The MBA Experience: Curriculum and Relationships Take Extra Effort Amid Pandemic
By Kristin Kaden Dreyer
When COVID-19 suddenly interrupted Baylor University's residential MBA program by sending all classes to an online format, students and professors put into action the problem-solving tools that have traditionally undergirded the program.
"Almost overnight, we executed a 180-degree shift in delivering our classes while ensuring that student learning and relationships continued," said Laurie Wilson, Director of Graduate Degree Programs at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business.
Long-hailed for preparing students to work in dynamic business environments, MBA programs in the midst of a world-wide pandemic provide an opportunity for universities to "walk-the-talk" by adapting curriculum in order for students to continue learning in dynamic conditions.
"The pandemic shows us a new look into the future of work," said Sabrina Danscuk, a Baylor MBA candidate specializing in business analytics. "Personally, the switch to online learning was a great way for me to gain an understanding of the different virtual meeting software programs and to get used to the "normal" of working from home," she says. "I learned more about patience, flexibility, and dealing with ambiguity. All of which are very prominent and necessary in the workplace."
According to US News & World Report, most MBA candidates have at least four years of work experience prior to beginning graduate school, a factor which some students say gives them an understanding of how the rapid transition mirrors their real-world experiences.
"I had a lot of familiarity dealing with the unexpected in my previous career in construction management," says Garrett Fox, a Baylor MBA candidate who worked as a superintendent for SpawGlass in San Antonio, Texas. "If there is a takeaway from this pandemic, it is to find ways to stay successful in periods of change or uncertainty," he says. "It's how you respond that determines whether you are successful or not."
Other students like Collin Wood, a Baylor MBA candidate focusing on entrepreneurship and corporate innovation, agree. He says, "By using a software program like Webex, I'm preparing for remote work and for working with people in different locations and time zones."
Konner Moisson, Baylor MBA candidate specializing in marketing, corporate social responsibility and service, suggests the shift was reflective of the real world. "Switching to online gave me a chance to gain experience in a rapidly changing environment while learning to balance school expectations with life demands," she says.
As businesses move to temporary work-from-home or remote work, students recognize that the comparative shift to online instruction has been low stakes. "I knew that my professors would be gracious and understanding of the circumstances of our shift. I was thankful that I did not have the pressure of losing a job while I learned to work independently at home," Moisson says. "This practice will help prepare me for the workforce after graduation-- especially since we do not know how long it will take to return to normal," she adds.
To develop more robust face-to-face courses for both online and hybrid modalities, Baylor professors are working with iDesign, a Dallas-based instructional design firm.
"We've rolled out these enhanced MBA courses for our fall semester," says Wilson." We are committed to exceeding our students' expectations in the midst of this pandemic, regardless of how our curriculum is delivered."
Baylor MBA students have continued to thrive during these trying times. They have managed to balance their personal wellbeing with ensuring continued academic success; all while still giving time to their professional development. When asked how they've managed to strike this balance during such an abrupt change to their daily lives, our students offered these five tips:
Make an effort to maintain and grow relationships.
According to the Wall Street Journal, one of the hallmarks of MBA programs is an immersive experience that includes networking with colleagues and professors. Establishing these personal contacts have traditionally be done so with in-person connections.
"Student-professor relationships are really no different than friend relationships: both take effort," says Dr. Ann M. Mirabito. Mirabito is an Associate Professor of Marketing and a member of Hankamer School of Business' graduate faculty. Dr. Mirabito encourages students to take advantage of office hours and one-on-one meetings. "These connections become even more important, especially when they are initiated online," she says.
Most students agree that it takes extra effort on their part to stay connected and engaged. They do so by employing a variety of methods to stay in touch including group chats, discussion boards, text messaging, and Zoom calls.
"Online school can be lonely, especially when time zones separate us," says Moisson. Incidentally, Moisson found herself unexpectedly quarantined in Wisconsin after traveling home during spring break. "I worked to stay in touch with members of my cohort by checking in with them to see how life was going for them," she added.
Some students eased into new ways to remain in touch. "I was most surprised by how connected our cohort stayed," says Wood. "As lockdown rules allowed, I even met my colleagues for lunches or small group gatherings. Skype was a great tool for us to have group meetings and study together for exams," he adds.
Fox says that the virtual classroom shift reminded him to never take for granted the existing opportunities that he had. "I already built relationships with other students and professors. So, while moving to online coursework, it wasn't as big of a transition as would have been expected," he says.
To keep to a routine, students attempt to maintain schedules by waking up at the same time each day and reviewing and working on assignments using a similar schedule they had otherwise set for class. According to Fox, structuring studies and working diligently on assignments allowed students to transition to online coursework with less interruption.
"Even though we were online, I tried to recreate the same feeling of being in class," he says. "I expected more free time, to be honest. But I was surprised that my workload stayed the same or even grew."
Utilize university resources and access to professors
Universities like Baylor were quick to create license agreements with WebEx and Zoom for all students. This was crucial for projects requiring high-level collaboration. "Weekly, we were able to set up virtual platforms to study together and to recap video lectures that we watched," says Danscuk. "We were able to help each other when we were struggling," she says.
Professors were quick to share their cell phone numbers, give frequent updates about the course as well share well wishes and kind messages. According to Fox, this helps students to stay involved with the course while feeling supported by professors. "I really appreciated how thoughtful and involved they were," says Fox.
The goal of most MBA students is to graduate with multiple job offers. Help from Baylor's Career Center staff becomes critical to making that happen. The Baylor MBA has a career management team focused specifically on graduate business students. Students report that this team is invaluable for resume and cover-letter help as well as for sharing updates on internship and job opportunities. "The way that staff has stayed in contact with me and my peers doesn't go unnoticed," says Moisson.
Be flexible and adaptable
None of the students expected such a drastic change in their circumstances. Some moved home to live with family. Others had internships disappear or transition to online work.
"Not only was there an abundance of ambiguity surrounding school, but also with life," says Moisson, who went on to say that she was able to lean on her faith, family, peers, and professors during the transition.
Other students required flexibility with schedules due to time zone changes and challenges with conflicting work and family schedules. Danscuk, who lives on the west coast, added, "While I had to adapt, I also greatly appreciated the flexibility my professors extended to me."
Notwithstanding, the herculean effort that professors exhibited through their quick turnaround, organizing, and scheduling to set up online learning, students encountered challenges. "The hardest part was that when watching video lectures and becoming confused on a topic, I could not ask my question in real-time. I had to wait for the professor to respond back to my email," says Danscuk. "While most responses from my professors came back in a day or two, it was hard to fully understand some topics while listening to lectures," she says. "But honestly, being remote wasn't as big of a challenge as I thought it would be."
Classes that relied on software available only on campus computers had to pivot away from the core curriculum. In instances where there were only a handful of licenses available for remote access, this caused both students and professors to scramble. "Some of our classes were just not designed to be taught online," Wood says. "But we managed."
Find joy even in the face of adversity
As in the business world, people look for opportunities to make the best of challenging circumstances.
"While I would have hoped the spring semester to have proceeded as planned, my "lemonade" moment was to have bonus time with family," says Danscuk, who packed up her apartment in Waco and moved back to California. "I was able to celebrate the Easter holiday with my family as well as spend more quality time with them before starting my internship."
Wood echoes the sentiment saying, "The shift added flexibility to my schedule, and I was able to enjoy more quality time with my family, doing puzzles and having more dinners together. I even had more time to work on my hobbies."
During this same time, Moisson had the unexpected surprise of getting engaged to a fellow student in her MBA cohort. Amidst all of the pandemic uncertainty, Moisson and her now-fiance knew one thing was certain--that they wanted to be together. "He is my best friend and confidant and we were lucky enough to have been able to spend all of this time quarantining together," she says.
Despite all of the hectic changes and added ambiguity, Fox says now having the end of his graduate program in sight is important. "It's a sweet feeling."
About Baylor's MBA Programs
Baylor's MBA Programs are designed strategically for professionals looking to take their careers to the next level in leadership. Rigorous MBA classes taught by dedicated faculty and industry experts offer both theoretical knowledge and the practical skills required to succeed in modern global business. Wherever you are in your career today, Baylor has an MBA program to fit your lifestyle and move you toward your professional goals: Full-Time MBA, Executive MBA in Dallas, Executive MBA in Austin, and an Online MBA.
Prospective candidates can learn more about all Baylor MBA programs by visiting the Baylor MBA website: https://www.baylor.edu/business/mba/.