For the Wisconsin School of Business, like the rest of the UW Madison community, the gravity of the COVID-19 crisis hit home in mid-March. Just days before we were set to recess for spring break, students were informed that after break, classes would be resuming remotely for at least two weeks. As increasing numbers of businesses closed and as major WSB events like the Spring Ball were cancelled, it quickly became clear that we wouldn’t be returning in-person this semester.
Professors have adapted their courses in a wide variety of ways. Some have chosen to pre-record lectures and utilize discussion boards. Others have hosted real-time classes through online portals. All have continued with group projects. It goes without saying that there have been many meetings through Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Teams, and many projects shared through Google Drive and Teams. Coordinating with team members when the quality of their internet connections varies, when many are facing new childcare and work arrangements, and when we’re spread across platforms and geographies, has been challenging, to say the least.
Of course, these challenges aren’t taking place in a vacuum. They reflect those which the corporate world is facing. In the course of editing shared presentations, navigating glitches in digital platforms, or when we discover that the dynamics of a negotiation can change when technology makes it more difficult to sidebar with parties, my peers and I are acquiring skills and knowledge that are relevant to the environment we’ll be graduating into. By approximating these future challenges, the value of WSB’s experiential learning has continued, even if it looks a bit different from what we’ve grown familiar with.
As we move towards the end of the semester, we find that the world into which we’ll be entering, either in the form of internships or full-time careers, looks vastly different than we had expected. The major shifts we’re beginning to see in economics, government regulation, business interests, healthcare, international relations, and culture will continue to interact in ways that will make it difficult to predict what our lives and careers might look like. It is, undeniably, a stressful time in our lives, as it is in everyone’s.
However, the crisis has served to shine a light on the importance of what we’ve learned through WSB. Extreme scenario planning exercises that previously seemed far-fetched suddenly feel less so. Discussions of what the Federal Reserve should do to prepare for crises have come into sharp focus. The most important things we learn at WSB, as board members and alumni often remind us, are not necessarily specific facts or formulas. Rather, they’re ways of viewing the world and meeting the challenges we find there.