We Are All in This Together – The Transition to Distance Learning

2020-2021 CASE Net Impact Club Cabinet Meeting

When Kiersten Chresfield, class of 2020 Daytime MBA student at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and a Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) I3 Fellow, imagined her last term at Fuqua, it did not involve spending her time searching for a job in the midst of a global pandemic. However, in light of the massive repercussions of COVID-19, Chresfield and many other talented students who are enrolled in undergraduate and post-graduate programs are finding themselves in a situation that they could not have imagined: adjusting to an entirely new format of higher education and preparing to enter an entirely new job market.

“As it has for everyone around the world, COVID-19 has drastically impacted my life,” said Chresfield. “I dropped some of my classes and replaced them with virtual experiential opportunities because I have never learned best through online lectures. I also have had to readjust my job search to accommodate for the realities of the new market, which has been really challenging, but I have been grateful to have support from my classmates, Fuqua and CASE.”

Across the country, at least 4,234 colleges and universities have closed their campuses and moved to distance learning, which has impacted nearly 26 million students. From trying to adjust to the Zoom calls that are replacing discussion-based classes and to grieving the cancellation of many events, such as graduation, the student experience has been vastly impacted and Fuqua is no exception. However, in spite of this, many Fuqua students are finding opportunities to innovate and learn in different ways.

“I think one of the biggest challenges of transitioning to virtual learning is that you can’t get the same-level of discussion that you can get in the classroom,” said Kirk Wilson, class of 2021 Daytime MBA student and CASE Fellow. “However, at the same time, there are also a lot of opportunities to try new things, get creative and engage in a different way.”

One of the ways that Wilson, along with Kira Osborn, also a class of 2021 Daytime MBA student and CASE Fellow, are getting creative is in their roles as the incoming co-chairs of the Net Impact Club. As they build out their new cabinet, they are brainstorming ways that they can still establish and foster community in a virtual environment through happy hours, trivia and other events, just as they would do if they were in person. They are also already having discussions about what innovative remote opportunities may exist for the club’s signature event, the Sustainable Business and Sustainable Impact (SBSI) Conference, which occurs every year.

“I think one of the things that has impressed me about the Fuqua community during this time is the ability of absolutely everyone to be flexible,” said Osborn. “With our Net Impact Club members and my professors, like John Buley, who transitioned his seminar on advanced social entrepreneurship to focus on social responses to COVID-19, I feel like I am learning firsthand about adaptability and leading in times of change.

In addition to the pivot in Professor Buley’s class to focus on real-time learning, many other CASE programs have been affected by the transition to distance learning. From adapting independent studies and consulting projects to accommodate to the new challenges of the pandemic, to welcoming a new cohort of CASE and CASE i3 Fellows virtually, CASE is trying its best to support students in this challenging time.

“We recognize that this is a challenging time for everyone and the most important thing that we want to remind our students is that we are here to support them,” said Robyn Fehrman, Managing Director of CASE. “Whether through offering advice during virtual office hours about how to navigate the current job market or by helping students come up with strategies to improve their online experience, we are a community ready to help.”

Looking into the uncertain months ahead, CASE plans to continue to reevaluate how it can best meet the needs of its students and transition its programming online. In the meantime, Fuqua students are taking their commitment to maintaining a positive social impact community very seriously. From offering free cooking or workout classes to their fellow classmates to participating in virtual volunteering to provide support to Fuqua families – an initiative started by Chresfield, the student who is graduating this term – the Daytime MBA students are working together to support each other during this difficult time. As Chresfield said, “We all need to be kind to ourselves and each other during this time – we are all in this together.”