By Sabrina Liu

Having no prior experience in finance, Maria Melchor (Class of 2019) desired to acquire deeper financial knowledge to support her career in finance and business moving forward. She is passionate about becoming a well-rounded business leader and decided to pursue her MBA in a school that would provide her the best opportunities to do so. Darden’s case method, general management and finance-specific curriculum, as well as a strong, supportive tight-knit community stood out and are providing her the additional skills that she sought.

After graduating from CUNEF in Spain in 2011, Maria joined PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and worked in auditing and accounting. There, she discovered an interest in asset management and entrepreneurship and decided to leave an international corporate job to join a small investment management start-up and start her own venture in her free time. Valmorelle, an ethical work attire company that supports women entrepreneurs in developing countries, launched in 2016. Previously, she had started collaborating with a video gaming app company that a friend launched and now manages the company’s business development. Her involvement in these startups further solidified her decision to pursue an MBA.

“I decided to apply for an MBA only last August even though I had been considering it for some years. During a multi-school event in Madrid, I met Katherine Alford (Senior Associate Director of Admissions) and she recommended that I take a tour of Darden,” explained Maria. Maria flew from Spain to visit Grounds and knew that Darden had what she was looking for in a business school. Darden’s case method approach and experiential learning appealed to Maria in particular. She emphasized, “At Darden, you are the decision maker for everything. It is a safe and risk-free environment where you can make business decisions without the risk of real-life consequences. It is the closest you can get to the real world business environment without actually being in a business.”

Maria has fully embraced the Darden community through her involvement in many clubs. She is a member of both career-focused and affinity clubs, ranging from the Finance Club, Darden Capital Management and Entrepreneurship and VC club, to the European Society, Graduate Women in Business (GWIB) and the golf club. Maria is also on the student admissions committee where first year students fully plan and manage the experience of admitted students during welcome days. She loves the many opportunities Darden has to get involved and to continuously learn new things. “I love the portfolio meetings for the Darden Capital Management, especially the one for the ESG fund…Every club has something truly unique that I got carried away and cannot even remember how many clubs I am part of – I probably attend meetings of clubs that I’m forgetting about!” she shared.

As an international student, Maria believes that Darden has a unique position compared to business schools with larger student bodies. “Normally, at larger schools, people from the same place are more likely to be friends with each other. However, you hardly see that at Darden. Because of Darden’s small, tight-knit community, everyone hangs out with everyone. The students here come from all over the world and you don’t see one type of student. There is no standard Darden student.”

Regarding her future, Maria is eager to apply what she learns in the classroom to her next ventures, which include learning about different business cultures around the world. Maria enrolled in the Darden Worldwide Course to Uganda and is looking forward to learning about entrepreneurship there this May. In her Second Year, she plans to participate in the course to Cuba, which also focuses on entrepreneurship and developing economies.

Maria suggests that anyone who is pursuing an MBA, now or future, should think carefully about what they want out of the program and how they plan to apply what they learn in the degree to their future. “My advice to current students is study hard and be more involved. Darden is a great place to push your boundaries and you need to grasp those opportunities. And to prospective students, I would say, don’t be scared to apply. Darden is a truly great and unique place!”