In the Blink of an Eye, Term 1 is Over and Fall is Here!

Darden’s MBA for Executives is a two-year, full time program with two fall and spring semesters, each divided into two terms, and a summer term. We’re just over half-way done with the first fall semester which meant Term 1 exams. I’ve always loved tests. High school and college, I rarely stressed about taking an exam and was an expert at cramming loads of information in the days preceding finals. But Darden is different. If you hit the point that you think you need to cram for these tests, you’re probably in trouble.

The reason is simply the way the curriculum works. Darden’s case method of teaching puts students in the application phase of every learning aspect, unlike the lecture, take notes, answer questions, cram method. By being completely engaged in the work each class, the learning is incremental and really sticks. The former Dean of the Darden School of Business, Rob Bruner, actually posted a wonderful blog entry in the days before our Term 1 exams:  On Exams:  “Why don’t we just TELL them what they need to know?” He claimed that “Simply “telling” is incomplete and a low return on the students’ investment of time, effort, and money.” The way our professors continually ask us why things are happening, how we would proceed, and why did we make that decision forces us to engage a part of the brain that makes the learning really sink in.

So going into this round of exams, I enjoyed not feeling like I needed to cram or refresh. I truly believed I knew the material and was ready to go (which definitely does not mean that I crushed the exams — we still don’t have our grades back, but I’m not terribly concerned). That’s a credit to my professors, my learning team, and my cohort. As for the tests themselves… three courses, each having exams that took me between 4 and 5 hours to complete, plus a two-page action learning paper describing how I’ve applied a concept from class in my day job.

As probably common with the executive format, exam week was stressful because of my outside-of-Darden life. The day exams opened (Darden allows student take home exams without the need for proctors, all powered on the University of Virginia’s famous honor code), I travelled to Kansas City, MO, to officiate my best friend’s wedding. It was a beautiful weekend; I’m so happy Nick and Erin made it official and I got to be a part of it!! While not necessarily a travel blog entry, I highly recommend visiting Kansas City and plan to make it back before too long! We only had a morning to sight see, but was very impressed with downtown. We had brunch at a cute little place called Happy Gillis Cafe, then toured the Belger Arts Center‘s Crane Yard Gallery and Studios, and topped it off with burnt ends and craft beer at Cinder Block Brewery. I posted a few of the pics here – 201510 – Kansas City, MO.

Nick Hughes and Erin Clark wedding in Kansas City
Nick and Erin were married in a beautiful ceremony in Nick’s brother’s yard just north of KCMO.

Work that week was also particularly stressful as I had multiple projects I was trying to complete at the same time. I had this grand idea I may try to take a day off to get the tests done, but that never happened. I left work a few hours early a few days, but got completely distracted with family and home obligations. But as it got closer to crunch time, I cleared my Thursday and Friday evening, and my Saturday morning to get it done. But I know I wasn’t the only one:  one of my classmates spent most of the week in Saudi Arabia for a business trip only to return to a major development with his company occupying much of his time. But the lesson here… we’re all busy people and this class is still workable! The case method allowed us to go into the test confidently without the need to cram for hours; it was just a matter of making the time to get the actual tests completed.

Once the week was over, I still had a good weekend left to decompose… oh wait, no I didn’t. We jumped right into Term 2:  accounting, economics part 2, and business ethics. Before heading right into the books, I actually realized fall is in full effect here in Charlottesville.

Fall colors showing along the Rivanna River at Darden Towe Park in Charlottesville.
Fall colors showing along the Rivanna River at Darden Towe Park in Charlottesville.

My girlfriend, her brother, the dogs, and I took a nice little hike in town. One of my favorite things about Charlottesville is how close the city and nature intertwine. The park we chose was just miles from downtown, yet felt like we were nowhere near the city. The fresh, crisp air and getting a little exercise was just what I needed. It reminded me that the one thing I’ve been neglecting since I returned from Afghanistan last June has been exercise. When juggling this many things in life, it’s easy to write off gym time, but ironically, that may be the one thing I need the most now to relieve some of that stress! I’ll work on that next week!

Term 2 is now in full swing. I may be procrastinating on reviewing the upcoming week’s distance sessions, which our learning team will be going over together tomorrow night, to write this post.

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