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.

Orientation Hike

Yesterday Kristy and I went on a hike with first year Darden students.  This hike was organized by a second year student and about 20 first year students participated.  I’ve included a group photo below.

Our group met at 10am on the Darden grounds and then carpooled to the trail head off Skyline Drive.  The hike to the Blackrock summit took about an hour.  We then spent another hour at the summit on a rock scramble and completed a short loop hike before heading back down to our cars.  The total trip took about 5 hours during which we got some good exercise and nice views of Virginia.  We also kept to our plan of completing an outdoor hike every weekend.

This hike was one of many optional events planned for first year students during orientation week.  Another group of second year students organized a community service event for the same time on Saturday morning and 20 first year students showed up to help.  Saturday evening there was a Darden Community picnic for all students, faculty, and staff.  Kristy and I had fun catching up with our friends at the picnic and watching a performance by the Darden faculty band (BluesJam).

Bear Sighting

There are many outdoor activities in the Charlottesville area including backpacking, whitewater rafting, caving, skiing, and many more [1].  My wife and I have taken advantage of this by planning a hike just about every weekend.  Sometimes our plans fall through (there is lots to do at Darden), but we probably hit the trail about twice a month during my first year.

Last weekend we hiked part of the Riprap trail off Skyline Drive.  After driving 45 minutes from Charlottesville, we parked and started our hike around 9:30am.  About one mile into the hike we passed a group of four that were running along the trail, which made us feel a little athletically inferior.  Thirty minutes further into our hike we heard lots of rustling and thought there was another group coming along the trail.  After pausing to look, we found ourselves staring at a big black bear about 30-40 yards away.  Maybe it’s because the bear didn’t look right at us, but for whatever reason neither of us were scared.  We just took a couple seconds, slowly turned around, and started walking back to our car while making quite a bit of noise along the way.

The picture of me above was taken about 5 minutes after seeing the bear.  We didn’t think to get a photo of the bear, which was probably the right decision anyway.  The photo on the right was taken along Skyline Drive.


1. If you are interested in seeing a full list of outdoor activities in Charlottesville, the UVA Outdoor Club is a good place to start. There is also an Outdoor Club at Darden.

Internship Abroad

This summer I am working in London for PRTM Management Consultants. I pursued this opportunity to build on my international business experience and gain some exposure to European culture. Also, the timing worked out well for my wife, who teaches high school in Charlottesville and was able to join me in London for the summer.

My first project was based in South Africa and lasted about one month. Since my wife arrived in London the day I left for South Africa, we arranged for her to travel with me for the first part of the project (see photo with elephant above). While she was touring South Africa, I was working with my project team to support the formation of an international joint venture. Specifically, my role was to perform an operational capabilities assessment of a South African company. Having completed similar projects with PRTM as a pre-MBA associate, it is clear to me that the first year Darden program did a great job of preparing me for this project. In particular, the following capabilities that I developed over the last 8 months at Darden significantly improved my effectiveness on this project.

Communication skills – for this project I participated in dozens of executive level meetings. The case method of teaching was good preparation for these meetings and during the first year program I participated in around 300 case discussions. These discussions were in many ways similar to executive meetings as both environments require that I make clear, concise, and helpful points at the appropriate time.

Broadened business background – the general management curriculum at Darden provided me with a broad background in understanding businesses. This proved extremely useful for a capabilities assessment project, where the real work is not in determining the company’s capabilities but in determining the level of capabilities required for success in the context of the specific business and industry. This is another area where the case method was very helpful; instead of diving into the derivation of particular formula (e.g., Little’s law), we broadened our understanding of business situations and industries by reading case after case during the first year.

Technical competence – being able to drill into the technical details of a business situation was another important skill for this project. In several instances I identified the relevant inputs of a specific business formula (e.g., inventory optimization) in the context of this particular company. Then, during interviews I would assess the company’s capabilities for managing these inputs. Darden helped me develop this technical competency by introducing concepts in technical notes, providing an environment to practice these concepts (learning team), and then reviewing these concepts during classroom discussion.

Increased confidence – the Darden program increased my confidence in assessing and managing business situations. Because of this increased confidence I pushed others a little harder then I would have otherwise, and ended up generating better results for our team. I attribute this increased confidence to the rigorous first year program coupled with the support provided by the Darden faculty and staff, my classmates, and my learning team.