By Dave Hendrick

Newswise — The University of Virginia Darden School of Business has announced plans to launch a new research Center of Excellence: the Initiative for Transformational Leadership and Learning, a multidisciplinary initiative intended to develop and implement a scientifically verified curriculum and learning laboratory devoted to leading-edge leadership development.

The initiative will build on Darden’s strengths in classroom excellence and education experience, ranked the world’s best seven years in a row by The Economist, ensuring that the School remains unsurpassed in preparing leaders for the global business challenges of the future.

“The new Initiative for Transformational Leadership and Learning will be a strong complement to Darden’s leadership development capabilities,” said Darden Dean Scott Beardsley. “The initiative recognizes that the dominant currency of tomorrow’s leaders will be emotional, social and cultural forms of intelligence, and that ethics and values coupled with those interpersonal skills will become a true sustainable advantage for Darden graduates. Over time we plan on developing this initiative into a full-blown institute.”

Two new donor gifts will provide $2 million in seed funding to help the initiative, including a $1 million gift from Abundant Power Group CEO Shannon Smith (MBA ’90), which has been matched by a $500,000 gift from the UVA Bicentennial Professors Fund, as well as a $500,000 gift from the Jakarta-based Rainbow Foundation.

When fully funded, the initiative will expand into an institute — a comprehensive research Center of Excellence that will be a global force in leadership development.

“Darden was a transformational experience for me and my classmates, and I am honored to be able to play a role in positioning the School for the future,” said Smith. “It is my hope that Darden stays at the forefront of leadership and learning in a global and digital marketplace for MBAs.”

Smith’s gift will establish the Shannon G. Smith Bicentennial Professorship Fund, which will create an endowed chair for a professor who will lead the new initiative.

The initiative will operate with the perspective that innovation in the classroom and beyond is critical to create the transformational leadership experiences of the future. As new technologies proliferate, instructors and students must ensure that they are put to their most effective possible use in the classroom and within the curriculum. As global needs and opportunities grow, students must be prepared to meet them via immersive experiences that allow for practice, feedback and reflection.

Moreover, the launch comes as the Darden School embarks on an ambitious master facilities plan that will transform its Grounds and position the School for the future. The new initiative will help inform decisions on how the master plan can appropriately implement learning technologies and facilities upgrades in the form of leadership labs and applied research spaces.

The thought leadership and instructional innovations produced through the initiative will directly enhance the full-time MBA, Executive MBA and Executive Education curriculum at Darden, but it will also be relevant beyond Darden Grounds. The initiative will collaborate with the wider UVA ecosystem and other institutions to extend the initiative’s impact broadly in the field of leadership development.

Professor Jim Detert, academic director of the initiative, said the new Center of Excellence will empower Darden to lead in the development and deployment of curriculum, pedagogy and thought leadership needed to match the ever-increasing challenges facing leaders.

“The Initiative for Transformational Leadership and Learning represents a unique opportunity for Darden and all of its stakeholders,” said Detert. “Darden faculty, staff and students — and the lives they touch throughout their careers — will reap the benefits of our efforts to create evidence-based experiential  learning opportunities that prepare individuals at every stage of their careers to be effective, values-driven leaders in the rapidly changing, global environment of the 21st century.”


About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.