Global Executive MBA student Rachel Smolkin (Class of 2023) has the dynamic role of senior vice president of global news for CNN Digital Worldwide. Smolkin not only balances being an active student and her compelling career — she is also mom to two growing kids. This Batten Media Fellow recently shared insights on how her academic experience is informing her work, and the most valuable part of the Darden community.

Q: What is your current role? What is your professional/academic background?

Rachel Smolkin, Class of 2023 | Photo Credit: CNN

A: I’m the senior vice president of global news for CNN Digital Worldwide, where I lead the breaking news, politics, U.S., EMEA and APAC coverage and teams across CNN’s global digital platforms. We work as a united team to report and connect the biggest stories for our audiences, including the pandemic, elections, changing power dynamics, climate and human rights.

I came to CNN in 2014 to build the network’s coverage of Washington, politics and elections in the digital space, a role that coincided with an extraordinary political period. Last year, my role expanded to include the breaking and U.S. teams, and in January I took on a global portfolio. We’re still building across CNN Digital and will soon launch a Latin America team.

I’ve always loved connecting with audiences and telling stories. I have spent my career in journalism, beginning as an intern at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where I covered mushroom farms in southern Pennsylvania.

Q: How did you decide to pursue an MBA?

A: I’m interested in how large, complex organizations come together with all parts and people moving toward a shared mission. Darden’s emphasis on general management gives me an opportunity to explore that from a broader perspective. I also wanted to find new ways to challenge myself. I’ve been lucky in my career to lean into work that feels like a comfortable fit. This experience is a lot about testing myself in ways that are less comfortable. Darden Admissions Managing Director Brett Twitty gave me a wonderful piece of advice before I started: Make this experience about what I can get out of it.

Q: What led you to Darden?

A: I wanted to attend a top-tier business school that would enable me to balance my MBA studies with work and family. My two kids are growing up fast, so I didn’t want a long monthly commute that would add time away from home. That very quickly led me to a virtual coffee session with a group of Darden women. They were so smart, dynamic, and welcoming that I knew immediately Darden was the right place for me. I wanted to spend time with this community.

Q: What has been the impact of your Darden experience so far?

A: When I started at Darden, I became interested in the global aspects of my classes in economics, strategy, and leadership. I switched to Darden’s Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) format, and a few months later my work at CNN expanded globally as well. There are often direct connections: My new work portfolio includes CNN’s excellent digital APAC team, and my first GEMBA class is an intensive study of the business climate in China.

Sometimes the connections between Darden and work are more surprising. I find myself framing conversations in ways that mirror our class discussions, from a focus on systems, people, and outcomes to a consideration of opportunity costs.

Q: What is your best piece of advice for prospective students?

A: Spend as much time with your outstanding classmates as you can. It’s a gift to be in an environment with so many smart people from different industries and perspectives. My lack of a strong quantitative background has made the first few months at Darden tough, and I’ve been stunned by the patience and generosity of classmates in supporting me. I’ll be forever grateful for the deep friendships I’ve made here, and the monthly Friday night dinners my learning team has are one of my favorite parts of the program.