Today’s post authored by Second Year student Heather Hoffman (Class of 2022). Hoffman is a member of the Second Year Admissions Committee, a credit-bearing class that allows students to work on special projects, conduct interviews, and work alongside Darden’s Admissions team to recruit future classes of MBA students. This group of students also serves as informal ambassadors to the Darden experience, lending their own knowledge and expertise to prospective students and applicants.

Heather Hoffman, Class of 2022

It is no secret that Darden takes its academics seriously. The core curriculum is designed to ensure each student graduates with a strong, foundational understanding of key business concepts that will lead them to successful careers across a variety of sectors and functional areas. Having come from the legal industry, I was drawn to MBA programs like Darden’s in which I would receive a comprehensive business education, rather than simply a business degree. The use of the case method by incredible faculty instructors encourages this deep understanding and has led to recognition by The Economist as the best business education experience in the U.S. for nine consecutive years. However, the other cornerstone of the academic experience here is the learning team (LT).

Darden’s website describes a learning team as “a group of five to six students from across the different First Year sections that provides students with support to work through and understand each case as they make their way through the core curriculum.” To me, though, this definition only scratches the surface of the impact my learning team had on my First Year. Each night before class, groups meet to discuss the next day’s cases and make sure that all members feel comfortable with the content. Often, teams will alternate who is the “expert” in a subject each day, giving students the opportunity to take ownership and go outside of their comfort zones. I found that my own understanding of core concepts always became stronger through the process explaining them to my teammates. Additionally, the structure of the team incentivized me to prioritize coursework, because failing to prepare would impact the group as a whole, rather than just my own performance.

Perhaps the most powerful part of the learning team experience, however, is the intentionality with which the administration creates each group. Reflecting the diversity of the Darden student body, each learning team contains students with a variety of different professional and personal experiences. My LT contained a special education teacher, investment banker, U.S. Army commander, litigation paralegal, financial advisor, and project manager. We moved to Charlottesville from Chicago, Charlotte, Iraq, New York City, Beijing, and Richmond. Not only did we bring different academic strengths, but also different opinions that led to meaningful discussions before we even stepped into our section classrooms.

Above all, though, my learning team was a constant source of support, and I was especially grateful to have them during the isolating periods of the COVID pandemic. We made a habit to eat dinner together every other week before diving into cases and invited each other’s families to join for a more social gathering monthly. We shared in the highs of First Year, including welcoming two learning team daughters and celebrating job offers, and helped each other through the lows. And even though we meet much less frequently now that core is over, I remain incredibly thankful for my learning team. They are a huge reason why I love the Darden community, and I can only hope to foster a similar sense of support on teams throughout my career.