Student Life

A Winning Approach: Du Gao (McIntire ’21) of Virginia Case Club (VCC)

As a result of Gao’s leadership and collaboration with his colleagues, VCC has implemented a slew of new programming, ranging from mentorship and new member outreach to career networking and more.

The Virginia Case Club team members (left to right) Du Gao, Veena Ramesh, Chang Cheng, and Kevin Miner after winning first place in the 2019 Deloitte Consulting National Undergraduate Case Competition at UVA! The four currently represent the VCC senior leadership team.

The Virginia Case Club (VCC) takes case consulting very seriously. Widely regarded as the University’s premier case consulting student organization, the group prides itself on the ability to prepare its members for local, national, and international case competition success.

The results speak for themselves: VCC’s demanding training curriculum has helped the group win case competitions that include the Deloitte Consulting National Undergraduate Case Competition at UVA, Bain Women’s Case Competition at UVA, PwC Challenge Case Competition at UVA, Pitt Business Analytics Case Competition, and many others.

But beyond its ability to excel in competitive events, the organization has enhanced its members’ experience in the group by offering a considerable mentorship program, a close-knit community of peers, and an extensive alumni network.

President Du Gao says he was first drawn to become a member as a first-year exploring student organizations to join, primarily drawn to VCC by its friendly, helpful, and resourceful members. He recalls that VCC immediately stood out for being interactive and explaining how it supported its members’ growth.

“That idea has followed me throughout my tenure in VCC on the executive board and has shaped how I help craft programs for our members,” Gao says.

A Supportive Presidency
As VCC President, Gao is responsible for leading brainstorming sessions and implementing the new initiatives put forth by him and his fellow members. That’s required some innovative approaches in a year defined by the pandemic, with Gao overseeing the creation of formal mentorship pairings, and striving to maintain the group’s close community across time zones, regularly engaging with his peers over Zoom.

But despite the challenges that have arisen in 2020, he has continued to enjoy opportunities to improve upon the organization’s culture by creating an approachable environment for questions and concerns—and specifically, by “encouraging our executive team to role-model the values of openness, collaboration, and generosity.”

Gao believes that those values guided last semester’s training program overhaul. Now a more interactive experience, the program has moved away from a lecture style to enable new VCC members to “leverage their own unique backgrounds and experiences to enhance the organization as a whole,” he says.

The training for new members, who are mostly first- or second-years, includes a brief overview of disciplines that they’re likely to encounter in a case competition. “We integrate our more senior members’ eclectic academic and professional experiences to build a comprehensive curriculum that focuses on finance, strategy, data analytics, public speaking, teamwork, inclusion, and so on.”

The abstract and unstructured nature of the type of business problem the group faces in competition holds a particular appeal to Gao; he offers an open-ended example question: “How can a mom-and-pop retailer compete with e-commerce?” He also says that VCC offers something much more inspiring: collaborating with a team of friends who are equally passionate about not only crafting a solution but also building each other up. “What often results is a hodgepodge of different experiences, ideas, and values that form a really creative and beautiful solution and team,” he says.

Those personal connections and friendships have defined Gao’s time in the VCC and have served as some of the most exciting aspects for him. He points out that beyond the intense teamwork during competitions, the closeness of group members has impacted the training sessions and the development opportunities the organization hosts.

“Everyone on my go-to competing team has joined the executive board this year, and we’re thrilled and proud to see our more junior members build the same friendships and bonds that we have.”

A Solid Foundation and Bright Future
Though the group’s competition prowess is proof positive that the training program works, learning skills and concepts has also been beneficial for students who have gained an advantage with their coursework.

For Gao, his time and the lessons he’s learned in both the VCC and McIntire “go hand-in-hand.” As a first-year, he says he didn’t fully appreciate the depth of VCC’s training program in the organization’s onboarding process. Looking back as a fourth-year, he sees a clear connection between the group and the Comm School.

“Having gone through the Integrated Core Experience, I realize that there is an incredible overlap between what I’ve learned in VCC and the McIntire curriculum,” he says, “especially as it relates to presentations, teamwork, and feeling comfortable participating in a Rouss & Robertson Halls classroom. Now, as I lead the training program for the club, I hope to recreate this same experience for our new members, if they choose to pursue the Commerce School.”

As a result of Gao’s leadership and collaboration with his colleagues, VCC has implemented a slew of new programming, ranging from mentorship and new member outreach to career networking and more.

“This semester, we’re looking to build on our momentum in three key ways: We want to deepen how our members can get involved in governing the club despite the abnormal semester, continue to build corporate partnerships, and expand our interaction with the University. Most recently, for instance, we developed a partnership with the UVA Career Center, whereby we’re supporting programming and co-hosting a case competition in spring 2021! We have also established a partnership with the Consulting Group at McIntire (CGM) to co-sponsor the upcoming Ankura-McIntire case competition,” he says.

Gao notes that despite the extraordinary circumstances of fall 2020, the group has actually increased the number of social events they’ve held in recent months. They’ve also been proactive in enlisting older members to mentor younger students with “academic, professional, or even personal advice,” assisting their development by running mock cases and interviews for members in the process of seeking internships or full-time employment in consulting.

Crediting the executive team with helping members prepare for the fall consulting recruiting season, Gao says they’ve secured networking opportunities with Oliver Wyman, Deloitte, Accenture, Mastercard, Capital One, and others.

That additional career guidance and networking can be crucial, something to which Gao himself can testify.

“VCC was incredibly helpful throughout the recruiting process, not only because of the exposure and experience I got through case competitions, but also because of the support and encouragement from both senior and junior members in VCC.”

Having capped his third year at McIntire as a Summer Associate with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Washington, D.C., Gao has committed to return to the firm full time upon graduation. He says he was energized by what he learned there and is excited to share those real-world lessons with VCC to better the organization. The virtuous cycle should continue to ensure VCC leadership remains in good hands for years to come.

Get all the latest news and updates delivered straight to your inbox every month.