying those words out loud made me feel proud of who I am, grateful for the professional opportunities I have been given, and humble of my accomplishments to date.
Peter’s motivating words, along with the student community, professional network, and career opportunities given to me at OP and Forté’s leadership conference, have made me a stronger MBA student today.