Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at 3pm

Student Feedback Inspires Changes to Darden MBA: MBA News

Changes to the Darden MBA

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business has added a new seven-week experiential learning project to its full-time MBA program, as one of two substantial changes to its flagship degree.

The use of experiential learning projects to give students a handle on responding to real-life challenges is, by now, widespread among leading business schools. However, less common is to make them compulsory, and in the first year of a two-year program – as is the case with this new addition to the Darden MBA. The course will tap into the increasingly entrepreneurial focus of modern business education by making innovative and design thinking approaches to problem-solving its main focus.

Innovation focus to new experiential learning project

The tilt towards innovation in an experiential learning segment is said to come "in response to the  changing landscape of skills required to be a successful leader," according to Mike Lenox, associate dean for innovation programs at Darden and academic director of the school’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

"Our world needs innovative solutions to open-ended problems, and we want to equip our students with the tools they need to innovate the future,” Lenox added. 

The course, ‘Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship in Action’ - which translates to the neat and entrepreneurially-minded acronym, IDEA - will see teams of Darden MBA students link up with partners from the corporate, governmental and nonprofit spheres. 

“Students will gain new tools that they will apply to their specific challenges. These tools emphasize a problem-solution-experiment cycle that can be rapidly iterated,” Lenox says of the course's intended outcome.

The second new initiative Darden MBA students enrolling this fall can expect to see is the Darden Academy, a program that will offer a changing roster of optional extras designed to enrich students' knowledge of topics that may be of individual interest, or simply an opportunity to make the most the school's campus culture and interact further with fellow Darden School students and faculty.

No specific examples of topics are given for now, with the school planning to source ideas from student proposals and the work of its research centers. However, opportunities for self-reflection on what it means to be a leader and the responsibilities that come with a senior role are certain to feature. As with the experiential learning project, the Academy is to be integrated into the first year of the Darden School's MBA program.

Darden School looking to 'co-create' with its students

Minor alterations to MBA programs, based on the speed with which the business landscape can change as well as the development of new learning techniques and approaches, are typical among leading business school, with some schools changing their offerings every year. However, Marc Lipson, associate dean of the Darden MBA, believes that this year's changes are more far-reaching:

 “Each year, we enhance the program in small ways based on student feedback and innovations in business and higher education, but this past year has been a period of more substantial review and innovation.”

Interestingly, both these additions to the Darden MBA are said to derive from student feedback at a time when initiatives elsewhere have often looked primarily to employers for insights into how best to prepare cohorts for management careers in the real world. But, paying due consideration to students' needs and interests will surely help ensure that motivation levels remain high throughout the program.     

“At the end of the day, we are here to present opportunities that help our students realize their full potential as responsible, entrepreneurial and global leaders and learners,” says Darden's senior associate dean of degree programs, Peter Rodriguez: “These two enhancements to the MBA experience were developed in collaboration with Darden students. We know that if we listen carefully to our students and co-create with them, we will deliver on our goal to continue delivering the most compelling graduate management education experience available today.”

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Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).