By Tori Yang 

The median age of the students at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business dropped precipitously on a recent March morning, as a group of seventh and eighth graders from nearby Nelson County Middle School stopped in to learn more about Darden, business and business in society.

Nelson County Middle School Students Network with Hot Chocolate

The students spent a day engaging in a wide range of activities, including a hot chocolate networking session with Darden faculty and students, two classes and two hands-on workshops.

Brian Moriarty, director of the Institute for Business in Society and lecturer in Management Communication, started the day with a high-energy session on the importance of storytelling in business. Moriarty began by asking the students to guess how important words were in comparison to body language and tone — or “how important what you say is versus how you say it.” While most of the students intuitively ascribed spoken words as most important, Moriarty illustrated that nonverbal communication, such as gestures and eye contact, typically speak the loudest, with only seven percent of messages coming from the words themselves.

Prof. Brian Moriarty Leads Business Storytelling Session

Moriarty’s questioning helped set the stage for a discussion on how businesses have used storytelling to create a vision for their companies and for the communities in which they operate. Using examples of successful organizations that have transformed their businesses and the world, Moriarty challenged the students to identify issues they wanted to change in society, and then present their ideas and solutions in front of the class. The students discussed a wide range of issues, including global warming, hunger, healthcare reform, school violence, equal rights and curing cancer, among others.

Using a real-world example of high schoolers choosing between different career tracks, Professor James Freeland walked the middle school students through an MBA case study on the concept of expected value analysis. To help the students better relate to the case, he invited two former student athletes and a former engineering student now studying at Darden to share their stories about making career choices.

“Money plays a major role, but not the only role,” stressed Freeland.

The students also took part in an innovation and design thinking workshop organized by Carlos Trevino (Class of 2017), a student from the Darden Business Innovation & Design Club. The seventh and eighth grade students learned about product design and customer preference through small group discussions followed by a hands-on activity that allowed the students to materialize their ideas.

Rounding up the day’s activities was a workshop on the stock market and investing. “What does it mean to own a stock?” asked James Franco (Class of 2017), a member of Darden Capital Management Club, as a conversation starter. Students were eager to voice their ideas and were prompted to think about more complex questions as the session progressed. The workshop elicited active participation from the students and left them much to ponder as the field trip came to an end.

Alan Goodyear (Class of 2018), a Darden student in charge of organizing the agenda for the field trip, said that the planning committee hopes to arrange a similar event next year to give middle school students more exposure to the world of business and MBA programs.

“This field trip is an example of Darden’s mission in action for the next generation,” said Goodyear.