Darden Admissions recently featured an Ask Me Anything session with Senior Associate Dean Yael Grushka-Cockayne for full-time and executive MBA prospective students and applicants.
Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne (or “Yael” as she is know to students and colleagues) serves as Senior Associate Dean for Professional Degree Programs and actively teaches in both the Executive MBA and Full-Time MBA programs — including courses like First Year Decision Analysis, Project Management (Second Year Elective) and The Business of Film – The Cannes Film Festival Elective.
She also has a popular Project Management course on Coursera called Fundamentals of Project Management and Planning, and she is known around grounds for her sharp sense of fashion and fierce shoe game.
The session was a great opportunity to hear firsthand from one of Darden’s renowned faculty members about topics including: the Darden academic experience, the case method, the Darden community, the pivot to virtual/hybrid learning during COVID-19 and more!
We recently caught up with Yael to talk more about her background, what it’s like to teach during COVID-19 and more. Read on for additional insights and be sure to check out her recent interview on The ExecMBA Podcast.
Q: Yael, what brought you to Darden?
A: There were a few key factors that brought me to Darden. First and foremost, the faculty’s passion for teaching. I wanted to be at a business school where teaching is not something faculty “have to do”, but rather something that faculty embrace and are passionate about. Of course, my colleagues and I research and publish regularly, but we take pride in our teaching. We help each other, and we focus on our instructional craft. To me, this was unique to Darden.
I also enjoy the type of research we do here. In our work and publications, we’re not just talking to other academics — we are focused on impacting practice. My work is very applied, so the opportunity to inspire and reach practitioners really appealed to me.
Last but not least was the sense of community. From students to faculty to staff, we are all here to help and support one another. You feel the difference when you first step on Grounds.
Q: What do you enjoy about teaching Darden students?
A: Darden students are incredible. They are so thoughtful, so well-prepared. They take class seriously, and they want to learn. They know that class is a joint effort and everyone is accountable for the case discussion. There is a humility to the Darden classroom that is sacred. Collectively, faculty included, we are willing to take risks, make mistakes, grow and progress together, and we all approach our time together in class with these things in mind.
Q: What is it like teaching right now? How are things going?
A: Things are going well! As my colleagues will tell you, I enjoy staying busy. I just finished teaching Decision Analysis to our first year Executive MBA students. I’m now teaching a Project Management elective to second year students in our full-time MBA program. In January I will teach a Data Science elective for second year students in our Executive MBA program.
Decision Analysis and my Project Management course are in the new hybrid format which the school introduced in response to the COVID-19
pandemic. In these classes, there are virtual and in-person participants for class sessions, and it takes some skill and focus on the part of the faculty member to ensure you are involving everyone in the discussion as you toggle across media.
I’ve found that students really appreciate this effort, and our students have been incredible partners over these first months of the fall semester. The vibe has very much been “We’re all in this together” and everyone has appreciation and respect for everything that is being done to make these experiences possible. It’s really been energizing.
Q: What is your best advice for prospective students?
Do your research! Talk to students, alumni, faculty. I encourage you to really learn about the case method and the many implications it has for the student experience. Because of the case method, Darden is a very participatory community. When you talk to students here, you quickly realize that they are very involved in life outside of the classroom as well. Darden has this incredible reflective quality — the more you put in, the more you get out.
My second tip is a bit more philosophical. Take time to get yourself during this process. This kind of introspection and self-reflection — really knowing where you are in your life and career and really taking stock of things – can be extremely helpful as you embark upon your MBA journey. Darden is a place where a lot of different individuals with a lot of different paths can thrive. The community here will help and support you, but taking some time now to really know yourself — your passions, your values, your goals — will pay dividends down the road.
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