From Middle East Diplomacy to Self-Driving Cars, Farm Values Guide UVA Darden Student

By Emma D'Arpino

Growing up on a farm in Texas, University of Virginia Darden School of Business student Allie Medack (Class of 2020) always had the dream to get out of her environment and see something other than the life she knew. And values centered around hard work learned on the farm gave her the motivation to pursue that dream.

Hard work led her to college. Her global curiosity led her to focus on Middle Eastern studies and Arabic in college, then a career in international diplomacy.

“I was actually in Jordan during the Arab Spring getting to work with refugees,” Medack said. “It was an amazing experience because it was my first time out of the country, and getting to be on the ground in a region going through such a stark transformation was really powerful.”

While she was abroad, she came to the realization that all the important work the U.S. State Department and international aid organizations were doing couldn’t be effective providing long-term stability, if there was no functioning economy. Her interests shifted to focus on international business, and Medack eventually found herself on the international policy team at General Motors.

“Essentially, we were international firefighters,” Medack said. “Any time something popped up somewhere, we would work there to address it.”

The job took her all over the globe, including South America, Asia and Europe. Medack experienced firsthand how a multinational company functions, and she got to address issues ranging from government pricing controls to cybersecurity to supply chain matters. One of the biggest aspects of the job was figuring out how problems and solutions in one country might help to address issues in another.

“Given the scope of the company and the issue set, it was critical to take a step back and look at the big picture. In doing so, we could see commonalities and develop a toolkit to help address issues in not just that country but other countries, as well,” Medack said.

During her time at GM, commercialization of autonomous — or self-driving — vehicles began to emerge. So, Medack rolled off from the international policy team into the self-driving program. There, she worked on commercialization strategy, laws and regulations to bring those vehicles to the market. She also interacted with environmentalists, disability communities and other groups that had an interest in the technology.

In that role, she realized that the perspective she had was only from the policy angle.

“I knew, in order to lead broader corporate strategy, I needed an MBA to develop my technical expertise and my leadership skills,” Medack said.

As she began her search of top business schools, community and personality of the school weren’t a priority for Medack. After visiting Darden, however, she realized it was a place where she could pursue her purpose in an environment that would serve her beyond the classroom.

“There was a palpable energy that was really special,” Medack said of her experience at Day at Darden, an event for admitted students who have not yet started the program. “I ultimately felt like Darden would make me not just a better business leader, but also a better person.”

Soon into her time at Darden, Medack realized the value of the intentionally intense experience.

“It’s really amazing because you feel like you’re drowning the entire time, but then you look back and realize you just swam a mile,” Medack said.

Medack hopes her experience at Darden will eventually lead her to a career in consulting.

“Consulting enables me to work at the nexus of the public, private and social sectors,” Medack said. “That was an experience I had in the Middle East, where I saw how business and government overlapped to create stable communities. It’s my goal to work at that intersection. I’m open to new opportunities, but that’s my guiding North Star.”

Her first step in that direction includes will be summer internship with McKinsey & Co. in Washington, D.C. Medack described earning an internship with McKinsey as a “pinch me moment.”

“My dad was the first person in his family to go to college, and I just remember this being my dream to move to Washington, D.C., and to get to do these things, but I never in a million years imagined getting to go to business school and actually working for a company like McKinsey.”

While her experiences may be taking her far from the farm life she grew up with in Texas, Medack still holds on to her values from home.

“Life on a farm, where it’s all about hard work and community, really shaped me,” Medack said. “When you’re waking up every day to feed the cows or to bail hay on the weekends and that level of work ethic is normal, it really reframes your mindset of what’s possible.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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