The Forum Hotel: A Year of Transformative Experiences at Darden

By David Buie-Moltz

One Thursday in February, amidst the bustling ambiance of The Forum Hotel’s vibrant lobby, groups of First Year students in “Financial Management and Policies” huddled over laptops. They weren’t there for coffee and conversation; they were orchestrating a merger negotiation simulation — a testament to the real-world applications of their rigorous curriculum. This scene, unfolding within the walls of the year-old on-Grounds hotel, vividly captures the transformative educational experiences that define Darden. 

“The Forum has become an indispensable part of how we teach, learn and connect,” says Professor Tim Laseter (MBA ’84, Ph.D. ’03), a frequent hotel user both as an instructor and patron. “Frankly, it’s my favorite investment in expanding the Darden Grounds since I first arrived as a student over 40 years ago.” 

The Forum hosted over 90 Darden events in its first 10 months, fulfilling its pivotal role in enriching the student and faculty experience. Additionally, it welcomed the wider University community, hosting about 80 UVA events from Virginia Athletics Foundation pre-games to academic and networking events for the School of Law and School of Medicine. 

Darden students gather in the ballroom of The Forum Hotel. (Photo by Andrew Shurtleff.)

Fostering Beloved Traditions and Sparking New Ones 

Another Thursday at The Forum, this time in November, saw the spirit of Thanksgiving envelop its grand ballroom. The annual international student Thanksgiving dinner drew 240 guests. Once constrained by space, the celebration thrives in The Forum’s expansive setting. 

“The Forum is more than a hotel,” says Rob Weiler, president of the Darden School Foundation. “It’s a gathering place that bridges cultures and fosters community.” 

First Year sections now have welcome dinners at The Forum, larger gatherings Darden couldn’t accommodate before the hotel’s opening. These dinners, symbolizing the start of many cohorts’ academic journeys, are poised to become a cherished part of the Darden experience. 

Adjacent to The Forum, the Arboretum & LaCross Botanical Gardens have quickly become a favorite for the Darden community and the wider University. The outdoor classroom amphitheater has already hosted classes, concerts and other gatherings. It’s one of several spaces near The Forum offering unique opportunities for connection and learning in the beauty of nature. 

"The Forum has become an indispensable part of how we teach, learn and connect."
Professor Tim Laseter (MBA ’84, Ph.D. ’03)

Serendipitous Encounters and Global Conversations 

“Serendipitous encounters at The Forum often lead to moments of learning and inspiration,” Laseter notes, highlighting a unique ecosystem where academia and industry intersect seamlessly. He organizes a wide range of events at the hotel, including the Darden Reading Society for faculty and staff; a cross-disciplinary faculty Web3 Conclave; celebratory gatherings for Executive and Full-Time MBAs in the Global Client Projects course; classes for Executive Education & Lifelong Learning (EELL); as well as dinners and breakfasts with alumni. Additionally, executive speakers featured in his courses often stay at the hotel. 

“Darden’s mission is about fostering leaders who can make a difference in the world,” says Darden Dean Scott Beardsley. “The Forum enables us to bring world leaders to our doorstep, enriching our community’s understanding and engagement with global issues. The facility and botanical gardens are also open to all members of our Charlottesville and UVA community.” 

Darden Professor Kim Whitler and NCAA President Charlie Baker at The Forum Hotel. (Photo by Jack Looney.)

One evening in January, attendees gathered to hear NCAA President Charlie Baker conversing with Professor Kim Whitler, showcasing The Forum’s capacity to host nationally relevant conversations, drawing students, faculty and the broader community into meaningful dialogue. Additionally, the hotel hosted last year’s International Symposium on Forecasting traditionally held in cosmopolitan locations such as Dijon, France, and Beijing positioning Darden and Charlottesville in the same conversation for influential business conferences. 

Elevating Recruitment and Networking 

Recruitment at Darden continues to evolve, with The Forum playing a significant role. Notable companies such as Bain, BCG, CoStar, McKinsey, Wells Fargo and Bechtel Enterprises have leveraged the hotel’s spaces for various events, including office hours, happy hours, speakers and roundtable discussions. While it has become a preferred venue for some, the hotel is part of a broader ecosystem for recruitment activities. Recruiters utilize a combination of venues at The Forum and around Charlottesville, tailoring their approach to enhance the recruitment experience for Darden students and employers alike. 

"The Forum is more than a hotel. It's a gathering place that bridges cultures and fosters community."
Darden School Foundation President Rob Weiler

A Home for Diverse Degree Formats and Lifelong Learning 

Darden students walk through the Arboretum & LaCross Botanical Gardens. (Photo by Andrew Shurtleff.)

The Forum has swiftly become a pivotal home for Darden’s varied educational paths. It offers a welcoming space in Charlottesville for the Executive MBA, Part-Time MBA and Master of Science in Business Analytics programs. Despite these programs’ primary operations out of the Sands Family Grounds in Rosslyn, Virginia, the hotel hosts numerous residencies, allowing students to immerse in the rich academic life on the Goodwin Family Grounds in Charlottesville.

Impressively, The Forum facilitated an “All Darden” welcome event last fall, uniting over 550 incoming students from all program formats, including the Full-Time MBA, to commence their Darden experience. This unique gathering underscored the hotel’s significance as a vibrant nexus for the School’s educational programs. 

In addition to serving degree-seeking students, The Forum has been instrumental for EELL participants, hosting many in-person programs and engaging hundreds of professionals. This arrangement has been highly praised by participants, who navigate between the academic rigor of the Classroom Building and the residential comfort of The Forum. The phrase “up the hill and down the hill” has become a fond expression, symbolizing the seamless integration of learning and living that The Forum facilitates.  In the first 10 months of the hotel’s operation, EELL participants have logged nearly 6,400 room nights. 

Ashley Williams, CEO and chief learning officer of Darden EELL, comments on this unique dynamic: “The Forum Hotel and the Arboretum & LaCross Botanical Gardens provide world-class facilities and amenities that enhance the Darden learning experience. Lifelong Learning participants are thrilled with the ability to leverage the robust opportunities for learning and community building that the entire Darden Grounds now offers.” 

Darden students gather before an event at The Forum Hotel. (Photo by Jack Looney.)

A Sustainable Financial Model 

As The Forum celebrates its first anniversary, this  architectural marvel has achieved many of its strategic goals. It creates a dynamic learning environment, hosts enriching academic and professional development events, delivers unparalleled hospitality experiences, enhances Darden’s brand and mission, and provides competitive spaces for degree programs. The hotel is also LEED certified and eco-friendly, helping Darden garner a No. 2 global ranking in carbon footprint from the Financial Times.

Beyond these achievements, The Forum’s financial model is a beacon of sustainability. “All excess economic proceeds from The Forum are invested back into Darden’s mission, ensuring we can continue to support excellence in our students and faculty,” Weiler explains. 

Beardsley adds, “The vision has always been that by 2050, the hotel will be fully paid for, and thus a long-term endowment worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the Darden School. So far, we are more than on track versus our investment business case.”

"The Forum name was chosen to reflect my parents’ vision for Darden — a dynamic space for converging ideas, forging leaders and community collaboration."
Frank M. Sands (MBA '94)

Empowering the Future Through Philanthropy 

The hotel was propelled by the vision and generosity of Frank Sands Sr. (MBA ’63) and his wife, Marjorie, whose $20 million naming gift in 2019 inspired over 100 additional donors. “The collective support for The Forum underscores our community’s belief in Darden’s mission and its future,” says Frank M. Sands (MBA ’94), chair of the Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees. 

“The Forum name was chosen to reflect my parents’ vision for Darden — a dynamic space for converging ideas, forging leaders and community collaboration,” Sands explains. “They envisioned it standing at Darden’s heart, like ancient forums central to civic engagement. It embodies their hope for Darden: a place for vibrant discussion, learning and idea exchange to prepare the next generation of leaders.” 

Darden students walk from The Forum Hotel. (Photo by Andrew Shurtleff.)

Significant naming opportunities in The Forum and surrounding Arboretum & LaCross Botanical Gardens invite future benefactors to join this story of innovation, community building and educational excellence. Darden hopes to raise an additional $20 million in philanthropy for the project, and several iconic spaces are available for naming, such as the Conference Center for Executive Education and Lifelong Learning, ballroom and beautiful outdoor spaces. 

More than just routine, each day at The Forum is a step forward in shaping tomorrow’s leaders, securing its place in Darden’s legacy as a bastion of educational excellence, propelled by the spirit of generosity and hospitality. 

Learn more about naming opportunities. For tailored guidance, contact Deputy Vice President for Advancement Samantha Hartog at +1-434-981-4025 or 

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.


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