Building Momentum: State of the School, Construction Updates Highlight UVA Darden Reunion Week
By Dave Hendrick and Jay Hodgkins
The University of Virginia Darden School of Businesses Reunion Week, held virtually from 19-24 April, highlighted how the Darden School is both literally and figuratively building momentum.
Dean Scott Beardsley capped reunion events with his annual State of the School address on 24 April, affirming the strength of the School’s position. Earlier in the week, Beardsley led an update on the progress of key components of the Darden Grounds Master Plan: the UVA Inn at Darden and Conference Center for Lifelong Learning and surrounding arboretum and botanical gardens in 2023, which are now under construction.
Beardsley’s State of the School and Grounds Master Plan sessions were part of a virtual Darden Reunion Week that was open to all alumni and included events featuring some of the latest research from Darden professors, a behind-the-scenes look at UVA undergraduate admissions and class get-togethers, among other sessions. More than 1,200 alumni from 35 countries registered for reunion. The School announced giving from alumni in their official reunion years, those with classes ending in 1 and 6, had topped $7.2 million so far this year and announced Thomas J. Baltimore Jr. (MBA ’91) and George Tahija (MBA ’86) as winners of the Abbott Award, the highest honor the Darden School bestows upon alumni.
State of the School: Record Apps, Rankings and Alumni Reach Show ‘Future is Bright’
“The state of the School is very strong,” Beardsley began his annual address, “even as we navigate the difficult circumstances brought on by COVID, the greatest health care crisis of the last 100 years.”
As one obvious piece of evidence, applications to join the Darden full-time MBA and Executive MBA Class of 2023 are up from historic highs set the prior year to join the Class of 2022.
“The COVID crisis reminds us that the need for Darden is greater than ever,” Beardsley said. “If anything, coming out of the pandemic, we see the urgent need for responsible leadership, and the hunger that people have to seek education and ways to pursue their dreams.”
Beardsley also noted Darden’s position as the No. 1 ranked public MBA program, and No. 5 overall, in the United States by Bloomberg Businessweek and the School’s 17,000-plus alumni spread across 90 countries as tangible measures of strength.
Among the trends driving graduate business education, Beardsley cited several:
- A swift move to hybrid learning underscores broad innovations in learning models, with some B-schools floundering in online and hybrid deliver and others thriving.
- Business education is becoming more available and accessible.
- New digital and corporate competitors are entering the market.
- The career landscape is shifting, with tech companies that surged during the pandemic hiring more MBA talent and industries such as hospitality, retail and energy reducing hiring.
Darden has met the moment, Beardsley said. The School successfully delivered in-person instruction for degree and Darden Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs throughout the 2020–21 academic year, is recognized as a leader for its online and hybrid delivery, grew its overall scholarship program and launched the AccessDarden need-based scholarship program, and saw the Class of 2020 earn record average starting salaries with a record number of graduates accepting jobs in tech.
Incredible alumni and donor support for the School’s Powered by Purpose capital campaign undergirds much of the current momentum. The campaign launched publicly in October 2019, and alumni and supporters had already raised $323.9 million toward the $400 million campaign goal as of March 31. Counting matching funds from UVA, the total impact of the campaign stands at $378.9 million.
“Thanks to our alumni donors, we have secured as much total endowment resource in this campaign as in the prior history of the School,” Beardsley said. “This is a remarkable achievement.”
As measures of how significant campaign support has been, Beardsley noted the School’s success hiring 38 faculty members since he arrived at Darden in 2015 and will add six more at the start of the next academic year. Campaign support for the faculty includes 28 new endowed faculty chairs.
“During this generational shift in faculty, preserving the culture; providing resources for faculty, such as supporting our research institutes; maintaining our reputation in areas such as business ethics, business in society, entrepreneurship and asset management; and building a strong research infrastructure are critical,” he said.
Campaign support has yielded 89 new scholarships for Darden students and enabled the launch of the AccessDarden need-based program.
Despite the many successes of the campaign to date, Beardsley warned that Darden and its supporters cannot rest. He warned that other B-schools are “raising their game” in fundraising.
“We have incredible momentum, and I am so grateful to all of our donors,” Beardsley said. “We are committed to offering the best education experience delivered by the best faculty on the best Grounds to the best students so that they can get the best jobs and fulfill their potential, making a difference for business and society.”
Darden Grounds Master Plan Construction Update
Beardsley also led a discussion on the future of Darden Grounds, including construction efforts to build the new UVA Inn at Darden and Conference Center for Lifelong Learning, refurbish C. Ray Smith Alumni Hall, and surround the new structures with an arboretum and botanical garden.
While the new projects will beautify Darden Grounds and aid the education experience in a number of dimensions, Beardsley explained how the new inn and conference center would spin-off sustainable, long-term funds, enabling additional resources for areas such as scholarship support and faculty recruitment.
Darden began construction on the projects in January, and the former UVA Inn at Darden and Sponsors Hall have now been demolished. In their place will eventually be:
- The new UVA Inn at Darden and Conference Center for Lifelong Learning, including conference facilities, flat and tiered classroom space, a restaurant, pub and coffee shop, among other features
- A refurbished C. Ray Smith Alumni Hall, which will serve as the home of the Darden School Foundation and as a hub and meeting space for alumni
- An arboretum and botanical garden, which will sustainably enhance existing land and provide new natural spaces to promote health and wellness
In addition to keeping pace with peer schools, many of which have recently completed significant facilities upgrades, Beardsley noted the need for new, modern spaces for the School’s growing population of executive degree students and participants in Darden Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs. By 2025, the executive student population, much of which will come to Darden Grounds in Charlottesville for residencies, will likely grow to as many as 600 learners, Beardsley said, up from zero in 2000.
“This project,” Beardsley said. “is about what we need.”
For alumni, degree program students and non-degree program learners, the new spaces will provide new opportunities to “build a great sense of community,” Beardsley said. The new arboretum and botanical gardens, for instance, will provide opportunities for cross-Grounds collaborations; outdoor study space; and classes in yoga, mindfulness and other outdoor pursuits.
Beardsley was joined on the presentation by Darden alumni who have contributed to the project, which is funded in part through philanthropy. Jimmy Rose (MBA ’85) and Adair Newhall (MBA ’09) both explained why they chose to support the project, and former Mastercard CFO Martina Hund-Mejean (MBA ’88), who serves as vice chair of the Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees, explained both why she supported the effort and why it made strong financial sense for the School.
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