By Anelle Mensah

Staying in one place never interested Ester Barbutooriginally from Pittsburgh, she attended Carnegie Mellon for undergrad, earning her Bachelor’s Degree in chemical engineering. Her career took her to many places: she first interned at PepsiCo as a Supply Chain Intern and Chemical Engineer in Chicago during her time in Carnegie Mellon and following graduation, she worked at Goldman Sachs in New York City for four years. She then moved on to work at Booz Allen Hamilton, working as a Senior Consultant in Mission Engineering/Enterprise Analysis for the Navy and Marine Corps in Norfolk, an Associate in Strategy Consulting and Strategic Innovation Group in San Diego, and finally as an Associate in Innovation Strategy and Crowdsourcing in Washington D.C.

A number of factors contributed to Ester’s decision to attend Darden, including the school’s prestige and excellent programs. “It’s a great school with a rigorous program. I had a lot of street cred in the business world and was looking for a place that fostered innovation, a place where I could challenge myself,” said Ester. Since arriving at Darden, Ester worked towards achieving the goals she set for herself, including getting more global exposure in the business arena. Through Darden Worldwide Courses (DWC), she experienced business cultures around the world firsthand, hearing directly from business leaders and visiting their companies.

During her first year, Ester travelled to China on a DWC where she gained insight into how the country engages in business, the distinctive facets of Chinese culture, and how business and culture intersect. While in China, Ester took full advantage of the diverse range of activities and networking opportunities provided. “We met with companies and took classes at CEIBS. We went to steel manufacturing plants, museums, Suzhou Industrial Park, and Canal Town. We also went to a local karaoke place one evening,” Ester shared. She found her trip so enjoyable and transformative, that when presented with the chance to go abroad again, she “initially wanted to go to Hong Kong where I fell in love with it after a side visit.” She credits this to the connections she formed with Darden alums working in China for years as well as the professors she took classes with. “I could see myself living Hong Kong. It seemed very accessible and attainable — business normalizes living there. Also, meeting alums in Shanghai and the people living there was very beneficial. The professor that led China was Marc Lipson. He did a great job making sure we had a full perspective of culture and business while in China.”

In fall 2016, Ester and a team of four other students went to Manila as part of the Global Consulting Project (GCP), one of many offered at Darden. The four students worked to develop effective marketing strategies and business models for the TLC Group, an organization dedicated to creating an inclusive learning environment for early childhood education with arts based education and therapy. Students consulted remotely with the client from September through December and then conducted their onsite visit in December to meet the client in person and do more on-the-ground research. The arts focus attracted Ester to that specific consulting project, which stemmed from her own personal interest in the arts. “My background in the arts is purely due to exposure as a child – playing the piano, doing musical theater, dancing ballet, and teaching/competing in ballroom dance and I was attracted to the project because of the benefit of an arts education that I received. Another reason why I was interested in the Philippines GCP was because my sister runs a non-profit that is focused on STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts, and math) in Pittsburgh,” she said. The GCP not only afforded Ester greater exposure into Filipino culture but allowed her to understand what running a nonprofit entailed. “They are very warm and hospitable in the Philippines. I also saw some of the challenges of running a nonprofit and a for product school in another country.”

In January 2017, Ester participated in the DWC to Russia. “Professor Elena Loutskina had us active, which was great. In China, we took the bus a lot but in Russia, we walked and took the metro. We did ballet, visited arts museums, and it was also a good balance of business. Business in Russia is stratified and seeing that in the speakers we interacted with was great,” Ester stated.

In all three of her Darden Worldwide Courses, two aspects remained constant — the expansive Darden network and the school’s dedication to providing its students with a meaningful, content-rich global experience. “One thing across all of three programs was the significant interaction with alumni. We went to receptions in China and Russia with alumni and met up with alumni for dinner in the Philippines too. I even obtained a grant from Darden to participate in the course to Russia. The grant shows the commitment from the school for students to have these experiences.”

Ester departs to South Africa in March on her final DWC and looks forward to the chance to connect with professors and the different activities and adventures that await her during her first time on the continent. “I’ve never been to Africa. I’m looking forward to the safaris and just seeing how different it is from the other places I’ve been. We’re doing a lot of adventure activities the week before like paragliding and I can’t wait. Getting to know [Professor] Mary Margaret in South Africa will be great too,” she enthusiastically stated.

Ester (back row, third from left) and classmates on the Darden Worldwide Course to China in May 2016.
Ester and one of her Global Consulting Project teammates explore Manila during their onsite visit.
Ester (front) and classmates in Russia this January.