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The Stanford GSB Experience During COVID-19

We continue to check in on how MBA students are faring, as business school campuses remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new student co-presidents at Stanford GSB, Emily Calkins and Kerry Omughelli, have a greater impression than most about the related impact on the community.  They were elected right before shutdowns were enacted and, in their new roles, they field questions and concerns from fellow MBA students on a daily basis.  Read on for how students and professors have drawn on their creativity to keep the community vibe strong, and what they miss the most about being on campus.

Emily Calkins, Class Co-President, Stanford GSB MBA ’21

Emily Calkins, Stanford GSB MBA ‘ 21

How is the online classroom experience going at your school? What’s different about it?
It’s a huge adjustment for everyone; you really can’t overstate the work that goes into reconfiguring classes in a way that feels authentic and engaging in a virtual format. If anything, for me, it’s highlighted that the classroom experience is a delicate balance between what is being provided (lecture, teaching) and how it is consumed (discussion, student focus, etc.)—especially in this new world. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is how much we rely in non-verbal and in-person cues to build community and trust, especially in some of the hallowed elective classes here at the GSB; the amount that eye contact, a quick laugh, or a nodding head can build momentum is massive. We are missing that a lot in the Zoom world.

What is the technology platform your school is using to deliver classes online? Does it vary from class to class?
Nearly all of our courses are live lectures on Zoom, with alternating versions of student engagement including polling, surveys, cold-calling, breakout rooms, and more. Some professors have also incorporated online content to be easier to digest via Canvas (our LMS) or NovoEd in some cases.

How are you maintaining relationships with your classmates, professors, and other b-school community members during this time period?
The community is ceaselessly creative and energetically committed to overcoming obstacles, which is really inspiring. A student-led grassroots initiative, Team Posivity Contagion, has launched >75 events for nearly 800 attendees over the last few weeks. Professors are hosting fascinating online lunches to discuss policy and economic implications of the crisis. Students and friends are watching shows together on Netflix, Zooming in to share “one thing we love about the birthday girl” to celebrate a peer’s special day. It’s all pretty amazing!

If you are active in any clubs, how has their work continued?
Kerry Omughelli and I were elected as student body co-presidents only a few days before shelter in place was enacted, which has been among the most challenging and rewarding “learn on the job” leadership experiences of my life so far. Quickly, we were thrust into meetings with Administration, fielding hundreds of feedback calls/texts/emails/Slack messages from classmates, and trying to move the ball forward on community changes that could help our peers feel safe and connected during this crazy time. Not only has the work continued, it has done so at an unprecedented clip!

Kerry Omughelli, Class Co-President, Stanford GSB MBA ’21

Kerry Omughelli, Stanford GSB MBA ’21 

How is the online classroom experience going at your school? What’s different about it?
Recreating the classroom ‘online’ is inherently challenging and by definition, a fundamentally different experience for all of us. In the transition to the virtual world, we have inevitably lost some of the ‘in-person’ magic that has historically made GSB classes so unique. I have missed hearing the hearty laughs precipitated by our professors’ idiosyncrasies and the impassioned delivery of our classmates’ comments in class, things just don’t shine through as brightly via online platforms.

From an infrastructural perspective, the faculty and staff have dedicated significant time, energy, and resources towards retooling classes that were designed to be live, for our online consumption and delivery. Students are also committed to staying engaged—utilizing the online chat feature to provide running commentary and chiming in with “+1’s” and other affirmations when classmates unmute their mics. While it is undoubtedly challenging to learn and engage through a digital partition, these small, but meaningful, acts help us feel a bit closer in this time of distance learning.

What is the technology platform your school is using to deliver classes online? Does it vary from class to class?
As far as I’m aware, most of the classes are delivered via Zoom, with varying degrees to which they incorporate Zoom functionality. The classes that I have been most excited by have implemented live polls, breakout rooms, and student presentations via screen sharing to promote student engagement in a virtual environment.

How are you maintaining relationships with your classmates, professors, and other b-school community members during this time period?
I cannot overstate how encouraging it has been to watch every facet of the GSB community step up, create innovative avenues to remain connected, and redefine what it means to be a close-knit community in a time of physical distancing. From heated, online Codenames feuds to 20-people Netflix watch parties of “Love is Blind,” from classmate-led Zoom wellness talks to dynamic faculty and staff brainstorms, I am continuously inspired by my peers’ creativity and commitment to helping us build new relationships and deepen existing ties, even from afar. Part of my challenge to myself this quarter is to lean fully into the virtual experience and take advantage of this unique time and set of opportunities that have sprung up as a result of the new normal. I just signed up to participate in an online beginner cooking class with some very talented classmates and am excited to finally learn how to cook non-breakfast foods (and here’s to hoping I can diversify beyond eggs!!).

If you are active in any clubs, how has their work continued?
My main on-campus involvement is through my work with the MBA Student Association. Shortly before shelter-in-place was announced, I was elected to serve as Co-President (with the amazing Emily Calkins). Though the mandate of the MBA Student Association leadership has always been to serve as stewards of the student body, this season of uncertainty, transition, and change has rendered our responsibility to magnify the voices of our classmates more important than ever. In that sense, our work has grown significantly both in scope and in significance. We spend most of our days monitoring and collecting the diverse sentiments of our classmates from multiple communication channels, from the unofficial (text, phone calls, Slack messages, etc.) to the official (surveys, e-mails, Zoom office hours, etc.). Our hope is that by providing an open and transparent line of communication, we can provide encouragement and confidence to our classmates in this time of change in ensuring that their voices and concerns are heard by the school administration.

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Posted in: MBA Student Life

Schools: Stanford GSB

About the Author

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal

Lauren Wakal is the Editor-in-Chief of Clear Admit, responsible for overseeing content creation for the site. Lauren has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.

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