Looking Forward: Round 2 Admits and LTs

Congratulations to all of those who were admitted to Darden in 2nd round decisions today!  As I sit here in the Darden library, I can still remember when I got word of my admission, and the excitement, relief and happiness I felt at that moment. Cherish this accomplishment.

I’m not being fully truthful, though. I am not in the Darden library. Unlike most weeks during first year, the workload this week is such that first years don’t need to be spending all their waking hours in class, reading cases, preparing cases, or in Learning Team talking about cases. We are in the midst of our experiential learning week, a week that marks a significant turning point in the first year at Darden. Last week, the core curriculum officially ended. Prior to spring break, we had our last Learning Team meetings. I would say that of the things to look forward to, as new admits, learning team ranks among the top.

In a toast to the first year class marking the end of the core last week, Senior Associate Dean Peter Rodriguez emphasized the long way we had all come in just six months, in particular the bonds we had formed with new friends. Strongest, for many, of those bonds, are among Learning Teammates. While my LT may not always have been in the “high performance” category, we were lucky to be in the “high satisfaction” one. The challenges faced during the first year core are much more surmountable because of LT.  You learn to be a better teacher, partner, listener, teammate and friend as a result of LT. Maybe you learn how to shift IS and LM curves – maybe you save that for second year.

I’ve included a few glimpses into LT 41’s last “official” night together. I know that despite the core curriculum ending, many more will follow. Prospective students: take some time to reward yourself, and start looking forward to Learning Teams and Darden.

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Throwback to Darden in the Snow

TJ in the snow

TJ looking over Darden. Still surveying.

Courtyard

Courtyard on the professor’s side of Darden.

Darden Snow

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Listening at Darden

Firstly, a very belated congratulations to everyone admitted to Darden in Round 1, and best of luck to those about to interview for Round 2! I have been notably absent after a brief break over the holidays in Paris and then the very busy interviewing month of January. As all that begins to settle, though, I’ve been able to reflect on the past few months and the choices that have led to quite significant lessons.

I sat in on Dean Bruner’s town hall meeting this past week, an open forum in classroom 120 in which the Dean answered questions from students and faculty on his views about Darden. One thing that particularly struck me was the Dean’s assertion that as members of the Darden community, as well as whatever else we become, in many facets of our lives, “we can’t listen enough.”

Inevitably, Term 4 starts, for a lot of us, with a multitude of interviews. Listening in these can be tough, but it’s important. Not only do you have to listen so that you answer questions in a way that effectively conveys your experience, but you have to listen so that you learn about who is interviewing you. Doing so helps, especially in the long run.

I’ve also found that Term 4 brings a unique opportunity to listen in class, mainly as a result of the inclusion of Business Ethics in our course load. This is a class where we at times will discuss controversial issues, and where we will always discuss topics that people can disagree on. Many come to class with clear views on an issue, and the reasoning to support it. The point, though, is not always about supporting your own view. Darden encourages us to learn from one another in all classes and interactions, but in a course in which business decisions’ impacts outside of business are the focus, the need to listen stands out as paramount. It is also a reminder that while we take specific classes or pursue specific careers, we are not operating in silos.

A lot of our cases deal with events or issues outside the United States. We’ve discussed situations that include the effects of oil exploration in Africa, publishing of literature that could be viewed as offensive to Islam, and creating a non-profitable drug to cure disease in developing economies. These conversations force us to modify the US-centric point of view that can naturally develop in an American business school classroom, and think more critically about the potential impacts of our recommendation in other countries.

This is also an opportunity to listen more. We are lucky to have peers from all over the world; sharing the richness of each other’s experiences, particularly when discussing such important and global issues, should be a priority. As we enter the final weeks of Term 4, I look forward to more listening.

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Skyline Drive November

As a non-native of Virginia I admit that I was surprised to see bears on the side of the road a few weeks ago. Granted, I was with a friend driving along Skyline Drive, a route in the Shenandoah National Park renowned for its views and fall colors. The bears were in a tree, looking for honey I assume, and as the sun set we could make out their steady silhouettes.

Skyline Drive reminded me of a course I had taken in undergrad on American environmental history and a particularly controversial essay by William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness”. The essay questions whether wilderness, as it was defined and protected with the creation of National Parks in the late 19th and early 20th century, really was that different from the urban civilization it was meant to contrast with. Cronon suggests a potential “fight from history” of constructed wilderness and the danger that in idealizing areas of wilderness, people will stop “idealizing the environment in which we actually live, the landscape that for better or worse we call home.” In so doing, he argues for including nature, and the experience of the wilderness, within the broader context of our lives and resisting the urge to put up silos around specific experiences.

While there is much to discuss about Cronon’s work, this last point is an important one. While a Sunday drive along SkyLine drive is indeed a welcome break from case preparation, recruiting, and other responsibilities, it is not an experience so disconnected from life at Darden as it may seem. Viewed, instead, as an experience complementary of or included in business school here, actually helps avoid the trap that Cronon warns us against; the stunning lookouts to the east of forests tinged with brown, yellow and orange encircle, if you can see far enough, Darden and Charlottesville. November at Darden is often called “Black November”, because of the increasing course load and intensity of recruiting, but sharing the views from Skyline Drive is a powerful argument against said bleakness. It is important to view the experience here in its entirety to appreciate its richness.

Indeed, while the Shenandoah Park allows the chance for friends to partake in venturing outside of grounds, there have also been some stunning encapsulations of the community spirit at Darden this fall. As term 2 ended we celebrated the retirement of Professor Clawson after over 30 years at Darden. Just prior to his last First Year class, all of the First Year students and faculty lined the hall outside or section rooms to applaud and congratulate him. It was a moving gesture fit for lauding such dedication to the school. We also celebrated the completion of our 100th case at Darden with a Luau-themed foam party after term 2 exams.

Those celebrations, as well as other events at Darden, are part of what makes the school special. Skyline drive, however, and other avenues for exploring, that we have access to by being in business school here, also contribute to the Darden experience. Sometimes we can forget that, especially when immersed in a particularly hard ops or accounting case (a routine occurrence lately), but it is important to remember as it puts things in better perspective. Just don’t feed the bears.

Bears!

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A view from Skyline Drive

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FY’s and Faculty Applause for Professor Clawson

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Term 2 and “doing things”

This past Friday marked the end of the first week of Term 2. Term 1 exams led into a week of company briefings – surprisingly keeping many of us as busy as a normal class week. Recruiting is now moving into full swing, and the frequency of briefings and networking events is increasing. It can be tiring, but it is a great chance to learn about new opportunities, and the variety of companies visiting Darden is astonishing. We have also started Global Economics and Markets (GEM in Darden-speak), and will begin Financial Management and Policies this week.

This means more work in Learning Team. Not a bad thing, depending on how you view it, and if you can take time to celebrate the beginning of October with…Oktoberfest beer. A noteworthy discovery this week was Crystal Ball, in all of its predictive and smooth-running glory. Crystal Ball is an Excel add-in that runs simulations to aid decision-making. We use it for our Decision Analysis (DA) class.  On Monday we were tasked with deciding whether or not to invest in some natural gas wells in West Virginia (hypothetically). Using Crystal Ball, I won’t say that we came to a conclusion per se in Learning Team, but we had an idea about what we could say in class regarding a potential investment strategy.

As with most class sessions, there are much broader lessons to be gained than just the answers to what is asked of in a specific case. Section A’s DA professor, Phil Pfeifer, spends a lot of time on the analysis we do and the broader implications of decisions. He also spends a lot of time dancing around class – not so much in the classic dance sense, but more in the dance/skip/hop sense – a means of movement other than plain walking. One might think that a class focused on quantitative modeling could be boring – not so with that energy.

One thing that Phil said during class that day was particularly striking. When describing the complex model we were using to decide whether to invest in the wells or not, he paused and went on what seemed like a tangent, exclaiming in that end (not a direct quote): “we spend all this time doing things! Making models, trying to account for all these uncertainties and running simulations. All these things, that in the end, who knows if the model is going to account for it all? There could be an uncertainty we don’t even know, but we just like to do these things!” I am paraphrasing a bit, but I believe his point was to not be deceived into thinking that our representations of reality were in fact reality. After modeling, it’s important to use intuition in making a decision. The point, if I can take it a step further to a context beyond DA, is to keep in mind what matters.

Darden and Charlottesville encourage you to do that. Last weekend the International Foods Festival took place at Darden: classmates from around the world teamed together to prepare abundant amounts of food. Everything from mango marinated pork chops (from a southern state, potentially Georgia?) to Bulgarian minced meat (a surprise). There were some vegetables, too. Passion Pit also came to Charlottesville and played at the Pavilion downtown, putting on a great show. Amidst the many high-schoolers, there was a solid Darden contingent in attendance, despite 8AM classes the next day.

Those events are things, to be sure, not quite like a DA model, but they are good things. Getting to know your classmates, exploring the wealth of cultures at Darden and seeing what Charlottesville has to offer are all things that matter and contribute to a meaningful Darden experience. As Term 2 continues, in class and outside of it, I’ll be remembering that lesson from DA.

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Passion Pit!

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At the IFF with star LT member Akansha  - she is a pro Bollywood dancer.

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The Darden Journey

“Great as their journey had been by sea, a greater journey had begun, as they already sensed, and from it they were to learn more, and bring back more, of infinite value to themselves and to their country than they yet knew.”

David McCullough, a prolific American historian, wrote those words in The Greater Journey, a recent work that focuses on the experiences of Americans who traveled to Paris, France between 1830 and 1900. When I first read The Greater Journey I could relate to the thrill and adventure that he described for the many travelers to France, having spent seven unforgettable years in Paris during middle and high school. While reflecting on my decision to come to Darden for business school and the first few weeks in Charlottesville, however, I now find additional meaning in McCullough’s words.

Much like those travelers to France, my classmates and I are beginning a new, great journey. We have all come here through various, meandering paths with high hopes and ambitions. From those first conversations during Orientation Week, almost all encompassing the “where have you come from?” and “where do you think you will go?” topics, it’s clear that a sense of drive, possibility and openness pervades at Darden.  Just as paramount, I believe, is the common view that our time here, our experience at Darden, to borrow from McCullough once more, is “essential to achieving [one’s] dream,” even if the dream’s details are not yet fully known.

While our time at Darden will certainly differ from the experiences of those Americans who went to Paris in the 1800’s – in many, many ways (no Morse code!)– I could not help but find similarity in the optimism and adventure in both scenarios. The Darden Journey, therefore, is an attempt to capture that. With this blog, I will share my perspectives and stories from my own Darden journey, and hopefully shed some light on the infinite value about to be discovered.

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