We continue our series featuring Darden MBA veteran and active duty women today with Mary Swan (Class of 2022). Post-Darden, Swan will return to West Point as an instructor. She shared why Darden was a good fit, what she would have done differently, and how to overcome those imposter feelings during the First Year.
Meet Gretchen Pace (Class of 2022), Former Military Intelligence Officer Pursues Americana-Inspired Entrepreneurship and Kate Bishop (Class of 2022): Marine Corps to MBA: “Don’t Be Afraid of Making the Leap”
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:
- Interactive Q&A with the Darden Military Association | Tuesday, 31 August
- Admissions Military Recruiting Conversations with Senior Associate Director of Admissions Cheryl Jones | Multiple dates/times available.
Q: What was your military/pre-MBA experience?
A: I graduated from West Point in 2014 and commissioned as a Quartermaster Officer. I completed my Platoon Leader and XO time in the 25th Sustainment Brigade out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Following Logistics Captains Career Course, I was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team. I served as a Forward Support Company Commander in an engineer battalion and did some time on brigade staff before coming to Darden.
Q: How did you decide that business school was the next step? What skills/gaps were you hoping to fill by pursuing your MBA?
A: Once you complete Company Command in the Army, you have the opportunity to participate in what is known as a “broadening assignment”. I chose to apply to go back and teach at West Point in the Behavioral Sciences and Leadership Department, more specifically in their management major. I was selected and a requirement to serve as an instructor in the management major was to receive my MBA. After not having been around finance or accounting concepts for the past seven years, I knew a
n MBA would help me brush up on those core competencies before going back and being expected to teach cadets.
Q: How did you land on Darden as your best fit?
A: After being out west for most of my military career, I knew that I wanted to make it back to the east coast not only for the pace of life but also to be closer to family. I am from Virginia, so UVA had always been in the back of my mind as a potential school. My dad had done a few things with Darden’s Executive MBA program and always had great things to say about the school and the Professors, so that’s what really drove me to look closely at Darden. Once I got a feel for how big Darden was on building community not just among students but with the faculty as well, I knew it would be a great place to be. I got a feel for that on my prospective student visit with Section A, they really all seemed like they were one big family and were so supportive of each other in the classroom which put my mind at ease. The Army is also one big community/team, so Darden really felt like it would just be an extension of that environment. I was also really attracted to the academic environment; I knew that I wanted to be challenged because I wanted to retain the material I’m going to be expected to teach. After first year, I can truly say that Darden delivered on that promise. Casing is no joke.
Q: Can you share a little more about Darden Military Association (DMA) and the community of vets at Darden? What has that support been like?
A: I honestly didn’t know what to expect from DMA when I first got here, because I was a bad prospective student and didn’t reach out before coming to Darden. Don’t be like me! DMA has really been an awesome community to be a part of. It’s just nice to be able to take a step back and grab beers with classmates that understand the acronyms that sometimes slip out in conversation and to laugh about our military experiences. I didn’t go through the recruiting process, but I know DMA really works hard to bring in companies to talk to veterans and to help each other out with connections, etc. I’m really looking forward to some of the things we’ve got coming down the pipeline this year, including a grad school tailgate at the UVA Home Football game on September 11th.
Q: Advice for vets considering making the jump from public to private?
A: The military is a huge network, so lean on that network to find people who have gone into industries you are interested in and/or schools you are interested in applying to. I feel like I see veterans making connections every day on social media to ask questions about jobs, locations, and the like. People have made the jump before, so it doesn’t hurt to see what their road maps look like.
Q: Any advice for women vets specifically?
A: The network piece is a big one, but also that you have a unique perspective and experience that people want to hear about and listen to. I struggled with that a bit this year, feeling a bit like I was an imposter, but you have knowledge about dealing with people issues and leadership challenges that people are going to want to hear about. Don’t shy away from opportunities because you think you don’t fit or wouldn’t be an asset. You are. Be a boss, like I know you can be, and own it.
Q: Favorite memory/experience from your first year?
A: I tried to narrow it down but couldn’t, so I have two. The first was the First Year Camping Trip. That was really my first introduction to some of my classmates and it was in a neutral and fun environment, so it was easy to just relax and have fun with a bunch of strangers. I’m still really close with a bunch of the people that were in my camping group. Even though it rained all weekend, my group still made it a ton of fun. The second was pretty much all of Darden Cup, being on the championship Kickball team was pretty awesome. Section A was ‘robbed’ out of our back-to-back win, so we’re coming back with a vengeance this year. Also, I lied, my third favorite was playing on some of the intramural teams with my classmates. It was great to just get out of the house and be in a competitive environment, even though we didn’t do that well. It was just nice to have that kind of fun in person given the year that we had.
Q: What’s something that surprised you about Darden that you didn’t expect?
A: I really didn’t expect how willing I would be to be so open and vulnerable with my section mates. You’re kind of thrown into the fire
with them from the get-go (similar to the military in a sense), so you’re all experiencing the same hardships together which allows for some pretty tight bonds to form. One of my section mates started hosting a Section A Stories series and that really allowed us to learn about each other more intimately and to share things that we might not have in the regular classroom setting. Especially given that we were mostly virtual this past year, it really helped us to grow closer and to bond in a way we wouldn’t have otherwise.
Q: What are your post-MBA plans/goals?
A: My life is pretty much mapped out for the next few years. I’ll be going back to teach at West Point for a 3-year assignment following graduation from Darden. Then I’ll go back to serving in the operational Army as a logistics officer.
Q: What do you love most about Charlottesville/Virginia?
A: Charlottesville is gorgeous. I love that you can kind of get a city feel on the down-town mall and then you can drive 15-20 minutes outside of downtown and be in the country at a winery. It feels like the best of both worlds. I also love how close it is to Washington DC, Richmond, and Virginia Beach. Those are all easy day trips you can take on the weekends to explore different parts of Virginia.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share about your journey?
A: It’s been amazing and fun. I can’t wait for Second Year and all the awesomeness that DSA has planned for us this year.
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