State of the School: Darden Reaches $400 Million Campaign Milestone to Mark Historic Reunion Weekend
By David Hendrick
The annual Reunion Weekend at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business rode a wave of momentum, with School leaders and alumni celebrating multiple historic events in the span of a few days.
The Darden community celebrated not only the opening of The Forum Hotel on Darden Grounds but also the completion of the first milestone in the Powered by Purpose campaign, an impressive $400 million raised more than two years ahead of schedule, with a second milestone called “Faculty Forward” on the way to energize the campaign through 2025.
Alumni returning to Darden couldn’t help but notice the dramatic enhancement to Grounds at The Forum Hotel, which was the setting for a grand opening celebration on the cusp of Reunion Weekend. Although known as The Forum Hotel, the property is officially designated the Frank M. Sands Sr. and Marjorie R. Sands Hotel at Darden and Conference Center for Lifelong Learning, recognizing the foundational gift from Frank Sands Sr. (MBA ’63) and his wife, Marjorie Sands. An adjacent arboretum and botanical gardens will open in October.
The new property, which is owned by the Darden School Foundation and managed by Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, served as the setting for a series of events and celebrations over the course of the weekend, including a surprise announcement upon the realization of a historic fundraising mark.
“Please join me in celebrating you, our Darden alumni, and our faculty, staff and students for this remarkable accomplishment,” Darden School Foundation Interim President Carolyn Miles (MBA ’88) said during the School’s State of the School presentation on 29 April. With the first milestone complete, the theme of the next two years of the campaign is “Faculty Forward,” as the School seeks to strengthen the capabilities of the world’s best business school professors.
Including matching funds and those held outside Darden, the campaign has had a total impact of roughly $500 million and seen a remarkable 70 percent alumni participation, Miles said. The campaign offers critical support to initiatives to support faculty excellence, scholarships and the student experience, Darden Grounds and the Darden Annual Fund, among other priorities.
State of the School ‘Strong,’ Beardsley Says
Darden Dean Scott Beardsley detailed the School’s progress toward its strategic priorities, and said the School had emerged from the pandemic in a stronger state.
“We said that if we stayed the course and invested in our strategic priorities, with the support of our community, we could emerge stronger on the other side, and we have,” Beardsley said, “but there is still important work left to do to achieve the mission and full potential of Darden.”
The dean spoke of the need to continue to invest in faculty, particularly as the School undergoes a generational shift and expands to meet the growing needs of the institution.
“We must continue to attract excellent staff and faculty talent to ensure that Darden continues to have the world’s best faculty in graduate business education,” Beardsley said.
On a day when the School honored retiring Dean Emeritus Bob Bruner for his 41 years of service, Beardsley emphasized the importance and impact of each of Darden’s world-class faculty members, and asked the audience to consider what it might take to attract and retain the next Bob Bruner at the Darden School.
1,200 Students Now Learning at Darden
Darden continues to attract incredible students, Beardsley said, noting that more than 1,200 degree-seeking learners are now enrolled in Charlottesville and Rosslyn, Virginia, between the Full-Time, Part-Time and Executive MBA programs and Master of Science in Business Analytics program. While the Darden student body has set records for excellence in recent years, Beardsley said the uncertain economy and the total cost of attendance for an MBA makes the decision to pursue a degree a difficult one for many students.
“It’s important to note that we face challenging headwinds to recruit the best and brightest students and to have them leave without the heavy burden of debt,” Beardsley said.
While the ROI of a Darden education remains excellent, scholarships and need-based aid are critical components of attracting the best students from around the world.
Beardsley spoke just days after the grand opening of The Forum Hotel, which he said will enhance Darden’s mission and education experience and serve as a home base for MBA students in Charlottesville for residencies and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning.
“We also hope it brings you great memories and joy,” Beardsley told the returning alumni. “It’s for Darden, and it’s for you.”
Thanking the alumni for their support, Beardsley noted that even with the first milestone achieved, the School has “more to do” ahead of the conclusion of the Powered by Purpose campaign in 2025.
“Darden’s focus continues to be on raising funding to support excellence and position the school for decades of success,” Beardsley said.
Other events over the weekend included the presentation of the Abbott Award to Jim Cooper (MBA ’84), several faculty and alumni panels, and various class events and engagements.
Following the dean’s State of the School update, attendees were treated to a special presentation from Bruner, who offered a short case filled with cold calls and enduring lessons.
Welcoming Bruner to the stage, Beardsley lauded the former dean for his countless accomplishments, gracious mentorship, as well as “raising the bar for Darden on every dimension you can imagine” during his 10-year deanship.
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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