Archive for September, 2008

Whitewater Rafting

Last weekend Kristy and I went whitewater rafting on the Gauley River with the Darden Outdoor Club.  We left Charlottesville Thursday evening along with a group of 36 Darden students and partners, and drove three hours to the rafting site in West Virginia.  That night we stayed in rustic cabins.  I slept fine, thanks to the bonfire and associated socializing, although some of our group seemed a little weary in the morning.

The big focus of this event was the Class V rapids on Friday.  If you are not familiar with Whitewater Rafting, rapids are classified according to difficulty level.  Wikipedia defines Class V as follows:

Class 5: Whitewater, large waves, large rocks and hazards, maybe a large drop, precise maneuvering (Skill Level: Advanced Whitewater Experience) (link)

Since about two thirds of our group had never been rafting before, many of us were a bit apprehensive Thursday evening and we all talked about what to expect the next day.  The predominate term used to describe the coming experience was ‘intense’.  Despite the build up, no one backed out and we were all in good spirits during breakfast on Friday (expect for Kristy who was white as a ghost).

After breakfast we rented wet suites, signed some crazy waiver, and hopped on a bus.  On the way to the dam one of the guides gave a lecture on whitewater safety.  Kristy and I were at the back of the bus and had trouble hearing, but caught some of the important elements like, ‘if you get caught under the raft and can’t breath you need to get out from under the raft’.  There were also some tips such as, ‘hold on to your paddle so it doesn’t hit someone in the face’.

At the dam we formed groups of eight, picked our raft, and received more instruction from our guide.  My group had the pleasure of being led down the river by Joe.  During the winter Joe rents snowmobiles in Denver and in the fall he tells dirty jokes while leading groups on rafting trips down the Gauley River.  Most of his jokes were amusing enough that we are still talking about them a week later.  At the moment I can’t think of one that is fit for reprinting.

For all the hype the rapids didn’t seem too perilous.  As you can see from the photo above, I was in high spirits after running our first Class V rapid.  Shortly after this rapid, we ‘surfed’ a rapid, which is pretty much like what you would imagine.  Our raft came close to flipping and everyone fell out except for Kristy, me, and our guide.  I think Joe was a little disappointed with this outcome, compared to his most desired outcome of being the only person left in the raft.  He later referred to our situation as a lack of team spirit, since we didn’t all fall out of the raft together as a team.  At the end of the trip this was rectified when Joe flipped our raft – we all went in together.

Running the river was a great experience.  We used Class VI as our outfitters and they were awesome.  The guides were fun and safe, and the food was great.  Also, going with my classmates was much more fun than this trip would have been outherwise.  Thanks go out to Andy Shipley and the rest of the Outdoor Club officers that made this event possible.

Case Method Learning

Classroom discussion is only one setting for Darden’s case method of teaching. We also learn from individual preparation, learning team meetings, and post-class reflection. For me, the majority of ‘technical’ learning takes place during individual preparation. In this post I’ll outline some of my observations on the learning process at Darden. If you are looking for some specific information on how the case method is implemented at Darden, you may want to check out my earlier Case Method post.

The business elements taught at Darden naturally break down into two groups, as follows:

Technical skills – this includes elements such as creating an income statement, performing a discounted cash flow valuation, or analyzing the effectiveness of a marketing campaign. Most people first think of the case method in terms of technical skills and wonder how these skills can be effectively taught with class discussion. Generally, most technical learning takes place before class and we use our discussion time to review the material and learn from our mistakes. (see my Case Method post for an example)

Business background – this includes the broad knowledge and the general skills required for effective management. Examples include teamwork skills, industry knowledge, communication skills, and concepts like business acumen.

Both of these groups are taught throughout the Darden program. Naturally, some settings are better suited for building specific competencies. Below is my analysis of how Darden students learn these elements:

Setting Technical skills Business background
Individual preparation
  • Reading technical notes
  • Completing individual analysis
  • Reading cases set in different business environments (industry, location, etc.)
Learning teams & group work
  • Refining individual analysis
  • Working in teams and with peers
  • Picking up industry, cultural, and functional knowledge from learning team members
Class discussion
  • Reviewing techniques
  • Learning from your mistakes and the mistakes of others
  • Developing business communication skills
  • Building confidence in your capabilities
  • Identifying connections between classes/subjects

In addition to learning from the formal curriculum, I have developed my business background through involvement in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities at Darden.