Is it overkill to say this year has been different than any other in recent memory? From workplaces to schools to communities, every aspect of life as we know it has been altered because of the global pandemic, and MBA programs are no exception. As someone who chose to complete the first semester in a fully remote format as opposed to the hybrid in-person option, I can attest to the fact that the experience is not exactly how I imagined my MBA program would look…but it’s not all doom and gloom!
Reflecting on the first semester of my virtual MBA experience, I am struck by how deeply the program has stretched me as an individual, student, and professional. There is no question that pursuing the MBA remotely differs from an in-person format, and certain words come to mind when describing the experience to others.
Has there ever been a full-time MBA class like ours? Some students are pursuing the program in a hybrid format in Madison, some are pursuing the program remotely from within the U.S. (I am in this category), and some are pursuing the program virtually from international locations. As a remote student, I have days that can include working on a collaborative group project via Teams in the morning, watching an asynchronous class lecture and taking notes while eating lunch, attending a virtual interview for an internship in the afternoon, engaging in a synchronous class discussion in the evening, and ending the day with an online social event with my classmates. It’s not every year SHR students get together for a virtual Halloween or Thanksgiving complete with online trivia and prizes!
Teaching is difficult in the best of times, but incredibly innovative in the worst of times! As a former teacher for the last 6 years, I can honestly say I am extremely grateful for the effort and passion UW professors have put into our learning. Remote learning differs from in-person learning in some big ways, so I was nervous about how that might look going into this semester, but those fears were squashed quickly once classes began. Is everything perfect, seamless, and effective all the time? Obviously not, but seeing the innovative, interactive, and progressive learning methods and technologies utilized by professors has been humbling. Professors truly want us to learn, and that is evident through their flexibility and innovation.
The coursework and expectations of the MBA are challenging every year, but engaging in the program remotely presents additional unexpected demands. While hybrid students can meet for in-person lectures, it is not always an option to join lectures in real-time as a remote student. This means I’m often juggling my calendar to find time to watch lectures before meeting with classmates to go over material. The turnaround time on assignments due after lectures can be significantly limited depending on when lectures are available online, so it’s especially important that I am prepared and flexible in managing my time. The mental workload of coordinating all meetings, group work sessions, independent work time, and social events digitally can quickly become overwhelming, so I have blocked out times each day to watch lectures, and set notifications and alerts for class posts, and made time to take breaks by walking my dogs! It’s hard to find balance, but this is what has worked for me.
In the interest of being real, there have been times when working remotely has been isolating. While in-person lectures, study groups, and events naturally lead to conversations and close bonds, it can be difficult to replicate that virtually. What I have learned from this is to be open, be proactive, and be patient. There may not be those happenstance opportunities to strike up a conversation with classmates or professors, but you can be proactive in reaching out to peers to get to know them, setting up calls with professors to check in, and participating in social activities to engage with the community. The SHR Center has also organized group events and meetings to help us all get to know and support each other. The social aspect of the MBA is not lost, it just looks different.
All things considered, the MBA program is a worthwhile endeavor no matter the modality! As students in this program, we all came to be stretched, challenged, and strengthened, and that is exactly what I have experienced at Wisconsin. I know I will be well equipped to enter my internship and post-MBA role confidently due to how the program has adapted to meet current realities, and how it has asked me to adapt right along with it. I like to think that my remote learning experience will prepare me to lead global teams in the workplace with skill and empathy. What better time than now to expand my professional career and grow as an individual? What better place than Wisconsin?