Darden’s DC Metro Campus in Rosslyn, Virginia
Parker Lapeyre, 31, is in that space where a full-time, residential MBA didn’t make very much sense. An i-banking associate at an M&A boutique in Washington, D.C., he already had the job that many MBA graduates would want, having spent nearly five years in asset management at J.P. Morgan, moving up from analyst to associate.
But in the back of his mind, he always wanted an MBA degree ever since 2014 when he graduated with his master’s in finance from Louisiana State University. “My career just got away from me,” says Lapeyre, who also has a bachelor’s in economics from Louisiana State. “I got to the point where if I quit and went to school for two years, I would earn as much as I earn now.”
Then, he noticed that the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business had just announced its first part-time MBA program on its satellite campus in Rosslyn, Virginia, right across the Potomac River from D.C. “When Darden came out with this program, I had a double take. I could go to a top school, keep my job, and do an MBA with the case method. It was a no-brainer for me.”
‘IT WAS LIKE A SIGN FROM THE UNIVERSE’
Cindy Kang, 27, a senior manager at a defense strategic consulting firm, had a similar reaction. “When I saw Darden was opening a D.C. location for a part-time MBA, it was like a sign from the universe,” says Kang,
She graduated from George Washington University at the beginning of the pandemic when most new jobs were on hold and ended up staying for a fintech certificate. Kang had worked for a human performance consulting startup for five and one-half years. “I hope to pivot into the fintech space with my MBA,” she says. “I always knew I wanted to go the entrepreneurial route but I didn’t know when.” She explored several programs, including NYU Stern and MIT Sloan. “I spoke to the admissions people there, and I couldn’t get off the call fast enough. It was a completely different experience at Darden,” says Kang, singling out Brett Twitty, managing director of admissions for Darden’s professional degree programs.
Both Lapeyre and Kang are now classmates in the very first cohort of 68 students in Darden’s part-time MBA program that began last month with a week-long residency at UVA’s campus in Charlottesville. The new program allows Darden to tap into the Washington, D.C., market beyond its already existing Executive MBA plays there. It also makes Darden only the sixth school ranked in the top 12 to offer a part-time MBA option.
A PART-TIME PROGRAM IN THE NATION’S CAPITOL IS A NO-BRAINER FOR DARDEN
Yael Grushka-Cockayne, senior associate dean for professional degree programs at Darden
The D.C. metro area is also a no-brainer for Darden. The largest single group of UVA alumni reside in the region, a natural source of prospective graduate students for the business school. “A part-time program adds flexibility and optionality to the MBA,” explains Yael Grushka-Cockayne, senior associate dean for professional degree programs at Darden. “It allows some students who in the past couldn’t take the time off to have an MBA experience.”
The UVA Darden DC Metro campus, which opened in 2018, also allowed the school to establish a strong base in the area. “We’ve been operating out of Rosslyn for a few years so we understand the dynamics of their jobs,” adds Grushka-Cockayne who also teaches data science and project management. “We feel more at home. With that, we can afford to expand our capability in the area. Where we find ourselves today, folks want flexibility. The job market is such that not everyone feels they can walk away from it. There are a lot of opportunities. People want to continue their momentum and grow. And that’s great. The part-time program allows them to get an MBA, invest in themselves and also stay on their career trajectory. The pandemic had a lot of negativity that affected all of us in unfortunate ways. But on the upside, we’re more flexible, online learning is better, and the technology to deliver it is better so more students can embrace it and join us.”
That line of reasoning resonates with several of the newly enrolled students. Katie Housel, a senior accountant at The Carlyle Group in D.C., has largely worked in accounting since graduating with her master’s in the field from Villanova University in 2010. “With the pandemic,” she says, “I had something of an existential crisis. I felt I was starting to find my way in business and I wanted a more holistic background in business.”
CONTACT HOURS WITH FACULTY IN PART-TIME PROGRAM EQUAL TO DARDEN’S RESIDENTIAL MBA
Similarly, Onur Kapucu has spent all of his professional career in software engineering, first at Whirlpool Corp. and then at an aviation and aerospace component maker. “I knew that I have a tendency to look at the bigger picture,” says Kapucu, who earned his master’s in mechanical engineering from Michigan State University in 2014. “I want to oversee the interactions in product management, strategy, or operations, and I was waiting for the right time but knew that would never come. My manager thought I was ready and then I found out that Darden was launching a part-time MBA. I wanted to go to a top-ranked school, and I like the case study approach to learning.”
In designing the new program, the Darden faculty wanted to leverage the key elements of the school’s MBA that have allowed it to be ranked first in the world for overall educational experience by The Economist for many years. “It’s important to us that students who graduate from the part-time program have an MBA that feels like a Darden MBA experience,” says Grushka-Cockayne. “So we kept our cohort model where folks march through the core curriculum of the program, learn from each other and are inspired by their classmates. They are taught by a Socratic case-study method by the same faculty who teach in our full-time and Executive MBA programs.”
She notes that the “contact hours” with faculty are exactly the same for the part-time program as they are with the full-time program. “We have a core that lasts about a year and one-half with the same core classes in the same sequence as the residential program, just slower paced,” she adds. “And the last year and one half is more flexible. Students can take more or fewer electives at any time. They can take an extra year if they need to or they can speed it up. You get the cohort experience in the core, and in the electives, they can have a more customizable path, catering it to their needs.”
Katie Housel, a senior accountant at The Carlyle Group, is in the first part-time MBA cohort at UVA Darden
ROUGHLY 60% OF THE PROGRAM IS IN-PERSON, WITH THE REST ONLINE
Darden allows part-timers to complete the degree in as little as 28 months or as long as 48 months. The standard pacing for the program will likely be roughly 33 months. The schedule alternates between in-person and virtual weeks, with in-person classes delivered at UVA Darden DC Metro. Class sessions will occur on Monday and Thursday evenings from 6–9:30 p.m. Students will typically have two, 75-minute class sessions per evening. In general, students should expect two weeks of in-person instruction and two weeks of virtual delivery per month in the academic calendar. Overall, roughly 60% of the program is delivered in person once you add in two in-residence weeks in Charlottesville.
“We gave serious thought to the cadence within a specific quarter, with twice-a-week classes in two courses at a time. The format is called part-time but it’s anything but that. It’s a full-time job and studies for the students and it’s important for us to think about that when we make decisions. We were trying to arrange for a cadence so it’s predictable and flexible at the same time and students can plan around that. If folks have jobs that require travel, they have a week when it is all online and they can take their classes from anywhere in the world.”
Grushka-Cockayne says Darden wanted to create a program that allows students to balance their personal and professional lives but it is hardly a cakewalk. “There is nothing light to this. A core class meets 14 sessions in the residential and has the same meeting times in the part-time program. It’s delivered in the evening instead of the morning. And we thought very hard about connecting them to the Charlottesville community and also getting a global perspective. So the program starts here for a week here and then at the end of their core, about 30 months into the program, they will come back for another week. And that is an optional opportunity for a global trip abroad.”
‘I NOW HAVE 68 NEW FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES TO LEAN ON’
Students in this first class have an average age of 27, with five to six years of full-time work experience, not dissimilar to most top full-time MBA programs. Most students live within 15 and 20 miles of the region, making it easy to attend those face-to-face class sessions. Among the initial group of 68 students are an anesthesiologist, government workers, non-profit staffers and your standard bevy of consultants, investment bankers, and engineers.
After the first residential week, students were giving the start a thumbs up. “They care about your physical and mental health, not just academics,” thought Housel, who admittedly arrived on campus feeling anxious but excited and left believing she couldn’t have asked for a more positive experience. “I now have 68 new friends and colleagues to lean on and go through this. It’s exciting to be back on campus.”
“It was fun and exactly what I was expecting from this experience,” adds Kapucu.
“It was dynamic with lots of ah-ha moments,” says Lapeyre after coming out of a case discussion on Sparta Glass Products that delved into pricing decisions. “Every single person here is brilliant and personable. They did a great job in putting this class together.”
He gave Darden the ultimate compliment: “It doesn’t feel this is the first time the school is doing this program. It feels very well put together, and it’s been very smooth.”
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