First-Generation Alumna on Turning Obstacles into Opportunities and Finding Community at Darden

By Dave Hendrick

Growing up helping her mother clean large houses in the San Francisco Bay Area, Ana Flavia Dias (Class of 2020) said she saw the walls covered in diplomas, and quickly associated advanced education with greater life opportunities.

A standout high school student, Dias said attending the University of California–Berkeley was the equivalent of being “thrown in the deep end,” and the memory of her first F in organic chemistry remains clear. Still, as detailed in the Poets & Quants article “2020’s First-Generation MBAs: The Bold, Brilliant & Big-Hearted,” Dias said obstacles and failures were opportunities to prove herself, which she did time and time again.

Now a project manager at Facebook, Dias discussed what led her to an MBA, the importance of support programs for students of diverse backgrounds, and advice for first-generation students everywhere.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? I wanted to continue building my professional career and I saw the MBA as a way to gain access to new opportunities. I also wanted to round out my experience so that I will be more impactful wherever I go.

My undergraduate experience allowed me to build technical competency. However, that doesn’t always translate to effective leadership, so I decided to pursue my MBA.  I also think that the more I accomplish, the bigger the influence and reach I can have in the communities and people I care about.

How did you choose your MBA program? I had a few priorities when choosing an MBA: I wanted to attend a program that was consistently ranked top 20 across the board, I wanted a tight-knit community, and I wanted to work on my soft skills.

After experiencing what it’s like to be a part of a large school, I wanted to be a student in a school where I recognized everyone’s face.  Darden’s case study method and required core and learning team create a collaborative environment that teaches you to think on your feet and to eloquently and effectively articulate your ideas and reasoning through practice. In essence, it best mimics the corporate world and teaches you the emotional intelligence you need to be an impactful leader. I’m happy that Darden checked all three boxes.  A bonus: the professors really are as good and approachable as they say! Believe the hype.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? I was worried about making friends and whether there would be anyone I could relate to.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first generation student? I was fortunate enough to receive a full-tuition, merit-based scholarship from the Darden Foundation, for which I am extremely grateful. Dean Beardsley has dedicated a lot of energy during his tenure to increasing funds devoted to scholarships because he knows that having an affordable education increases the diversity of the student body. Thereby, he can create a richer experience for all the students, which enables them to take on greater risks like starting a business. An affordable education is especially important for students who don’t have a safety net, like most first-generation students.

Read the full profile on Poets & Quants.

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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Sophie Zunz
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia