Gretchen Pace (Class of 2022) graduated from the University of Virginia with a B.A. in 2011, then joined the Army as a military intelligence officer. She’s already had a lifetime of experience by many standards, so it may be no surprise that after graduating from Darden’s Full-Time MBA program in 2022, Pace plans to make an entrepreneurial pivot. Pace is actively involved in the Darden community, while also growing her her Americana-themed home goods startup, Goose & Willow.

Veterans, active-duty military and international service members make up approximately 7-8% of each Full-Time MBA class. As a public university, UVA Darden is one of the few Top 10 MBA programs where veterans can benefit from the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The Darden Military Association (DMA) also plays an active role in helping students and their partners make the transition from public to private.

Learn more by joining one of our upcoming events hosted by the DMA:

Q: How did you decide that business school was the next step? What skills/gaps were you hoping to fill by pursuing your MBA?

Gretchen Pace (Class of 2022)

A: I chose to attend Darden at the age of 31 because I realized I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship. Over the past decade, I have continuously pursued challenging jobs that reinforce the importance of long-term operational planning, logistics, concise communication, leadership, and general management. Throughout my 8.5 years of service in the Army, I commanded an organization of 80 personnel operating globally, provided strategic outreach and executive messaging for the Commanding General of the Army’s intelligence warfighting function, and delivered intelligence analysis in support of executive-level decision making and war planning efforts throughout a 12-month combat tour in Afghanistan. After serving my country and completing an internship on Wall Street, I decided that I was ready to take a leap—leveraging the organizational and managerial skills I sharpened in my 20’s, coupled with my upbringing that reinforced resourcefulness and my artistic abilities—to focus on founding and running my own company (called Goose & Willow).

Gretchen Pace (Class of 2022) works on her startup, Goose & Willow

Q: How did you land on Darden as your best fit?

A: Darden was the only school my husband and I applied to. As a dual military couple who has spent several months apart, going through graduate school together was a top consideration. There were three main pulls that attracted us to Darden. 1) Darden had a reputation for being military friendly and was something we quickly recognized during engagements with faculty, staff, and students. 2) My husband—a huge nerd—was really attracted to the dual degree Data Science program that UVA offers, and 3) We were both interested in going to school in Charlottesville so that we could live closer to family. Additionally, I couldn’t have been more thrilled about the idea of returning to my alma mater.

Q: Can you share a little more about Darden Military Association and the community of veterans at Darden? 

A: The DMA is my favorite social club at Darden because it provides an immediate bond with others who share a similar experiences, sense of humor, and dedication to making the nation stronger. I’ve also learned a lot more about the joint forces through my peers who have served in the Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force, which help me to become a better Soldier and leader for the Army Reserve intelligence unit I am assigned to based out of the Charlottesville area.

Q: Any advice for women vets considering an MBA?

A: Prior to attending Darden, I got really used to being really good at my job. I thought getting an MBA was going to be a breeze in comparison to the obstacles I overcame and challenges I maneuvered throughout my military service. It was both humbling and invigorating to be immersed in the Darden academic experience where I often found myself in the middle of the pack. Darden is very challenging, but the experience prepares you to be more informed and better prepared as a leader. Do not feel intimidated about not being the best if you aren’t at the top of the class. Remember to be kind to yourself and allow yourself to grow and transform throughout the journey without putting too much pressure on yourself for not knowing some of the business terminology and jargon that many of your peers are intimately familiar with.

Q: Favorite memory/experience from your first year?

Goose & Willow is a home goods company featuring Americana-themed products.

A: My learning team experience is my fondest memory from first year.  The five other people I spent several hours a week with working through our case studies is similar to a military training experience – you go through a really challenging and vulnerable experience together, but as a result, form a lifetime bond and friendship with one another.

Q: What’s something that surprised you about Darden that you didn’t expect?

A: I underestimated how time consuming the academic experience would be. I was also surprised by the vast (and frankly overwhelming) number of opportunities available. My best advice is to do your research in advance and determine the clubs and extra circulars you want to get involved with so you can remain focused. For example, I deliberately decided not to run for leadership positions because I felt like I had ample leadership experiences from my military service, Instead, I decided to get involved in as many entrepreneurial focused activities as possible, focus on learning and establishing strong relationships with professors, and pursue study abroad opportunities and the Darden Prison Reentry Education Program (PREP).

Q: What do you love most about Charlottesville/Virginia?

A: Charlottesville is one of my favorite places because it is close to home and close to nature. You are able to truly focus on your academic pursuits without the distraction of the hustle and bustle inherent to city life. You are also able to make close connections with your classmates because the main housing options are all within walking distance to one another. I’ve also found a way to connect with the town and make this my home through joining a local gym (Solidarity Crossfit, which several DMA members also attend) and through going to the various farmers’ markets and local shops on Barracks Road and the Downtown Mall.

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