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Plugging Into Silicon Valley: Darden Forges Relationships With Players in Tech

Representatives of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business returned recently from a visit to Silicon Valley, the school’s third trek to visit U.S. technology hubs in 12 months.

The “tech treks” are a key component of Darden’s strengthening relationships with the tech industry and its position as a thought leader. Given the rapid pace of change in technology and in its leading players, Darden faculty members use the trips to stay close to alumni and practitioners in the industry and develop new courses, cases and research on the issues they face.

A significant portion of June’s Silicon Valley trek focused on education. Vivek Wadhwa, vice president of innovations and research at Singularity University, a California-based institution dedicated to promoting “exponential” technological change, discussed with the group the evolution of technology and its effect on education.

Using examples such as the innovative Google car and emerging drone technology, Wadhwa – recently recognized by Time magazine in its list of the most influential minds in tech – emphasized how technological innovations will be used to solve many world problems, including energy crises, poverty, pollution and global warming, within our collective lifetimes.

Technology will also have a major impact on education, he said, noting the emergence of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Darden has launched three such courses over the past five months, with two more slated for the fall.

The exponential rate of change in technology offers great opportunity for Darden students to deliver immediate impact in the field and for Darden faculty to share their expertise in strategy, design thinking, business ethics and entrepreneurship, said Mike Lenox, executive director Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The institute seeks to improve society by creating knowledge about the transformative power of entrepreneurship and innovation and by cultivating responsible, entrepreneurial leaders. Lenox will spend a month on the West Coast this summer, working with Stanford University faculty and students, connecting with Darden alumni in the Bay Area and working with tech companies.

Everette Fortner, Darden’s executive director for professional development, said that it is important to establish strong partnerships with big and small companies in Silicon Valley, as they are thought leaders and places of interest for Darden students and faculty.

Several Darden faculty, including Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education Erika James and professors Martin Davidson and Ed Hess, joined Fortner on the June trip.

“Faculty are key to the long-term vitality of our relationships with corporations,” Fortner said. “Our alumni are our on-the-ground advocates every day inside their companies. All these efforts combine to make a real difference.”

Locke Ogens, executive director for strategic relations, added, “A dinner hosted by Centerview Capital Partner Ned Hooper, a 1994 Darden alumnus and member of the Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees, provided the opportunity for Darden Dean Bob Bruner, senior Silicon Valley alumni and other school leaders to discuss Darden’s West Coast initiatives and plan activities over the next year – expanding recruiting relationships with technology companies and enhancing the current incubator relationship with Plug & Play – that will provide the opportunity for students and faculty to engage directly in the Silicon Valley ecosystem. This targeted strategic engagement will allow the school to develop significant new relationships and also allow for regular and meaningful interaction with existing Darden alumni and supporters on the West Coast.”

Fortner said networking is the greatest challenge for nontraditional MBA students, who pursue careers outside of areas MBA graduates frequently enter, such as consulting, investment banking or traditional corporate jobs.

“To get jobs in technology, the students must make themselves known to our alumni and to the companies,” he said. “With help from the Darden Career Development Center, students must create multiple opportunities to visit the West Coast over their two-year experience at Darden so that they can demonstrate their knowledge and passion.”

For students interested in working in the field of technology, Fortner and Peter Rodriguez, senior associate dean of MBA programs, are brainstorming about the possibility of leading a group of Darden students to Silicon Valley next spring break. In hopes for a “domestic” business exchange, modeled after Darden’s Global Business Experiences, the trip will focus on technology on the West Coast.

“The sky is the limit for the outcomes that can occur through the relationships forged between Silicon Valley and Darden,” Fortner said.

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