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Rice Business Responds

by Jennifer Latson

How we’ve adapted to the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past few months, as the scope and impact of COVID-19 have become alarmingly apparent, we’ve seen the world transform. At home and abroad, we’ve witnessed courage and compassion, innovation and improvisation, stumbles and successes. Nowhere in the world is it business as usual.

Here at Rice Business, it’s business unusual. The business of everyday life continues — just in very different forms than we’re used to. Classes go on, research continues, and admission information sessions are still happening, but in ways we’d never have expected three months ago.

The safety of every member of the Rice Business community — students, staff, faculty, alumni and applicants — is our top concern. And we’ve had to innovate faster than ever before to accommodate the needs of everyone in our community who’s been impacted by the pandemic. Which is to say: everyone.

That started with taking classes online on March 16, a week before the rest of Rice University. It continued when the Faculty Senate unanimously agreed to allow all graduate students to choose pass/fail grades instead of letter grades for up to two courses this semester. It extends to prospective students as well: MBA applicants who are unable to take the GMAT or GRE because testing sits are closed are temporarily allowed to provide ACT or SAT scores instead. And the first ever virtual admit day for full-time MBA students kicked off with an online partio at the beginning of April, when newly admitted students were split into groups for trivia and getting to know each other.

In the midst of all this change, we’ve also launched a new program: MBA Early Admit, which allows promising undergraduates to apply to the Rice Business Full-Time MBA during their final year of college and reserve their spot two to five years after graduation. Students are encouraged to explore all sorts of career options, from traditional companies to startups, to help develop their professional and leadership skills during the required pre-MBA work. The deferred-enrollment program is available to Class of 2020 graduating seniors from Rice as well as other universities and has a June 30, 2020 application deadline.

Alumni have convened virtually for coffee hours and networking events in recent weeks, as well as for a webinar on angel investing in uncertain times. And, of course, we’ve taken this issue of Rice Business magazine online for the first time.

Faculty and staff, meanwhile, are keeping connected via Slack and on Zoom, including in the “Brady Bunch”-style town hall meeting pictured here. We are all getting used to seeing each other remotely instead of in person — and discovering that we can still find connection from afar. Videoconferencing brings us into each other’s homes, offering glimpses of personal lives that we don’t always get to see. We’re getting to know each other’s new coworkers and classmates — particularly the furry ones with no respect for personal space.

We’re also seeing members of the Rice Business community rise to the challenges this pandemic has posed. When MBA student William Jon Weintraub, who is deaf, realized that he wouldn’t be able to get the information he needed from online lectures, SPO director Adam J. Herman worked with him to make remote classes more accessible. Rice Business hired a closed captioning provider who does real-time transcriptions during Weintraub’s online courses and in breakout sessions on Zoom.

To help us maintain our inner balance, Emily Reichenbach, a senior client manager in Executive Education, volunteered to teach an all-levels yoga class every Monday morning on Zoom. Apart from being an accomplished yogi, Reichenbach is also a former Houston Rockets Power Dancer who spent six years coaching the Rice Dance Team. 

Even while socially distant, members of the Rice Business community continue to find ways to make an impact in Houston and beyond. Take Coco Ma and Kathleen Harcourt, two MBA students who created the nonprofit #SnacksForMedStaff to deliver free meals to medical staff treating COVID-19 patients. The nonprofit has raised more than $14,000 already and delivered meals to Houston Methodist, Ben Taub, Memorial Hermann and other local hospitals, as well as to healthcare facilities in New York, Michigan and California.

These uncertain times may obscure the positive and inspiring actions all around us and within our community, but I've seen many of them recently.

Dean Peter Rodriguez

Peter Rodriguez, Dean

“Speaking with dozens of newly admitted students this week assures me that our future is bright and that the ways we demonstrate our community's care, compassion and resiliency are noticed by everyone we touch. And, this unprecedented event is already producing innovations and improvements in all we do. Despite its challenges, this is also an exciting time to work in academia.”

We’re looking forward to the future and closely tracking the latest public health guidance to plan our next steps. We anticipate that students will be able to begin their fall semester studies on time and on campus as long as the city and Rice University President Leebron approve reopening. But the health and safety of our community remains paramount. We are prepared to make any necessary adjustments to minimize risk, which may include social distancing requirements and remote learning options.

“We are doing what almost every other organization is doing right now: Working to do the regular work necessary to deliver on our mission while doing the extraordinary work necessary to deliver on our mission in these extraordinary times,” says Senior Associate Dean of Degree Programs Barbara Ostdiek. “The resilience, the positive approach, and the tremendous effort of our faculty, staff and students are what make this possible.”

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