Thursday, December 20, 2012

The MUST-KNOW Darden traditions

Perhaps the Darden website doesn't tell you these, but they truly make Darden what it is...  

First Coffee
Dated years back - I mean, years. All-you-can-drink coffee and tea. No one is supposed to be doing work or attending classes. Monday through Friday at 9:30 A.M., the entire Darden community takes a moment to kick back and chill out for a bit before returning to their rigorous day of work. By entire Darden community, I mean faculty, staff members, students, guests, Dean Bruner and you, prospective students. Everyone is welcomed and encouraged to attend. This is what tight-knit is all about: people talk about the case they just did in class, the movie they watched over the weekend and their favorite professors at Darden. Every now and then, you get to witness one or more of the below special moments during First Coffee:
  • The Darden Chorus group performing Dardenized songs
  • A company sponsoring First Coffee and networking with students
  • Award presentation by the school to recognize outstanding students
  • First-Year students meeting with Second-Year students for career advises
  • Affinity clubs organizing fundraising booths  
  • Section B singing a song as ransom to reclaim its (our) stolen house mascot, the renowned Bird
  • People who stand right next to each other screaming to chat (it gets loud!)
Sounds pretty cool, huh?! See you at First Coffee.

P.S. The second break between classes is increasingly known as "Second Coffee" among Dardeners.

Cold Call
Interestingly, the term "Cold Call" carries multiple, vastly different meanings at Darden...

Cold Call [kohld kawl]
noun, verb
1. You have been randomly selected (sometimes drawn from a coffee cup or an excel spreadsheet) to start the class discussion or present your analysis on the case. Good luck.
2. A Thursday afternoon tradition featuring food, beer, drinks and social time
3. Name of Darden's own Chorus group - The Cold Call Chorus
4. Name of Darden's own newsletter - The Cold Call Chronicle

P.S. There is no way one can escape #1. It is going to happen to you, more than once.

Darden 100-case celebration
100 cases = BIG DEAL. And 100 cases will be logged before you even realize. Even better, it usually happens in late October, which means...Halloween! You are highly encouraged, aka semi-required, to dress up as Avatar or Mario to celebrate a huge milestone of your Darden life. No information disclosed until the event means you got thrown on a coach bus and transported to the party! 

Darden Cup
Who said business school kids know just how to do discounted cash flow or calculate operational bottleneck? Come to Darden and you will find former football quarterbacks, softball coaches, wild runners... Sections compete for the annual Darden Cup, which features a series of sport events throughout the year, from 5K to dodgeball to basketball. Competitiveness is upgraded on the sports field, where bragging rights and section pride are on the line. No section feels more pressure than Section E to keep the trophy and the winning streak in its house. But no section is as dominant and talented as Section B to have a realistic chance of winning this year. Sorry, A, C, D (and E), truth does hurt sometimes!

Section B, the hub of traditions
The Section B song - it's the winner song! Sing it every week after the last class, after winning championship at Darden Cup events and anytime Section B pride runs through the roof!
The Bird - it LIVES in Section B. Our dear friend travels around world with our people, attends weddings, crashes parties, goes to class and participates at Darden Cup events. Make the most ridiculous comment during class, and you will have custody of the bird for the coming week! Deal, B'ers?
The Finger - the super-sized foam slip-on finger signifies insightful minds. Make the most insightful comment during class, and you will earn the opportunity to use the finger once in the following week. Professors HAVE TO call on you to speak during class when you use the finger. Powerful stuff!
The Medal - the good citizen award. Whether you have volunteered to teach an exam review session or organize service events, your name will be on the list!

Section B, straight-up coolness.

BGiA Auctions - Building Goodness in April
Fundraising for charity and community services are at the core of Darden student life. BGiA Auctions, the biggest annual fundraising campaign at Darden, puts creativity and goodness to work. Faculty and students offer the widest (also wildest) selection of prizes up for auction, then donating all proceeds to charities. Monopoly night at the Dean's house, homemade dinner at professors' homes, 3-night stay at a Miami resort, 2-minute all-you-can-shop at Kroger, a 1-month personal Mandarin lesson, private Accounting tutoring, free rides to name it. This is the time you see the most creative side of your classmates - a legit LOL-in-tears time! All for raising the most funds for good causes!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An example week at Darden

Welcome to Black November at Darden...when academic, recruiting, social events are all at peak, at once. Darden is famous for the rigor of its academic workload. When you add intensive recruiting to casework, you are looking at something like this (courtesy of one of my classmates):

How hectic is a typical week at Darden actually? We can take a snapshot of my personal schedule for a week in November. I think it's fair to say that almost everyone has a similarly crazy schedule.

Pink: Academic
Grey: Learning Opportunities
Blue: Recruiting
Orange: Business Project
Purple: Social 

Here are a few things to note:
- Recruiting is in full swing right now, so you can expect to see many recruiting-related events on my schedule (blue)

- As you can tell, there's a lot of recruiting for consulting in my schedule. For people interested in I-Banking or marketing, their schedule will probably look quite different.
- I actually have a pretty good balance of activities during this particular week. And we need that kind of balance - so try to make it happen!

You will learn to multi-task really well by the time you leave Darden. Being able to juggle between things is a critical skill to have and Darden pushes your limit each and every day. Everyone here are in this together. We'll survive Black November. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The renowned faculty Open Door Policy: 1-on-1 with Professor Carraway

At Darden, there is normally no class on Friday, and it's usually my catch-up day. On one particular Friday, I had a very open and life-learning dialogue with my Decision Analysis (DA) professor. Let me set the stage for you: I wanted to speak with him about my contribution in class and I believed I was behind in class materials. So, my expectations? That I would be going through some previous cases from classes and trying to learn the materials again. Well, here's how it actually went...

10:15 A.M.
P: Good morning, Gloria. Do you want to go outside? It's such a beautiful day today!
G: Of course!

(As I was getting ready to pull out my cases and jump into my concerns)
P: So, Gloria. I'm glad you came to see me. Now, tell me more about yourself. Where're you from and what did you do before? How're you liking it in Charlottesville so far?
G: Blah, blah, blah...(I ended up talking about humidity in Hong Kong vs. humidity in Virginia, the super hot/dry weather in Oklahoma and some other random stuff)
P: I see. What do you want to do after Darden then?
G: So, I wanted to go into consulting. I mean, I think I want to go into consulting - I just don't think that 1 month into the program someone can actually say "Yeah, I know absolutely that I will only be recruiting for consulting."
P: Right.
G: But then, I was also thinking about marketing, until I came here to Darden and found out that marketing isn't what I think it was.
P: Hmm, interesting. And why is that?
G: I didn't expect marketing to be that number-heavy, I guess. I mean, I know there will be numbers behind it, but I didn't expect our marketing classes to be so driven by calculations. And I'm a little surprised by that. So now, I don't know if I can do marketing...And I am trying to catch up in DA as well because I don't know where it fits in...(15 minutes later, we somehow transitioned into the topic of DA!)

P: Here's the thing: Engine Services is one of the toughest cases here. There are many things going on and you are trying to capture all the uncertainties to help you make a decision. Right? (The meeting happened soon after we had a really difficult case and that I didn't quite get everything during class...) What is really important for you guys to learn is that you know some facts and you know there are some uncertainties there. You want to account for what you know, but ALSO what you don't know. How do you represent all of these accurately?

G: Yeah, I get those things. It's just that I find it hard to "say" it in an excel language. I used excel everyday at work before, but mostly in a data mining fashion, so using excel the way we do in our classroom isn't something I'm used to --- as if that's not excel to me. We are talking about Crystalball and running a risk profile and etc on excel. Obviously, I know only a portion about excel. That's likely why.

P: Let's talk about this. I look at this like a movie or a book, with a general plot and many small character or chapter developments. You always want to hang on to the main plot in any situation, even though you really want to dig into the details of the development of the story. Let me tell you a true story. I had a student in my class a few years back and she barely passed DA --- with the lowest possible grade. But when she did her internship in the summer and came back on ground, she came up to me and said, "Carraway, you have no idea. I blew everyone out of water because I was the only one on my team who could keep the team on the larger plot of the project." Many people are really good at the numbers, but not many can always stay on top of the big picture and drive the discussion in a meaningful way. I'm gonna rely on you guys to step up and say, "hey, I'm not following here. You need to explain it to me again." Or, if the class is getting stuck on a small development within the bigger plot, help drag us out of the mud. Think of yourself as the CEO sitting in a board meeting. If you don't understand what's going on, there is no way your meeting is going to help you at all. Your job is to bring everyone back to that main plot and help everyone think about whether there is a need for discussion on what you are talking about. It's hard, I understand. But that's best way you can help the class and that's one of the best contributions you can bring. And you know what, I'm trying to play less and less of this role in our class, because in an actual company meeting, I'm not gonna be there to do this. You will need to do this more and more as time goes on. Now I'm not telling you to not do the numbers. DO Them and do them right! But never lose sight on the big picture, because that is what's going to take you miles ahead of everyone. And it's the hardest thing to learn, quite honestly. So, always hang on to the main plot and you will realize how valuable you are to any team you will be on.

G: That's such a great story. I hope I can be one of those people....

P: Don't worry. You will be fine. Right now, you are focusing on everything that hit you and bounce right out because you just don't get it. But trust me, maybe you don't realize how much actually went into you. And you will be surprised by how much you have learned in this short amount of time. It's not about the one case that you did good or poorly on. It's where you take DA into your next internship and your future career.

11 A.M.
The talk adjourned after a good 45 minutes. I never referenced a single page on any DA case the whole time. But I've learned some huge life lessons in our 45 minutes.

  • Don't let your previously developed reflex about schooling get in the way of your learning. I'm at that point in my life where it is no longer just about going to class each day and find a way to ace your exams. If you don't actually learn things out of it, an A has no meaning to you. Grad school is about the learning experience. I am in grad school because I want to learn, not because I have to come back to school. I'll admit, I'm still changing my mindset about this and I'm not quite there yet. 
  • Find a way to connect your classes to your life and career. That's more important than trying to be an expert of a single case (although being an expert in cases really help). 
  • It just takes a wise mentor and few words of wisdom to help you see things a little differently. And your entire perspective will probably change. It can be a million-dollar moment for many people. And I'm glad it enlightened me to a whole new level of thinking. 
Prof. Carraway, if you are ever reading this blog, I wanted to say that while I still don't believe that I have mastered DA in any shape or form, I tried in our classroom and I am going to continue to practice DA in the next 40 years of my life. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Breathing Diversity

Just a week ago, Darden concluded its renowned International Food Festival. Only on this day can you get to try cuisines from over 30 countries and watch cultural performances all in the same day. It's legit: I started at the first booth and pick up only a bite from each type of food at each booth. I worked my way down, but boy, before I even get to the last 1/3 of tables...I was stuffed! It was like living out the movie Around the World in 80 Days, except that it was more like 80 minutes or so. The best part was that I got to see my fellow classmates dress up in their traditional costumes...and they suddenly don't look like the professional business people in nice black suits whom I have known before. After that day, I actually knew some of them even more...

When we think about diversity, culture is probably the first thing that comes to people's mind. I think it's fair to say that the way the business world frames "diversity" might have helped us develop the reflex to think straight about one's gender, ethnicity, nationality, skin color, religious beliefs, etc. Let's make no mistake: these are diversity attributes, and key ones. Here at Darden, just like at other business schools and companies, we can never stress enough about the value and breath of the perspectives from our international students. Benjamin, my section-mate from France, gave a "French Labor Regulations 101" some days ago in class. Yue, another of my fellow Chinese section-mate, wowed everyone with his in-depth knowledge about the effect of Netbook in China. The entire class was lifted immediately from all these storytelling.

Of course, diversity is also found in professional and personal experiences, academic backgrounds, family upbringing, hobbies, etc. Just as cultural insights make exceptional contributions to classroom learning, so are professional experiences. But I think a less emphasized lens to look at diversity is that you don't have to be/have anything to be diverse. defines "diversity" as "unlikeness," "a point of difference"; Merriam-Webster listed "diversity" as "the condition of having or being composed of differing elements." Technically, just by being a different human being, diversity already applies to you. When I disagree with someone on the answer to a problem, that's diversity. When I write my finals paper in a different style than the person sitting next to me in class, that's also diversity. 

And to me, we need all these simple diversity to fully thrive and appreciate the life at Darden and beyond. It's not just about who we are and what we look like that translate into diversity. It is also all the little things we say or do in everyday life that add layers of color to the world of diversity. And this has enriched my appreciation of diversity enormously. At Darden and in life, no diversity is too little and every person is breathing and living it in his/her own way, every minute. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Personal Invitation to YOU.

Woohoo! You found my blog. Welcome. Welcome! 

Although you might be thinking this about me: this girl has only been at Darden for a month and a half. What does she know about the school inside out? You have no idea. One month here at Darden isn't a regular one month. It's hard to believe that I have experienced all these since just 40 days ago:

  • ~40 cases in 5 classes
  • A golf clinic on 2 weekends
  • A diversity MBA conference in California
  • 2 Final exams
  • A group presentation and term paper
  • ~20 meetings with my own Learning Team
  • 7 company briefings in 1 week
  • 2 Darden Cup events (one of which my section won!)
  • Meeting with 6 different Second-Year students about career planning 
  • Countless social events hosted by various student clubs

And did I mention some cooking and baking in between? The list can seriously go on...

This IS why I come to Darden. It is fast-paced, but where in the business world isn't? That said, all of us need to bring our A game bright and early each morning. 8 A.M. every day, one of us will get cold called to start the class (and it literally happened to me once on a Monday morning...). Gone are the days when I could engage in a small coffee chat with my co-workers and warm-up for 15 mins before getting back to my desk. Everyday here is filled with new challenges and learning opportunities. I know I don't have all the knowledge right now, and this is why I am in business school. This is a transformational process and I trust the process. There is an ocean of wisdom underneath the bustling day-to-day activities. As I conquer these challenges a day at a time, I also realized that my personal limits have been pushed and augmented. Life at Darden is both the "what's going on here" and "what do they mean to you."

This blog is dedicated to all of you who are curious about Darden, who are passionate about business learning and who are committed to new challenges. It is my honor to be a part of a highly talented and motivated group of future leaders. I am delighted that you clicked on this page and I invite you to share my experiences along the way. Welcome on board --- I hope you enjoy the ride with me!

For those of you thinking about applying to Darden, COME VISIT! Seriously, just come. We are here to welcome you with open arms and you will see how Darden exceed your expectations/imagination! I can sit here and tell stories all afternoon about Darden, but it doesn't compare to seeing the live actions on grounds and meeting everyone here face-to-face.

See. You. On. Grounds.