Jennifer Hicks has worked at the UVA Darden School of Business for 27 years and has been a part of the Executive Education & Lifelong Learning (EELL) team for 20 of those years. She got her start at Darden as a Stewardship Coordinator in External Relations, now known as Advancement. Through that role, she was able to cultivate relationships with Darden alumni, the Board of Trustees, faculty and senior leadership of the School. After seven years in that role and a conversation with Darden’s Dean, Jennifer transitioned to the EELL team as a program manager. Today, she serves as our Managing Director for Client Solutions and has played an integral part in the development of Darden’s partnerships with our military & government (Mil/Gov) clients.

What does your role look like today?

I am Managing Director for Client Solutions. I act as the liaison between the School and our Mil/Gov clients. Ty Schieber and I manage the Mil/Gov portfolio focusing on managing our current client base and identifying opportunities to grow the Mil/Gov sector. We work with various organizations, like the Department of Defense, coming up with learning solutions for their employees – both civilian and military, for varying levels from a GS-11 to the Officer or SES level.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Navy’s partnership with the School. How has it been to watch that partnership progress over the years?

It’s been exciting to watch. It was one of my first programs that I was assigned as a program manager. At the time, it was a four-week program for their Navy contracting officers, who are responsible for purchasing everything from a toothbrush on an aircraft to a large weapons system on a submarine. They were young officers and their civilian counterparts who had a very big job to do. The Navy entrusted Darden to provide them with their professional development.

When I first started working with the Navy, it was an Executive Education relationship. Over the years, our relationship with them has grown into a Darden School enterprise-wide relationship. They do recruiting, they send people to our Full-Time and Executive MBA programs and EELL programs, and they reach out to us for subject matter experts for research projects they’re working on. It’s been incredible to watch the partnership blossom into what it is today. This is a testament to the faculty and their commitment to the Darden mission.

Check out our story on Dennen Miner (Class of 2025), who will be the 50th Navy MBA to matriculate at Darden. He previously participated in EELL’s U.S. Navy Insights Into Industry Management program.

What’s been the most rewarding part of working with the Navy and growing that partnership?

For context, I come from a Navy family – two of my uncles are retired Navy Officers. I grew up in a household where you put others before self. I think the path that I took by joining academia keeps that mentality going. Being able to be a part of something that’s bigger than just doing your eight hours a day at a job, and instead being a part of forming these relationships with their people and seeing them succeed and grow is deeply rewarding. That’s one of my highlights every day when I get to sit in the classroom and watch our faculty and participants interact. I’m always grateful for everything our participants are doing, civilian or officer, as they make it possible for all of us to live the way we do here in the United States.

Thinking about your role overall, what is your favorite part of the job?

Being able to cultivate these relationships with individual participants and providing learning solutions to the individual commands or departments of our military and government.  Then, having them come to Darden for a program and take back what they have learned. I get to hear the stories about a new strategy that they’ve implemented based on their time at Darden and how it’s been successful. I’ve also enjoyed seeing people progress. They’ll come to Darden for a program and then come back in a few years when they get promoted, and I love seeing how they’ve grown over time.

What would you say makes Darden EELL unique compared to its competitors?

I actually have an example of that. A couple of years ago, we were asked to partake in a survey that a client was doing through a third-party on their academic partners, to assess the impact and return on investment. I was one of the last interviews, and my interviewer said that the client spoke of Darden EELL as a partner, and they referred to the other academic institutions as vendors. That’s truly how we are at Darden. We’re not just a vendor or someone who has won a contract that checks a box that we fulfilled. We are a true partner, helping them deal with these really big challenges that they’re working on.

What would you say to a leader about why they need to prioritize lifelong learning?

The world is changing and doesn’t sit still. It’s imperative for people to continue learning. One of my favorite Thomas Jefferson quotes is, “To learn, you have to listen. To improve, you have to try.” AI is the hot topic today, and there’s a lot of talk around how it will impact people’s jobs in the future. However, there is still a need for the soft skills that humans bring to the workplace. There is a need for transformative leadership, and we create transformative learning opportunities at Darden for leaders to be more productive and create impact. They’re not only coming to Darden and learning from faculty, but they’re learning from other people’s experiences in the classroom. There is incredible value that comes from making that human connection.