June 01, 2020 • By Xanat Hernandez
As Winter Quarter 2020 drew to a close, students, faculty and staff at The UCI Paul Merage School of Business received the same news that colleges and universities would face across the country—it was time to go online.
While essential staff and some students remained on campus, it was announced that all classes in Spring Quarter 2020 would be held virtually. Students prepared to move back home, professors learned the ins and outs of Zoom and staff quickly pivoted to providing services online.
“We pride ourselves on our ability to lead through disruption,” said Dean Eric Spangenberg. “The Merage School’s prior investment in digital learning capabilities made the transition to remote learning look seamless, when in fact it was a collaborative effort across several units in the School initiated several years ago.” We were uniquely prepared for this crisis, and as a result, we were able to retain the strong sense of community that makes our School special.”
The Merage School is proud of the leadership and systems in place before the COVID-19 pandemic that have allowed the School to continue serving students and members of the Merage School community.
One of the first events affected by the pandemic was the Fully Employed MBA (FEMBA) opening residential—the first time that new students in the FEMBA program would meet each other and the first impression students had of the program.
The opening residential is traditionally a weekend intensive held at a hotel in Orange County, where students meet their small group teams and learn how to prepare case studies.
“The day before the residential was scheduled to begin, we decided to postpone it. We had students already driving to the residential from outside of Southern California,” said Jon Masciana, executive director of the FEMBA program. “It was a tough decision but ultimately it was the correct one and we were still able to deliver a great event.”
The team devised a virtual curriculum for the opening residential including assignments that required new FEMBA students to get to know each other quickly.
“After 15 years in the workforce, I decided it was time to get my MBA,” said Chandra Nimmakayala FEMBA ’22. “I was a little worried about the transition, but it was truly a seamless experience to enroll and start the FEMBA program. It was clear what classes I needed to take and how to lay out my journey at the Merage School.”
Students in every discipline are concerned about their job prospects, even as states slowly begin to reopen. However, the Merage School is focusing on preparing students to thrive in the job market despite the crisis.
One facet of this effort was holding the annual Career Fair. Just weeks away from the planned event date, the Career Fair also needed to be converted to a digital event. The results surpassed expectations. 35 employers participated in this year’s virtual career fair, compared to last year’s 25. Not only did they have more students register (397 compared to last year’s 172, an increase of 130% year over year), participation rate was high at 77%.
“I’m happy to report that our post event employer survey found that 82% of employers said they would be having a follow-up conversation with one or more students,” announced Cynthia Rude, executive director of the Merage School Career Center.
Their message to students on the hunt for an internship or career opportunity is simple: stay informed and prepared: “Stay active – whether that is working on your resume, updating your LinkedIn, reaching out to contacts to conduct informational interviews, or applying to positions. The job search might look different right now, but employers are still hiring. And those that aren’t, will be. When a position becomes available, you want to be ready.”
The traditional MBA Preview Day is a showcase of our Master of Business Administration programs culminating in lunch and networking. Prospective students can learn more about the curriculum, hear from professors and learn from alumni and current students.
For the virtual version, the School expanded the preview day to include all master’s programs. The event featured a keynote presentation by Professor Chris Schwarz, who delivered an economic and market update. Schwarz predicted a long recovery for the U.S, with full recovery not coming until a vaccine is developed. By focusing on restaurants, hotels, airlines and retail sales he was able to share valuable economic info to the audience of prospective students.
“Attendance was up for all MBA programs, said Masciana. “And most importantly—engagement and interest were high. Over one third of the attendees started an application within two weeks of the event.”
Only two quarters into their academic journey, many current Merage School students were still forming key connections with their classmates. Not wanting to lose this essential part of the business school experience, the Merage Student Association (MSA) began their Coffee Chats program. Each week, students are paired with a random partner and get to know each other via Zoom.
“One of the things that makes business school so special is the network you create and the people that you meet during the program,” said MSA VP of Communications Sara Safan MBA ’21. "We wanted to find a way to continue this even during these unprecedented and unpredictable times. The Virtual Coffee Chat initiative was created to connect Merage students who may not have otherwise met on campus and to provide a reminder that we are a community and are here to support one another.”
Though classes and events remain virtual through the summer, the Merage School looks forward to the day we open our doors to the community once more.
“COVID-19 has dramatically impacted all facets of life, leaving many of us concerned or worried about the future,” said Jared Taylor FEMBA ’21. “Despite all of these challenges, the Merage School has been able to ensure that our education and our academic futures are not just in good hands, but safe from the indecision and lack of transparency seen elsewhere.”
Interested in joining us for a virtual event? Access our events calendar here.