Student Life

Pivot

by Janice Kennedy, Executive Director of Recruiting and Admissions

How Rice Business Has Adapted To The Coronavirus Crisis

Spring is usually a big season at Rice Business. There’s the thrill of the Rice Business Plan Competition, the satisfaction of Investiture, and the sheer energy of being present on our leafy campus. This year, of course, spring at Rice Business looks very different. Yet our commitment to community and growth has stayed the same, and the way staff, students and faculty have responded to the challenges of COVID-19 has been inspiring.

Our most striking adaptation was the pivot to online instruction. Rice Business programs were converted to online teaching within two days. Whether you’re taking two years off for a Full-Time MBA or dedicating nights or weekends to the Professional program, business students are focused on moving forward. We are too.

"I was amazed at the speed with which they were able to transition our classes and even speaking events/lectures to an online format," Julia Retta, Professional MBA class of 2020, told us. "I'd love to give a special shout-out to Prashant Kale, who teaches my Strategies for Growth class. From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, he communicated to students with exceptional empathy and let us know he recognized the multiple stresses that Professional MBA students are dealing with — work, school, parents having to juggle childcare/homeschool, not to mention the general anxiety brought on by COVID-19."

Sharon McNerney, Full-Time MBA Class of 2020, said she had a similar experience. "I have been very impressed by how quickly my professors got all our classes online and how well the classes have gone," she said. "I also like that they suggest we keep our videos on because it creates more of a social and in-person type of experience."

In an interview with Rice News, Professor Jing Zhou praised the detailed prep she got before the official stay-at-home order, which simplified the digital leap. Several weeks before virtual classes began, volunteer staff “ambassadors” helped Zhou and other professors, train for online teaching.  “I was pleasantly surprised that teaching went really well,” Zhou said. “The 60 students stayed engaged throughout the two days.  Occasionally, the students’ toddlers, dogs and cats popped in our class, bringing a smile to our faces.”

Professor Scott Sonenshein, author of the newly released Joy at Work, had a jump start: he literally wrote a book on resourcefulness. "I put into action what I’ve spent much of my career researching,” he said. “With only a few short days to get my class online, I transitioned it with minimal disruption and took advantage of the online platform to do things I never had thought about in the classroom environment.”

We've also adapted our programming and deadlines to the new climate. For our on-campus MBAs and Master of Accounting Program, we've launched a rolling admissions process for Round 3 applications, waived applications fees for these programs, and set up weekly online chats for any applicant to talk with our Recruiting and Admissions team members.

Meanwhile, MBA@Rice, our online hybrid MBA, continues almost untouched by the tumult of recent weeks. The thriving program is fully operational, and we're accepting applications for July 2020, October 2020 and January 2021.

As a top-25 business school, we have a critical resource in our crisis planning: a rich database of faculty research and experience on leadership, organizational behavior and crisis management. In addition to classroom instruction, our faculty is now teaching these capabilities in real time, living in real world ambiguity, to equip our students to be leaders. You can see some of this practical guidance for yourself in Rice Business Wisdom, our online ideas magazine:

Two samples:

  • During a crisis, outsiders view leaders who show anger, and no sadness, as less effective, according to Rice Business Professor D. Brent Smith.
  • Rice Business Professor Anastasiya Zavyalova explains why pre-existing moral codes are essential for companies in crisis.

Along with the expertise, preparation and hard work of staff and faculty, Rice Business has another critical tool: what you could call our school's DNA. At Rice Business, we teach students that they have joined a culture that is attentive, responsive and kind. We already know that they carry these values into the world and their professional life.

As just one example, after Hurricane Harvey, when first year MBA student Kirby Albright's home flooded, his new classmates pulled on galoshes and mucked out his. "It was a very humbling experience to receive so much help from people I'd really just met," Albright told us.

In recent weeks, as Rice Business mobilized to inform, protect and keep educating at the highest level, students have told us they see the same values in action.

"Rice Business has kept us informed of the situation since we first saw an uptick in U.S. coronavirus cases," Christine Dobbyn, EMBA class of 2020, said. "As a former news reporter, I've closely observed how this real-life crisis is being handled in a university setting. The environment is changing so rapidly, and each decision is being handled carefully and day by day."

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