by Sven Lynch
When you prepare to start a graduate program, you go into it with a set of expectations. These can range from the kinds of courses you will be taking and the rigor of the curriculum to the dynamics of the program and the skills you hope to attain by the time you graduate. I made the decision to pursue an MBA in Sustainable Business Practices at Duquesne University after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. I knew the first semester of the program would be conducted remotely, but after that, no one, including my classmates, our faculty, or university officials, knew what to expect.
As our cohort started Orientation and our summer classes, we were meeting each other for the first time. Not unlike much of the rest of the world, professional life had transitioned online so we were being introduced to the two-dimensional versions of each other. While this may not seem significant, the differences of how relationships are built with classmates while in-person versus in a remote setting soon became evident. The pieces which were absent were the moments of casual one-on-one or small group conversations which normally occur before, during, and after classes. There were, of course, opportunities to converse with classmates as we worked on group projects, but many of the intangible moments of personal connection were hard to find. Nevertheless, our cohort adapted well to everything that comes with an online education; synchronous vs asynchronous learning, ‘flipped’ classes, and online presentations.
As we entered the fall semester and a hybrid approach to class delivery, a portion of our cohort opted to attend classes in-person and others decided to stay with remote classes. Some of our classes were fully remote just like during the summer while others were held in-person for those who were interested in attending on campus although even in-person courses could switch between remote and in-person depending on the day. Some presentations and relationships continued to occur fully online while others were a mix of in-person and online interactions. Our days were similar to the current, and perhaps future, work environment, in which many interactions could be virtual while some will occur in the traditional face-to-face manner. One of the unexpected results of completing this program will be knowing how to successfully build teams and relationships virtually and give presentations both in-person and to an online audience.
One of the best intangible lessons we will all have gained from completing this program during a pandemic is the ability to be flexible and adaptable. As future business leaders, through our coursework, we are learning parallel lessons to think with innovation and with ‘out-of-the-box’ approaches. Corporate leaders and managers, non-profit organizations, small business owners, and government civil servants alike will need to move away from doing ‘business as usual’ to solve the most challenging problems of our time. From overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic to battling climate change, from inequalities in the workplace to societal inequities, our cohort will be ready to adapt to changing situations as we strive to make the world a better place.