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The Duke Fuqua Experience During COVID-19

Duke Fuqua MBA student, Jenny Large, captures the essence of b-school life many students are now currently experiencing due to COVID-19: “Life as a member of Team Fuqua hasn’t ended, it has just moved online until we can be together again in person.

MBA students and faculty have made a number of adjustments to the new normal.  Large and another Fuqua MBA classmate, Vinesh Kapil, share below how Duke and the community have come together to thrive during it.

Jenny Large, Duke Fuqua MBA ’21

Jenny Large, Duke Fuqua MBA ’21

How is the online classroom experience going at your school? What’s different about it?
The online classroom experience was an adjustment, but it amazes me how quickly the faculty was able to pivot to an online model. Our IT department set up classrooms on Zoom just days after Duke announced that campus would be closed during the Spring 2 quarter. Many classes at Fuqua are discussion-based, so there’s inevitably a learning curve to facilitating a discussion among a class of fifty people. At first, there was a great deal of, “You’re still on mute!” but we quickly got the hang of it. Several professors use the break-out room functionality on Zoom to ensure that we can still have small group discussions, which also creates a sense of normalcy.

What is the technology platform your school is using to deliver classes online? Does it vary from class to class?
Our professors use Zoom across the board.

How are you maintaining relationships with your classmates, professors, and other b-school community members during this time period?
While we can’t be together in person, the Fuqua community feels stronger than ever because my classmates and I have doubled our efforts to connect while we’re physically distant. Fuqua Friday, a long-standing Fuqua tradition in which students, faculty and staff gather together for dinner at the end of the week, has moved to Zoom. The MBA Association, our student government, began hosting a school-wide trivia competition on Thursday nights. Our professional clubs are still hosting events over Zoom. Our wine club even teamed up with a local wine store in Durham to host a socially distanced wine tasting for Fuqua students! While social distancing has become our new normal, Team Fuqua has found a way to move forward.

If you are active in any clubs, how has their work continued?
Many of our professional clubs are still hosting events over Zoom to help prepare students for their upcoming internships and full-time roles. We are fortunate in that we have access to many thought leaders at Fuqua. Clubs have been hosting talks with academics and professionals who can share insights about the economy, the job market and working remotely during these unprecedented times.

I’m one of four co-chairs for Blue Devil Weekend (BDW), a typically in-person event, where we welcome admitted students to Fuqua. With campus closed, we worked with the Admissions team to transition BDW to an entirely virtual event, connecting admitted students with current first-years, professors, deans and career coaches. Life as a member of Team Fuqua hasn’t ended, it has just moved online until we can be together again in person.

Vinesh Kapil, Duke Fuqua MBA ’21

Vinesh Kapil, Duke Fuqua MBA ’21

How is the online classroom experience going at your school? What’s different about it?
Fuqua was fully virtual for the entirety of our Spring 2 quarter. Overall, I was impressed by how quickly our students and professors adjusted to the change. Of course, this virtual experience isn’t a full replacement for the fantastic, community-driven learning environment full-time, in-person business school provides. But given how sudden and drastic the changes were, it was an impressive pivot.

For starters, there was consensus that our “Fuqua Norms,” as we call the community standards we hold ourselves to, were to remain intact in this new virtual world. This included things like always being on time, being respectful and engaged in lectures, not eating during class, etc. On top of this, we augmented these with new ‘informal’ Fuqua Norms. These included things like turning on your camera while in class or going on mute when you were not talking. While we didn’t always adhere to the new norms (any MBA student at any school in the world would be lying if they told you they didn’t take at least one class from pj’s in their bed!), overall, these rules helped provide guardrails to try to be as effective as possible during a stressful time for many.

Reflecting on my experience over the last quarter, it’s become clear that the knowledge transfer itself was not the issue that tested me the most. Fuqua professors provided all of the high-quality information, lectures and materials for us to sink our teeth into. Personally, what was the most challenging, was self-motivation and engagement. I derive a great deal of energy from being in the classroom environment and being around other people. So while our virtual tools were helpful in rebuilding the classroom experience, I had to work hard to remind myself to stay attentive and engaged. Coming out of this experience and looking to the future, I’m hopeful our classes will 1) incorporate teaching aspects of how we become effective leaders in both live and virtual settings, and 2) add in virtual contingency planning for any unforeseen disruptions in the years to come.

And, of course, this experience has reminded us to not take any of our time together for granted in the year to come, which will make our first quarter back ‘live’ with each other a ridiculous amount of fun.

What is the technology platform your school is using to deliver classes online? Does it vary from class to class?
Luckily for us, we were already experienced at using an online tool called Canvas to help track our class progress, assignments deadlines, project submissions, grading and more.

In terms of the classroom experience, our professors used Zoom to deliver lectures. The platform itself did not differ from class to class, but the usage of the platform did. I was impressed with how quickly our professors adapted to the tool and employed a number of the different functions. For example, many classes utilized breakouts, making space for us to have small group discussions, albeit virtually. Others used polling and pre-class quizzes to provide a jumping off point for our discussions. Of course, different professors had varying degrees of comfort with the tool. Additionally, some classes were bound to be more lecture-driven or conversation-driven, regardless of a virtual or live teaching environment, simply due to the nature of the material or style of the teacher.

How are you maintaining relationships with your classmates, professors, and other b-school community members during this time period?
As any business school alumni, message board, faculty or enrolled student will tell you, the relational aspect of the business school experience is critical to your development. For me, this is where the community-oriented skew of Fuqua showed up. Even in an environment where we were separated physically, the “Team Fuqua” component of our community was alive and well over the past quarter.

We had all kinds of activities my peers put together, from weekly trivia across the entire school (my team was “Purhell” and, yes, the name is trademarked!), to our quarterly satirical comedy show, to virtual cooking competitions, to open forums on mental health, there was certainly no lack of programming to fill up your time. There were happy hours planned by our sections, previous travel crew reunions (shout-out to the Namibia team), clubs and more.

Our school-wide weekly happy hour, “Fuqua Friday” continued, with a toast from a leader in our community each week. One week, we were even blessed with a toast from a lead character in a popular Netflix show involving tigers, mullets, murder-for-hire and cool cats and kittens, organized by the fantastic (and questionably connected) Dr. J.

A special shout-out goes to our second-year students. Even though it was a disruptive and downright weird close to their MBA experience, this remarkable group of students remains engaged in the community. They remain active in social and professional conversations, and overall, are showcasing an impressive resiliency and commitment to Fuqua.

I was most impressed by the peer engagement during these trying times. Even outside of school, I found myself making space to reconnect with old friends, colleagues and folks that I hadn’t been able to converse with given the intensity of the business school experience. As people, I think the intensity of our daily experience drove many of us to really crave human connection, which translated to some fantastic and fulfilling virtual conversations – some of which were unexpected, and some of which were fueled by an unmentioned number of glasses of wine.

If you are active in any clubs, how has their work continued?
The clubs at Fuqua were a big part of the peer-to-peer engagement we saw over the past quarter. The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI), Design and Innovation Club (D&I) and the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club (EVCC) put on a number of wonderful workshops focused on designing and innovating in times of crisis. The Private Equity Club, hosted speakers from the Fuqua community, like Dr. Cam Harvey and John Graham, who discussed the impact of the crisis on the economy, future financial outlooks and more. Our MBAA (Daytime MBA Student Governing Body) Diversity and Inclusion Cabinet hosted a fantastic, “virtual” Inclusion Week, with several follow-on conversations around the importance of mental health.

While I could go on and on about the amazing programming our clubs put together, suffice to say, the clubs did not stop planning for an engaged quarter. Conversations and planning for the future continued as well, with club presidents building out schedules and event planning for the coming year! (Shameless plug, if you’re an incoming student who wants to get involved with Design & Innovation at Fuqua before you get here, HMU).

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Posted in: MBA Student Life

Schools: Duke / Fuqua

About the Author


Lauren Wakal

Lauren Wakal 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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