Undergraduate Blog

Navigating the Team Environment of the Integrated Core Experience Curriculum

Group work is commonplace at McIntire. It can be a learning experience in and of itself, and a bonding experience in which real friends are made.

By Ralph De Palma

The Integrated Core Experience curriculum is renowned for its well-rounded business education in subjects ranging from Marketing to Finance. The cornerstone of this program is the team-oriented projects, one in the fall and another in the spring. Strong teamwork is essential to the Integrated Core Experience’s curriculum. In a typical year, companies like AB InBev and Margaritaville sponsor the fall projects. These projects vary in subject and structure, but are always a culminating effort of what you learn in the Integrated Core Experience. At the end of the semester, students present their projects to executives from these sponsors, which can be intimidating but oh so exciting. The spring project differs slightly, in that a real company is still the central focus, but students have to present the project only to the professors, not the companies themselves. My spring project group and I developed a plan for Coty, a competitor of L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, to revitalize its skincare business through an acquisition. Now that you have a better understanding of what an Integrated Core Experience project might look like, I will walk you through what it is like working in teams at McIntire.

The Organizational Behavior course jump-starts Integrated Core Experience group team dynamics.

Organizational Behavior (one of the main Integrated Core Experience classes) deeply explores team dynamics and narrows in on concepts like psychological safety and teamwork. Professor Kieran O’Connor, a Stanford graduate with a comforting, lighthearted personality, taught my class. He frequently reminded us about psychological safety, which, just as it sounds, is the concept of being able to express your ideas without fear of negative consequences. Group members do not always have to agree, but each other’s contributions should be treated respectfully to encourage psychological safety. At the end of the day, a group in the Integrated Core Experience is not just a set of faces. In many cases, teams become longstanding friend groups of students who have seen one another at some of their highest highs and perhaps even some of their lowest lows.

Flexible scheduling and resilience ensure project success.

In the beginning, the projects can seem like a daunting workload. In my experience, my groups each made team calendars and began chipping away at lengthy assignments as quickly as possible. Over time, solutions to the complex variety of problems given at McIntire flow at a natural pace. In the fall, my group and I spent countless hours bouncing around ideas of how to create a viable marketing strategy for AB InBev. We considered everything from blimps at sporting events and colorful social media advertisements to a segmented marketing plan for two products, the latter being our final choice. No matter how a team finds the right path, all that matters is that the path is uncovered.

Team-building exercises and morale-boosting activities enrich the experience.

In order to be successful, teams must establish dynamics and plan out schedules. However, to have a seamless and enjoyable experience, boosting morale is essential. In the fall, my group and I would often play competitive online games just for fun. Honestly, some of our best moments were those when we were just talking and getting to know one another. Now in the spring, my group and I are meeting more in person, and often running to Cookout during our late-night grind time. We also sing and dance during our breaks, listening to low-fi beats, early 2000s throwbacks, or Andrea Bocelli—an eclectic mix, I know. It took me far too long to understand that having fun with your team and building a bond are part of the Integrated Core Experience. In fact, fun is part of the McIntire experience at large. Developing these friendships while working toward a common goal is one of the most enjoyable aspects of life at McIntire. Even now, my groups and I spend time together, help each other in different classes, and enjoy life as often as possible.

Overall, the Integrated Core Experience project experience is one of the most difficult, yet intriguing experiences I have had in my time at UVA. While I spent some time commiserating with my peers, I would not trade the fun times and excellent output from my groups for the world. Not only did I learn a great deal about business, but I also developed some of my strongest friendships with people I anticipate communicating with for a lifetime. Every late-night session helped me realize that school is not just a means to an end, but rather a grand overarching experience that blends frustration and excitement into something truly awesome. I greatly enjoyed the experience and loved the dynamic of these semester-long projects.

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