A few weeks ago, a team from Darden won MIT Sloan’s EdTech Case Competition. I was fortunate to be a part of this team with my classmates Sarah Sanchez, Arsh Ghuman and Ayush Bharti. The competition was not only a lot of fun but a great learning experience for all of us. While my engagements as a consultant to the DC Public School Systems had required me to apply my functional skill sets to solve educational challenges in the past, the case competition allowed me to work with individuals from a broad range of backgrounds as we strived to solve a common challenge. It’s only fitting that the guest post on this subject is written by the former teacher in the group – Sarah. The post is also a very informative read for all the non-traditional applicants who are in the process of determining how they will leverage their skills in more traditional roles post business school. Without further ado, here’s Sarah:
When I started business school eight months ago, my non-traditional background as a Teach For America teacher turned community ed reformer led me to seek every bit of “real” business experience I could find. This determination – to extend myself and truly learn – is part of why I chose Darden. The strong, broad, core curriculum and the case method forces every student to be engaged and prepared for class. Part of the reason I chose to go to business school was to pivot from the education sector to the business sector. While I knew my passion for ed reform would reside within me forever, I felt ready to spread my wings, flex my muscles, and apply everything I’d learned to an entirely new sector.
I felt I had struck a balance between staying connected to a movement I hold close to my heart and exploring a new arena for the majority of my first year, until I received an invitation to participate in a case competition with my section-mate, Rohan Poojara. Despite my best efforts to differentiate myself from education, my comments in the 8 months of class we shared must have given away my passion for correcting issues affecting children without access to quality education (sorry I’m not sorry) because Rohan reached out to ask me to be on his EdTech case competition team. After about 1.2 moments of hesitation, I agreed to enter MIT Sloan’s EdTech Case Competition with a stellar group of bright, diverse individuals. Our backgrounds are as follows: Rohan spent time developing strategies to improve teacher effectiveness in DC Public Schools, Ayush developed apps and other technology platforms for Credit Suisse, Arsh had experience as a consultant and a small business owner, and I was an elementary school teacher in Washington, DC. I couldn’t imagine a better opportunity to integrate my expertise in education issues with the new “business lady” into whom I was developing.
Joining this team and devoting the time and effort we put into our final product is hands down one of the best experiences I have had at Darden so far. We did not know each other very well, but that did not stop us from gelling quickly around a purpose that resonated with each of us in its own way. In many ways, our case team and experience working together was emblematic of the lessons we learn in both our hard-skill and our soft-skill classes at Darden. We respected each other, listened to one another, challenged each other, and defined our own roles while collaborating at the same time. An understanding of, and an unspoken commitment to these soft skills gave us room to show off our strengths, which ranged from software development to presentation design to an ability to think on one’s feet. We were confident in our product yet humble in our delivery, and in the end, we were all shocked that we WON the whole competition! Needless to say, I was thrilled to have won with this dream team, but more importantly, I walked away from the experience realizing the value in leveraging my strengths while taking risks. If someone had asked me to participate in a private equity case competition (this would not have happened), I would not have been able to make the same contribution I was able to make to this team. In other words, it’s IMPORTANT to know what you’re really good at – only then will you be able to push the boundaries learn even more, and become an even better version of yourself. Many thanks to Rohan, Ayush, and Arsh for helping me discover this while at Darden. It is undoubtedly a lesson that will guide me throughout my life as I continuously strive to be a better me.