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Poole Alumnus Aims To Expand Access, Opportunity for Students

Alex Darden ('98, business administration) established two endowments in honor of his father to "make sure others have a similar opportunity" to succeed at NC State.

Jim and Alex Darden
A treasured photo of Alex Darden with his father, Jim.

Alex Darden didn’t follow his father into the field of teaching. But he learned a lesson from him — and took a step to help many Poole College students pursue goals and transform their lives. 

Darden, a 1998 Poole business administration graduate, saw the power of giving from his dad’s example. And now he’s giving back to NC State.

The two endowments Darden recently established for Poole, in honor of his father, Jim, include one that supports need-based students from eastern North Carolina. The other supports an awards program for undergraduates and graduate students that recognizes leadership, research and scholarship, innovation and other skills and contributions to the Poole community.

Award winners were celebrated at a ceremony at Poole on April 24.

“NC State was a foundational part of my life. It’s important to try to make sure others have a similar opportunity. I also wanted a way to honor my dad. This seemed like a good opportunity to do that,” says Darden, who grew up in Greenville, in eastern North Carolina, where his parents live.  

His father taught high school computer science.

“My dad felt like all the kids were his responsibility. He really had a big heart relative to how he thought about helping them. He worked with anyone who wanted a summer job to get a summer job,” Darden says.  

His endowment for eastern North Carolina students will go beyond summer jobs to providing access to higher education.

“That’s the basis for a lot of opportunities in life,” he says. “I hope it will support the full education process for someone at NC State.”

One of the most significant parts of Darden’s education process at NC State was his involvement in the Cooperative Education Program. For three years, he alternated between a semester studying on campus full time and one working off campus for a company full time.

“It was extremely helpful to go to school for a semester and then take some of the subjects I was learning and actually apply them in the real world,” he says.    

He worked for a business that made covers for medical equipment and was a medical supplier to hospitals. Darden designed covers, sold products at trade shows around the U.S., was involved in some of the manufacturing process, and helped manage some of the company’s finances.

“It was great exposure to all aspects of running a business…a really broad and unique experience,” says Darden, now partner and head of infrastructure in the Americas at EQT Group, a global investment organization. 

It’s important for us to give back to society and support the places that have been influential in our lives.

Another highlight of his time at Poole was a business course on strategy, in which students ran their own businesses. “We made decisions, and the professor ran them through a simulator and told us how our companies were doing in terms of sales, how the product was doing in the market, and earnings and revenue for the year,” he says. 

His team ended up consolidating an industry by taking over other student companies.   

“The course inspired you to think differently and act entrepreneurially, versus just reading a chapter in a book.  Given that I do mergers and acquisitions and build companies on a daily basis now, maybe it actually inspired me to do what I do today,” Darden says.

His success has inspired him to make a difference in Poole students’ futures.

“It’s important for us to give back to society and support the places that have been influential in our lives. NC State is one of the preeminent schools in giving the outstanding education that it does,” Darden says. “It was a big part of my development. It’s a big reason I’ve been able to accomplish what I have in life.”