The Future of UVA Darden Grounds: What Students Say They Need Most
By Dave Hendrick
Current University of Virginia Darden School of Business students are grounded in the reality of their daily experience living and learning within the School’s Grounds, while receiving constant feedback from the employment marketplace about what skills they need to become leaders within top organizations.
What better focus group could there be to influence the future of the School’s facilities and technologies?
A student committee, working with Professor Mike Lenox, senior associate dean and chief strategy officer for Darden, recently assessed the School’s facilities, seeking to answer the question of how current spaces could continue to support Darden’s goal to provide the world’s best MBA education experience, both in and out of the classroom.
The committee of five students in the classes of 2020 and 2021 — Linh Le, Max Linden, Victoria Luk, Michael Reed and Ali Schumacher — focused its report on key areas for potential improvement after completing a monthslong study of student spaces.
“The Darden Grounds are integral to the fabric of the community and impact every aspect of the Darden experience,” said Reed. “It has been an exciting challenge to envision the next phase of Darden through the integration of the classic Jeffersonian architecture style with the needs of a modern business school. I look forward to seeing how our recommendations will manifest into new spaces at the School.”
The committee offered a variety of research-backed, short- and long-term suggestions focused on four areas for potential improvement: dining, student activity space, learning team rooms and housing.
School leadership is already acting on initial recommendations in upcoming improvement projects. In addition, gifts from former Citigroup Chairman Mike O’Neill (MBA ’74) as well as The Riverstone Group Chairman and CEO William H. Goodwin (MBA ’66) and the Goodwin family will fund a refresh of the Abbott Center Dining Room. Moreover, plans to relocate the W.L. Lyons Brown III i.Lab at UVA to the Darden classroom building will allow for upcoming trials of new learning team room configurations.
As the Darden Grounds Master Plan continues to come into focus, the needs and desires of students will remain a priority.
The report found that 65 percent of students eat at Darden once a week or less, suggesting existing facilities are underused. Students cited a need for greater variety of food options and more relaxed environments for meals, with a specific suggestion to transform the Abbott Center Dining Room into a more casual setting, with an action-station model replacing the current buffet option.
Student Activity Space
The committee’s findings divided student space needs into the categories of serendipitous interactions, work space for individuals and teams, and wellness and reflection. In the short term, the report recommends setting aside existing underused spaces for student activities. Longer term, the committee recommended integrating student activity space near renovated dining areas and securing new space devoted to student wellness.
Learning Team Rooms
Students recommended pilot testing a redesign of a single learning team hallway into a pod with glass walls, allowing for more natural light, modular furniture and collaboration space in the center with communal supplies to promote “casual collision.” Students also recommended better soundproofing and access to small phone rooms or conference space for networking calls and practice case interviews.
More than half of the students responding to the committee’s survey indicated they were less than satisfied with their housing search at Darden, and many students indicated they would be interested in a Darden-only student-housing community. In the short term, the committee recommended the establishment of a Darden housing committee and outreach to admitted students. Longer term, the committee suggested working with a variety of stakeholders to develop a new student-housing concept.
Learn more about additional priorities of the Darden Grounds Master Plan, including a new inn and conference center, arboretum and botanical gardens, and more.
Read the latest issue of Pillars — Darden’s publication dedicated to the power of philanthropy.
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.
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia