UVA Darden Community Celebrates Power of Scholarships to Make Dreams Come True
By Jay Hodgkins
An immigrant born in Communist-era Bulgaria, a woman driven to support women like her with chronic health conditions, military veterans seeking direction to fine tune their leadership skills for the business world — these were just a few of the success stories the University of Virginia Darden School of Business celebrated at its annual scholarship celebration event.
The community also honored those who make the success stories possible through their generous scholarship gifts. Darden donors have created more than 90 new scholarship funds since the start of the Powered by Purpose campaign.
“We’re here tonight to celebrate the incredible support for new scholarships for Darden students,” said Dean Scott Beardsley in his welcome address. “Scholarships are critical to the success of this school. They attract the most talented students from all corners of the globe by making Darden affordable and accessible. And they are magic. They have the power to forever change the lives of our scholarship recipients.”
An Immigrant’s American Dream Fulfilled
Executive MBA student Teddy Mekianov (Class of 2022), recipient of a scholarship from the Darden School Foundation powered by the Darden Annual Fund, shared his challenging journey as an immigrant. Born in Bulgaria, he said the collapse of Communism and the early free market failures there in his teenage years led him to move to the United States to find a better life, only to find many doors to naturalization closed after the 9-11 attacks. Ultimately, he persevered to earn American citizenship, his MBA from Darden and a job offer at a prestigious firm.
“I often wonder, ‘How did I survive all of this?’” Mekianov said. “And I always come up with the same answer. Individual acts of kindness. Every time my life was disproportionately impacted by sociopolitical forces, someone extended a helping hand.”
Mekianov said he would not have made it without the help of friends, neighbors, faculty and staff at UVA and donors. “I would like to thank all of you for your individual acts of kindness.”
An Individual Empowered to Improve Women’s Health
Full-Time MBA student Sukari Brown (Class of 2023), a recipient of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management Fellowship through the Darden School Foundation, wasn’t sure she was going to be able to make it to the scholarship celebration due to a flare up of a chronic health condition. However, she said the experience earlier in the day gave her the courage to share how her condition is powering her purpose.
“Today’s experience reminded me of my ‘why’ for coming to business school,” she said. “I wanted to create more opportunities for products and services that address the need that’s prevalent in medical health. My condition is something a lot of medical professionals still don’t understand, and the only reason is a lack of funding. So I wanted to take my experience in construction and consulting and private equity and come to business school and fill in the gaps in order to make myself a better investor, a better friend, a better partner and a better family member.”
Brown told attendees she wouldn’t be standing there ready to explore what was next and open to all the possibilities without hard work and the scholarship donors’ generosity. “You’ve made all that possible.”
A CEO’s Strategy to Unlock the Potential of Military Veterans
Former Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld (MBA ’77) made a compelling “return on investment” case for scholarship donations by sharing his experience creating a scholarship program for students with military experience.
He said it started with his belief that military veterans could excel as contributors to the Darden student experience and that the School could attract more of these prospective students. Strangfeld credited the School’s leadership for engaging with him and developing a three-pronged strategy to make it happen. The third prong was scholarships for military veterans, and Strangfeld established a scholarship fund for military students at Darden in 2005. Since then, bolstered by additional gifts from Strangfeld, the fund has supported 40 scholarships for military students. A recent planned gift by Strangfeld will ensure the School has resources to support the military community for years to come.
“We had this hypothesis, but the reality is the students proved it out. They proved how strong the strategy was for attracting another stream of students from a different walk of life to be a part of the whole Darden experience,” Strangfeld said. “We have had over the last 15 years nearly 400 students with military backgrounds attend Darden. That’s an amazing number.”
Strangfeld drew an ovation when he announced that he had just learned one of the early Strangfeld scholars recently made a seven-figure donation to create a new full scholarship to attend Darden.
“The idea is that the full circle is great,” Strangfeld said. “How you choose to approach it is up to your own individual ideas.”
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 17,000 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.
Associate Director, Editorial & Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia