Fridays from the Frontline: Chicago Booth in the Time of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many aspects of daily life, and we need to adapt to combat the disease and carry on. When it comes to business school, that means classes and in-person social gatherings have moved online. So, what does that look like? Chicago Booth MBA, Kate Nimmo, took to The Booth Experience blog to share how daily MBA life has changed, highlighting how Booth faculty have risen to the challenge and more.
Booth in the Time of COVID-19
By Kate Nimmo, Chicago Booth MBA ’20
When I imagined my final quarter at Booth, it looked something like this: I would be relieved of most leadership positions (having passed the torch to the Class of 2021) and finished with my graduation requirements, leaving me to take four purely elective classes (including one at the Law School) and TA for a fifth. I would spend the balance of my time making memories with the peers who have become lifelong friends, while exploring Chicago before I move back home to Boston following graduation in June.
When I imagined my final quarter at Booth, it certainly did not look like this: taking all of my classes remotely via Zoom, while sheltering-in-place inside a 600 square foot apartment, constantly thinking about the health and safety of my family, friends, and others in the world.
While none of us imagined finding ourselves in this position, it has first and foremost served as a reminder that I am privileged to be at an institution as well-resourced as the University of Chicago, where we have access to the best medical care, and a community as strong as the one at Booth. In the roughly ten days since the announcement that Spring Quarter will be entirely online, a new normal has set in. To paint a better picture, I wanted to share a couple vignettes depicting just what that has meant for my day-to-day…
My Professor can still cold-call on me when class is online
I had my last two classes of Winter Quarter conducted remotely. Business, Politics, and Ethics is a 30-person, discussion-based class characterized by vibrant and thought-provoking weekly debates. In our last session—after acknowledging what we are facing as a society, as well as what it means for us as Booth students—my professor, Brian Barry, facilitated our final three-hour class together over Zoom.
I am ashamed to admit that I was surprised to find the discussion as scintillating as our prior classes, my peers rising to the occasion to “raise their hands” via Zoom and debate topics surrounding healthcare and big pharma. When at times the debate hit a lull, Professor Barry cold-called us, just as he would have had we been sitting in the rows in front of him.
Aside from Zoom’s occasional lag in adjusting its focus between the professor and the markerboard, the technology was relatively seamless. I was impressed by my professor, as well as my peers, but in hindsight, I shouldn’t have been. Booth is a community of not only curious, but also resilient individuals, and those two attributes were fully on display as our class unfolded across my computer screen.
Faculty are taking the opportunity to innovate together, and with us
The day after the announcement that we would go fully remote for Spring Quarter, I received an email from the professor for whom I’m a TA, Professor Gregory Bunch, who teaches New Venture Strategy. He was soliciting ideas for how to tweak his course to cater to this new class delivery model and was eager to engage in a dialogue over which parts of class could remain the same and which might have to be modified or eliminated entirely.
He clearly viewed this as an opportunity—the chance to look at his class through a critical lens to see if it had been missing something all along, perhaps even something that delves into building new ventures in times of macro uncertainty. While he did not have everything figured out, Professor Bunch’s tone was optimistic, and his approach was collaborative. In the four quarters that I have worked with Bunch, he has always called us “colleagues,” but now, I felt that I truly was one.
A few days later, he sent a follow-up message; he had been on a Zoom call with roughly 45 fellow professors, who were brainstorming and ideating together to figure out how to continue delivering a world-class education using technology that is new to them. Professor Bunch noted that this was one of the most collaborative and inspiring “meetings” in his 12+ years of teaching. I am comforted, moved, and impressed by what I see; our professors are truly practitioners of what they teach, pushing themselves to grow, adapt, and solve seemingly nebulous problems, just as they prepare us to be well-equipped to do the same once we graduate.
Virtual happy hours are the new TNDC
Because of these and other anecdotes, I enter Spring Quarter with great optimism. I am grateful for the healthcare workers on the front line, but I am also grateful for the educators, like Professors Barry and Bunch, who are working tirelessly to continuing educating in the face of adversity and uncertainty. I admire their strength in navigating uncharted waters to ensure that their students continue receiving the education and support they need. It is inspiring to see our community come together with such teamwork, passion, and strength.
And as for being unable to spend time with friends in-person, I can tell you that the creative and resourceful side of the Booth community is flourishing. I have attended virtual happy hours with friends, and yesterday, even a remote yoga class, in which a handful of us took a class together over Zoom. As I looked at my computer screen and saw the smiling (and sweaty!) faces of my friends, I felt content. This, too, shall pass, and in the meantime, the Booth community will persevere and come out the other side the stronger for it.