3 UVA Darden Graduates Named ‘MBAs to Watch’
By Molly Mitchell
The business education-focused online publication and industry go-to Poets & Quants in September announced its Class of 2022 MBAs to Watch list, featuring three graduates of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business: Sharon Zhou (MBA ’22), Katie Winebarger (MBA ’22) and Grant Guess (MBA ’22).
The COVID-19 pandemic continued to upend the experiences of MBAs last year, and students who rose to the challenge and worked to build connection with their peers stood out. According to the article, “As COVID razed cultures by separating students and canceling popular traditions, the MBAs To Watch weren’t holed up and hiding out. They were reaching out and finding alternatives. They weren’t clamoring for credit— or even anything in return. For that, they earned their peers’ esteem.”
Read the full profiles on Poets & Quants and excerpts below.
Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Working with the GBCC Board to bring back an in-person Global Food Festival in the beginning of our Second Year! Since none of the Board members had experienced the Global Food Festival in-person due to COVID restrictions in our first year, it was a lot of trial and error, and working as a team to figure out a path forward. We had an amazing turnout for the event – nearly 30 countries’ cuisines and cultures were represented – the students showcased their talents through impressive performances. More than 400 students, partners and faculty members attended – it was a fantastic day!
What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Designing and implementing HR policies in a newly formed post-acquisition organization. It was the largest and most impactful project that I’ve led so far, and the complexity, sensitivity, and sheer amount of work helped me learn and grow a lot as a HR professional. This project taught me the importance of perseverance and served as a great opportunity to test my resilience – the outcome was very successful, and I was awarded regional “Employee of the Year” as a recognition.
Why did you choose this business school? The community. During my in-person visit to Darden before applying, I immediately felt that this is such a warm and welcoming community. Over time, I realized that the community is, to a large extent, what the students make it to be (Darden in many ways is a student-run place). During my time at Darden, I’ve met some great people who are open to share their stories, and hear what others have to say; they are some amazing people who always strive to make the whole MBA experience better for their peers and for the first years. To me, this is what makes Darden such a special place in my heart, and it validates my reason of choosing it in the first place.
How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? At the most basic level, it helped me to see the possibility of a future with hybrid work. Personally, I’m a big fan of work flexibility – I believe that when someone can choose the best set-up (location, routine, time off, etc.) for their work, they become more effective, creative, and add more value to a team. I’m truly hopeful that more and more employers will start to recognize the intrinsic differences among employees’ needs and allow them the flexibility to choose what works best for them.
Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my FinTech Club launching Darden’s first ever FinTech Conference, with the theme of “Re-imagining Financial Equity.” My passion for financial access and democratization was a huge reason I pursued my MBA. The ability to work with such an aligned group of people, equally committed to equity within the financial services sector to realign our club and spread our shared passion with the entire Darden student body, has been an incredibly rewarding experience!
Why did you choose this business school? I chose Darden for personal and academic reasons. First, I wanted a school with a strong core curriculum and a case method classroom so that I could learn from my incredible classmates and strengthen my own communication skills and learning style. Second, after living in Germany and then San Francisco after undergrad, it is a huge perk to be within a 5-hour drive of my family for the first time in almost a decade.
What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about Darden is that the rigorous academics take away from the business school experience. Instead, it has been one of the most enriching aspects. I’ve walked away from every course with not only a ton of newly-acquired knowledge, but also an immense (and humbling) appreciation for how much I have yet to learn, and excitement for continuing that journey over the rest of my life.
What surprised you the most about business school? I talk to a lot of prospective students about “first order“ and “second order” learning at Darden. “First order” learning being the curriculum, and “second order” learning being all the skills that come along with the process – time management, resourcefulness, boundaries, etc. I expected that at Darden I’d maximize the “first order” learning as the most valuable part of the experience. But I’ve been surprised that the “second order” learning has been the most valuable and transformative part of this entire experience. They are the skills that will stick with me long after (I can always google “double-decline depreciation”, right?).
Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Dressing up as Bob Ross and leading a “Happy Little Accidents” painting class. First Year at Darden is known to be challenging, but the pandemic took it to a whole new level. In an effort to spark joy into people’s days, I worked with second year students Lee Gilbert and Cheyenne Johnson of the Resilience Initiative, Darden’s mental health and wellness club, to host a Bob Ross Paint Night over Zoom. We dropped off canvases, paint, and brushes at school for people to pick up after class and painted some “happy little trees” over Zoom later that night. It was such a hit that we hosted it again this year!
What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Being open with colleagues about mental health. I wasn’t in-tune with my thoughts and emotions when I graduated from UCLA. I didn’t know how to express how I was feeling to myself, let alone others. I opened up about my struggles with anxiety to some of my colleagues at my first job and while it was scary; it helped me to understand the value of being vulnerable. I have continued to be vulnerable about mental health whenever possible.
Why did you choose this business school? Location and people. I love the outdoors, so Charlottesville was a perfect fit. I can hike, fish, and kayak within 30 minutes of leaving my apartment. My favorite places to visit are Wintergreen and Sugar Hollow. As for people, every single person I talked to in the interview process treated me like a long-lost friend. From the receptionist at the front desk of the old Darden Inn to my second- year interviewer, I felt at home throughout the duration of the application process.
What surprised you the most about business school? How much the professors care about their students. I think this is what makes Darden such a special place. I went bowling with Max Biggs (Data Analysis Professor), made gumbo and tasted bourbon with Paul Matherne (Healthcare Professor), cooked crawfish with Jeanne Liedtka (Design Thinking Professor), and ate insanely hot wings with Sean Martin (Leadership Professor) and Elena Loutskina (Finance Professor).
In June, Poets & Quants named Isabel Fortuno Seitzer (MBA ’22) in their annual 100 Best & Brightest MBAs series.
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.
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