Stamps ‘Walk-On’ Scholarship Surprises UVA Darden Second Year

By Jay Hodgkins

Alex Smith (Class of 2022) knew the University of Virginia Darden School of Business was his dream school.

He was working for an automotive parts manufacturing business in Detroit, Michigan, where the company strived to advance social good through initiatives, such as hiring and supporting former prisoners reentering society and working to add meaning to the workers’ daily responsibilities. The Darden School’s focus on responsible leadership made him sure it was the right fit.

That’s why he “put all his eggs in one basket,” applying early action to Darden, and took the leap to join the Full-Time MBA program without scholarship support. He figured he would find a way to manage his student debt after graduation.

He didn’t even know there were opportunities to apply for scholarships in his Second Year. At least, that is, until he was informed his Top 5% academic performance as a First Year made him eligible for a number of opportunities, including scholarships that could cover the full cost of his final year at the School.

When he was selected to receive the Stamps Walk-On Scholarship, the first scholarship supported by the Stamps Scholars Program exclusively for a Second Year at Darden, Smith was totally surprised. The new scholarship was finalized after rising Second Years competed for scholarships, meaning he was nominated for the award without knowing.

“I’m grateful because it reduces the debt burden to pay for my MBA, which allows me to take risks,” Smith said. “It allows me to follow a less-defined path and do what truly makes me feel fulfilled and energized and generates the greatest societal impact.”

A Fresh Look Ahead at Second Year 

Following a First Year in which in-person classes and student activities were limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith now starts his second year with tuition and costs covered and a full return to the in-person Darden experience inside and outside the classroom.

The fresh perspective has him looking ahead to a year of making a major impact on the life of the School.

As president of Darden’s Net Impact club, he’s partnering with classmate and fellow scholarship recipient Jess Kim-Schmid and the Business Ethics at Darden club to plan a conference in the spring that will highlight the role of business serving society and feature the thought leadership of Professors Ed Freeman, Bobby Parmar and Mike Lenox, among others.

“Darden is a great place for those interested in thinking about stakeholders and how business effects communities, the environment and employees,” Smith said. “That’s the kind of business leader I want to be — thinking about complex, hard decisions in which you have to consider tradeoffs between stakeholders.”

Smith is also working to grow the Men as Allies initiative in partnership with Darden’s Graduate Women in Business. The initiative’s goal is to create a permanent structure to help male students learn best practices to serve as allies to women, particularly in their effort to achieve equity in the classroom and workplace.

He’s also looking forward to rallying student support that advances Darden toward its 2030 sustainability goals; supporting Pride at Darden and promoting Darden as a supportive community for LGBTQ+ MBA students; and working with the student-led Sobriety Initiative, which provides community for those at Darden who live alcohol-free.

Thanks to the Stamps Walk-On Scholarship, his career focus after Darden is now on the longer term.

“I’m not super stressed about my first job after Darden. I’m thinking about five to 10 years down the road,” Smith said. “I’m focused on, in five years, being in a job that allows me to balance financial analysis on a project, but also have the difficult discussions on the societal and environmental impacts. Whether it’s in consulting, corporate strategy or renewable energy, I just want to stretch those muscles on both sides.”

Joining a Tradition of Stamps Scholars at Darden

Darden remains the only U.S. graduate school supported by the Stamps Scholars Program, among the most prestigious full scholarships offered at the School.

Up to five fellowship recipients each year are awarded full-tuition scholarships — funded 50 percent by the Stamps Scholars Program and 50 percent by Darden — in addition to an enrichment fund to support research, conference attendance or participation in Darden Worldwide global experiences. The funding arrangement for the fellowships leverages giving to drive additional support for a philanthropic passion.

To date, there have been 40 Stamps Fellows at Darden, all awarded as First Years before Smith became the first Second Year to receive what will become an annual tradition. The Walk-On Scholarship will recognize a student who distinguishes herself or himself during the First Year in academics, leadership and other ways.

Smith says he applied to Darden lacking the typical test scores needed to earn scholarships, but he knew he wanted to work hard and stay curious in the classroom. And he knew his story: That after seeing the power of business to support the Detroit community and be a force for good in the world, he wanted a career as a leader who improved the lives of employees and communities.

He says his path is an example for others like him.

“Any prospective students reading this, remember that test scores aren’t everything,” he said. “My story reflects that people with lower test scores can really have impact and succeed at Darden. Numbers aren’t everything. Tell your story. The right school will see what’s in you. And most importantly, while at Darden, stay calm and stay curious.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Press Contact

David Hendrick
Associate Director, Editorial & Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia