Second Year students Jack McDermott (Class of 2021) and Samantha Firstenberg (Class of 2021) are MBA/MEd students in the final weeks of their dual degree program. As part of their final practicum project, the two are highlighting the real world impact of the MBA/MEd on the 35+ graduates of the program since its inception a decade ago. McDermott and Firstenberg will introduce MBA/MEd alumni in a featured series over the next several weeks, showcasing the variety of paths available to graduates of the program – and the opportunities for impact at the unique intersection of business and education.

View McDermott and Firstenberg’s Q&A from earlier this year to learn more about their journeys through the MBA/MEd program.

By Jack McDermott (Class of 2021) and Samantha Firstenberg (Class of 2021):

In 2011, the Darden School of Business and the School of Education and Human Development announced a first-of-its-kind partnership to train “a new generation of education leaders for whom business skills are invaluable, and for business leaders who have a special interest in education.” The aim of UVA’s MBA/M.Ed dual degree program is to prepare leaders who create impactful innovations in education.

Jack McDermott (Class of 2021)

Ten years later, the program is showing clear signs of success. More than forty leaders have been trained in the Darden MBA/M.Ed program, many of whom are actively working at the intersection of business and education. Program graduates have entered a variety of impactful careers after Darden, including public school systems and charter management organizations, technology companies like Microsoft, Thinkful, and MURAL, public consulting at Bellwether Education and Alvarez & Marsal, management consulting at Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company, and the Boston Consulting Group, and those pursuing higher education management and academia.

The challenges facing education systems remain vast, making the MBA/M.Ed program even more important in training leaders in the next decade. 15 percent of high school students fail to graduate each year and only 35 percent of fourth graders are reading proficiently according to 2019 NAEP exams. Students of color and those from low-income families are 25-40% less likely to graduate from college than their peers.

What’s more, some 50 million students spent the majority of this past school year learning remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of these preexisting challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic will only exacerbate the existing gaps in students’ academic, social, and emotional support in school buildings and will challenge education leaders for years to come. Between Darden’s rigorous academic program and course offerings at the School of Education and Human Development, UVA is committed to training leaders capable of making an impact in the education sector.

Samantha Firstenberg (Class of 2021)

Dean Scott Beardsley has led the expansion of Darden’s commitment to executive education and alumni lifelong learning. On a recent Darden Ideas to Action podcast, Beardsley commented:

“I see the importance of education is going up, not going down. More than ever we need great teachers. We need learning. Education has to become an enabler even more in the future, and it has to be able to meet people where they are because it’s going to be more and more necessary to go back to school. As a result, as educators, we have the responsibility to meet people where they are in their lifelong journey.”

Dr. Matthew Wheelock, associate professor of education and program director for education innovation, highlighted, “It has been exciting to see the MBA/M.Ed program grow from a forward-looking concept hatched by Dean Pianta and Dean Bruner into a vibrant program with dozens of alumni who are spearheading change around the country through their work in schools, technology companies, consulting firms, and more. The strength of this program has always been its students. They bring the critical ingredients – vision, experience, motivation, and a profound belief in what schools can and should achieve – and my colleagues and I delight in getting to work with them as they grapple with the question of how to create the change they seek. There are no easy answers to these questions, but I am immensely encouraged to know that our alumni are leading the charge.”

In the coming weeks, we will profile several exceptional MBA/M.Ed program alums to learn what brought them to Darden, how they are making an impact in education today, and what advice they may have for future business and education leaders.

Learn more about Darden’s dual degree programs.

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