Capstone Project Gives UVA Darden MBAs Chance to Put In-Demand Tech Skills to Work

10 June 2019

By Dave Hendrick

Darden Professor Alex Cowan is playing a key role in arming MBA students at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business with a host of in-demand technical skills relevant to future careers.

Cowan, whose Darden courses include “Software Design,” “Software Development” and “Digital Product Management,” recently led an independent study course with Professor Casey Lichtendahl for a group of students in the Class of 2019, offering a project for students interested in building on their product management skills and familiarity with a suite of programming tools.

Writing on his personal blog, Cowan said five students — Class of 2019 graduates Ab Boxley, Eric Franklin, Alfonso Orozco, Michael Osborne and Thomas Regan — in the most recent independent study course produced a “particularly interesting” joint project intended to enhance the process by which Second Year students select classes.

Using agile methodology, the team began with an overall user story: “As a Darden student, I want to create a class schedule  that fits all of my preferred classes, so that I’m able to finalize my course calendar for the year.”

This team was interested in the problem of how students going into their second year of the MBA program choose their courses. How do different segments of students think about this? How important are career-related learning vs. subjects of interest vs. schedule vs. recommendations from peers vs. studying with a particular faculty member? They started out by conducting subject interviews to learn about this through open-ended questions. They then used a concierge MVP to better understand how real students would engage with a more structured and facilitated selection process. Finally, they created interactive prototypes in Balsamiq and ran user testing to decide on the right approach to a user interface.

Like any good product manager, they then took their validated learnings and began to structure and automate the process. The tool they built stepped users through a series of questions and generated a suggested schedule.

See a demo of the tool:

While the team led with validated learnings on their user, they also did all their own modeling and coding, a great experience in what it is to iteratively transition from idea to design to code to analytics and back again. As team member Michael Osborne put it, ‘‘Conceptually, we understood the models we wanted to run, but we wanted practice integrating them into a product.”

Having graduated, all five former students in the independent study are moving on to exciting jobs: Boxley at Deloitte Consulting, Franklin at McKinsey & Co., Orozco at JPMorgan Chase, Osborne at Wayfair and Regan at Accenture.

Read more about the technical aspects of the project and lessons learned during a retrospective on Cowan’s blog.

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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