Thursday, April 11, 2013

Isaac Newton's Mini Golf

You have probably heard friends or co-workers say that a MBA is not worthwhile if you want to start your own business.  Why bother spending 100K and two years of your life instead of actually doing whatever it is you want to do?  After all, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Larry Page did not go to business school and they did pretty well.  Dean Bruner says he frequently hears this claim from prospective students.
But why do folks portray this as an either/or scenario?  Should I go to business school or start my own business?  What they should be asking is – How do I do both? 
That question is probably best answered with a short vignette from two of my second year classmates.  Jim Thomas and Kevin Bennett’s venture, Isaac Newton’s Mini Golf, was born in one Darden course and developed throughout other courses, as part of the curriculum.  
Isaac Newton’s Mini Golf is an innovative product developed to teach children foundational science concepts and reinforce math skills through the game of mini golf.  The idea was born in the second year course, Starting New Ventures.  Jim and Kevin took the idea to another second year course, Developing New Products and Services, to design and build a prototype for their product idea.  They worked with a team of three other students, learning to discover “user’s needs” and built a series of working prototypes (Darden provides teams with money for materials).
From there, Isaac Newton’s Mini Golf was further developed in other courses, such as Digital Marketing and even Accounting (yes, Accounting).  Many second year courses require a project or paper that relates to a real business and there is no reason why an aspiring entrepreneur cannot use his/her own venture.  In fact, that is encouraged! 
While developing the idea in Darden courses, the venture received some seed capital from Darden’s Batten Institute in the form of a “De-Risking” Competition.  And most importantly, Jim and Kevin are able to get help and advice from fellow students and faculty.
The founders came to Darden with very different perceptions of entrepreneurship.  Jim was already an experienced entrepreneur, having co-founded a software company, and intended to return to a start-up.  Kevin came from the military with no entrepreneurial experience and little desire for it until a first year elective caused him to re-think what entrepreneurship really is.  Both came to understand the value of starting their own venture in business school and took advantage of Darden’s many resources.  At Darden, it is possible to get a world class MBA and start your own business.
Jim and Kevin both say this experience forced them to bring to bear everything they were learning in the classroom: Strategy, Marketing, Operations, Finance, and yes, even Accounting.   For those interested in entrepreneurship, Darden has some tremendous resources, these are just a few:
·    The Batten Institute is a world class organization for entrepreneurship and innovation;
·    Darden Business Projects (DBP) and the Incubator program enable students to work with small businesses as part of the curriculum;
·    and today Darden’s iLab celebrates its grand opening, which will foster collaboration through the University and Charlottesville community.
For more information about Isaac Newton’s Mini Golf, visit their webpage.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Second Year Electives

While the first year is often described as mastering the core curriculum the second year is all about smoothing the edges.  In my second year, I have had the good fortune of being able to take a set of classes that I will look back upon with fond memories.

Leadership Ride:  The first few class meetings are facilitated by Gary Gallagher, a leading Civil War historian who communicates information on the Confederate and Union forces as well as provides context leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg.  In a partnership with the United States Marine Corps University, we then travelled to Gettysburg for a two day field experience.  Over the course of two days we would walk to a specific place on the battlefield, be placed in the situation of a specific leader, and discuss the actions we would have taken in that role.  The most fascinating aspect of the class was the ability to make parallels between the military leadership, both its successes and failures, at the Battle of Gettysburg to leadership in the contemporary business environment.  Far and away, one of the coolest classes I’ve ever taken.  Ever.

Character Traits and Success:  Professor Colley has assembled a list of 200 character traits and each week, we read a piece by Plato or Emerson.  The idea is that through reading these great works, we are able to relate the reading to our own personal character traits or to character traits exhibited by various leaders.  One of the things that makes this class so unique is that it is a ten-person seminar made up of five Darden students and five undergraduate students.  If that isn’t cool enough, it meets in Professor Colley’s Pavilion on the Lawn, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the conversation is accompanied by wine and cheese.

General Managers Taking Action:  Another very different class that operates as more of a speakers series.  Each class session a Darden alum comes to present caselets, or situations that they have found themselves in as business leaders.  The experiences of the alumni vary greatly, from the CEO of a quarry company to a Managing Member of a private equity group, but the one common thread of each class is that the students come prepared to take action and discuss the decisions we would make.  After class, many of the alumni are available to go to lunch with interested classmates.  Not only has the class helped develop my decision-making process, it also presents a great opportunity to network with some of the most impressive Darden alumni.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Tutoring Program

This year, I have had the privilege of serving as one of the Co-Chairs of the Tutoring Program.  The Tutoring Program is a student-led program where second year students work to support the core curriculum by reviewing conceptual frameworks and fundamental mechanics as well as providing an intimate forum to ask questions.
While working with the Tutoring Program this year, I have come to see it as a really great example of the strength of the Darden community.  One of the reasons I was attracted to Darden was because of its close community.  When I was looking at MBA programs and talking with current students, everyone I spoke with at Darden talked about its collaborative community.  (Seriously, when I asked students what made Darden unique, 100% of them mentioned the community fostered at Darden).  As a second-year at Darden, I see why this universally discussed.  There are myriad events that illustrate the strength of the Darden community, and I’ve come to realize that the Tutoring Program is another great example.
This year, the Tutoring Program has roughly 70 tutors who have signed up to volunteer as tutors.  To put it into perspective, that’s approximately 20% of the second year class volunteering their time to sit down with first years to clarify course material.  Perhaps more important than the sheer quantity of students supporting the academic success of the first year students is the attitude of the second years.  Many of the second year tutors have approached me to indicate their willingness to be more involved in tutoring.
The strong Tutoring Program is just one of many ways in which the second years are actively engaged to foster a strong community between the two classes.   I guess the motto is No Darden Student Left Behind.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

On Saturday, my first year section reunited for a Thanksgiving feast.  The Thanksgiving potluck was a great way for some of us to share our culture with the international students, particularly after they put so much effort into the International Food Festival earlier this fall.
It was a beautiful fall day filled with four of my favorites Fs.  Friends, Food, Fire, and Football.  Happy Thanksgiving!
Hanging out by the fire pit
AJ, the turkey king!

Section B

The Thanksgiving spread

Two five-month-old-puppies!  The black lab is named Edgar, after Edgar Allen Poe, who lived on the historical Range and attended the University of Virginia.  The yellow lab is named Ginny, another reference to the University of Virginia.
Delicious food

Dessert.  A Virginia apple pie and a Section B Bird!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trick or Treat

Happy Halloween!  The University of Virginia is a historic institution steeped in tradition.  One of my favorite traditions is an event known as Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn.  The Lawn is living history.  It is the original University that still houses students and faculty in the rooms and pavilions that line the terraced grassy court.

For Halloween, student organizations typically sponsor a Lawn Room and distribute candy to eager children, dressed in adorable costumes.  This afternoon, I walked around the Lawn with many of my classmates and enjoyed the atmosphere and of course, a Reese’s Cup.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

From Friday to Monday

Is it already second year?  For the past few months, I have been interning with a consulting firm in Washington, DC.  The experience was challenging, but I felt fully equipped from day one to be a contributing member of the team all thanks to the preparation of the Darden first year curriculum.  My summer engagement was heavily analytical and I found myself thankful that I was paying attention during the quant-heavy cases of my first year.
The last day of my summer internship ended on Friday, so that evening I packed up my apartment and prepared to hit the road to Charlottesville on Saturday.  I was in a hurry to get back to Charlottesville because I wanted to attend the Darden Community Picnic that Saturday afternoon.  I remember being a first year at the Picnic, feeling only moderately overwhelmed.  I was in a new environment, making new friends, meeting new faculty.  Most of that afternoon as a first year was a blur, but what I remember more than anything was how excited the returning second years were to catch up with one another after a summer away from Charlottesville. 
Remembering that was motivation enough for me to make it back to Charlottesville.  And it was well worth it.  It’s hard to describe how I felt at the picnic; excited to be reunited, thrilled to hear about my classmates’ successful summers, and afraid that this year is going to pass too quickly. (Is this what my second year has succumbed to? Am I really talking about my emotions at a picnic?)
If Saturday was all about catching up, Sunday was all about ramping up.  Sunday was my day to get organized.  I figured out what classes I was taking and made sure to prepare the cases for my first day as a second year.
Monday afternoon, my class assembled in Abbott Auditorium for a Welcome Back address.  The strangers I sat among at my Welcome address as a first year are now some of my best friends and principled leaders at our Welcome Back address to start off the second year.  What a difference one year can make.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Here's to Section B

During the core curriculum at Darden, students are randomly assigned one of five sections, lettered A through E.  For the first seven months at Darden, you will attend three classes a day, four days a week (that’s 300 cold calls), with the same 60-65 peers in the same classroom, while the faculty rotates in and out.  Your section becomes your family.  Your section becomes your life.  I remember when I first arrived at Darden, a wise second year forewarned me that I would quickly fall in love with some people in my section.  Over the course of the year I would fall out of love with some of them, but by the end of the entire shebang, I would be enamored of them once again.  And sure enough, the year unfolded just as predicted.

Fortunately for me, I was assigned to Section B.  It is one steeped with tradition.  We have a song that we sing after the final class of every week; a song that has been passed down through the section for decades.  But perhaps the most unique tradition in Section B is the bird.  Each week, as a section, we award the bird to the classmate who made the most ridiculous comment that week.  Bird-worthy comments include:

1.     During an Operations case that focused on improving the effectiveness of a hospital, a classmate suggested that the hospital upgrade to bunk-beds for the patients.

2.     When asked during a class on Managerial Accounting what was the most important four letter word, our classmate’s response was “Love.”  This at least garnered him a hug from the professor.

But Section B doesn’t stop in the classroom.  Each year, Darden sections compete in athletic and philanthropic events in an attempt to win the annual Darden Cup.  This year, Section B won in Softball, Soccer, and Cricket.

And of course, there have been no shortage of social events.  When all is said and done, Section B has helped define my first year experience.  We’ve learned a ton, we’ve struggled through tough cases together, we’ve pushed one another, and most importantly, we’ve laughed a lot.  So here’s to Section B!