Culture in the COVID Classroom

by Zachary Lutz

My experience in the MBA-Sustainable Business Practices program has taught me more about myself than I would have ever anticipated when originally enrolling in this program. When I committed to this program, I felt as if I had a strong understanding of what to expect from professors, my fellowship and the overall time commitment. The one thing I didn’t account for is the hard-working, inclusive, and family atmosphere of the MBA-SBP program and the tone it sets for the entire cohort. This program has opened my eyes to how a phenomenal culture can collectively motivate an entire cohort to strive to be change agents for the future of the business world.

Obviously, when enrolling in the program I was under the assumption that classes would be in person – but that has not always been the case. However, being exposed to this entirely new learning style within higher education showed me that a unique culture can transcend the digital divide. I never counted on this cohort coming together the way it has, especially after finding out that we would be online the entire summer semester and have the option to remain online during the fall and spring. As I began this program, my biggest worry was that I would not be able to adapt to the small class learning style this program promotes. This fear was heightened even further when I found out we would be entirely on Zoom from the very first day.

During my undergraduate career, I originally attended a small university to play soccer. However, after my freshman year I decided to transfer to Penn State University largely due to my personal belief that I was unable to maximize my potential within a small class setting. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Penn State and graduated in December 2019 with a degree in Telecommunications. The smallest class I ever had at Penn State was still roughly 30-40 people which was extremely different from my past experiences and where I am at today. As I entered this program, I knew that I would need to be more open to embracing this cohort-based approach over the next year. I can confidently say now that I have truly impressed myself with how well I have worked within a small classroom and how I have flourished at Duquesne so far.

As the summer semester was winding down, I began to realize how blessed I am to be a member of this program. Duquesne has done a marvelous job at transitioning this collaborative program over to Zoom and the hy-flex format. In fact, the program’s ability to adopt Zoom so well actually made me realize how much I enjoyed the online learning atmosphere and how much more efficient I had become in accomplishing schoolwork compared to being in-person. That is something I never thought I would have said when entering this program. My newfound belief in how Zoom actually enhanced my learning abilities led me to transition to the entirely online format a few weeks after the start of the fall semester. While I do feel like I have missed out on some of the day to day interactions of our cohort members that are in class, I think the circumstances of how we have navigated this program unlike any cohort before us has brought us closer together. From virtual happy hours and Zoom trivia nights to all the group meetings and our Fantasy Football league, I am elated that my decision to enroll in this program has seemingly already paid for itself in the lifelong network connections and friendships that have been able to form over the past 6 months.