For the first time ever, WashU Olin will welcome new specialized master’s degree students in the spring semester—a manifestation of how the Olin team has met yet another challenge wrought by the pandemic. And with this new intake, my colleagues have gone the extra mile to create important student experiences for those who will attend online.
The story starts well before the fall semester began, when hundreds of international students had hoped to arrive in St. Louis for fall classes. As travel restrictions, quarantines and visa issues barred many students’ arrival, Olin’s team pivoted. We enrolled 306 SMP students in the fall—online and in-person—but allowed hundreds more to defer their admission to the spring, hoping circumstances might change.
Many months later, the virus has not yet relented. Circumstances haven’t changed. But the international students who deferred from the fall still want a WashU Olin experience. I’m pleased to say our faculty, our Weston Career Center and our graduate programs team is prepared to provide that experience to approximately 350 more SMP students who will join us in January.
Faculty have done a tremendous amount of work to add additional course sections and adapt their curricula. They’ve accepted additional teaching loads, catering to students many time zones away in China and other international locations. Faculty members also updated their office hours to accommodate students learning abroad.
“We’re making a special effort to keep class sizes small, using tech to enhance the experience while they’re learning abroad with us,” said Ruthie Pyles, associate dean of graduate enrollment management. “We’re trying to think about providing the intimate classroom experience for them as well as students in the states.”
Gathering students in person—in China
Indeed, as part of that effort, Olin’s team is organizing residencies in Shanghai and Beijing. These weeklong meetups, where travel is again allowed, will assemble the SMP students in China—those who began in the fall and those who begin in spring. They’ll interact with classmates, engage with alumni, participate in our industry speaker series and meet with a career coach. We’re even arranging sightseeing tours.
“This innovation is built on a foundation of the success of supporting students and our connections in China,” said Jen Whitten, associate dean and director of the Weston Career Center. She is collaborating with Ashley Macrander, associate dean and director of graduate student services, on the programming.
Nine members of Ashley’s team are working with the WCC and partners in China on arrangements for workshops, networking events and sightseeing—along with the considerable logistics involved with moving, housing and feeding the students. The residencies during the spring semester “will create an opportunity for SMP students to build community and participate in professional development,” Ashley said.
Building on our strategic foundations
And as Jen points out, we’re able to make these extraordinary—and unprecedented—arrangements thanks to earlier work on Olin’s strategic plan. For example, we’ve reorganized and upgraded the WCC in many ways, including the addition of Corporate Relations Manager Di Lu in Shanghai as our eyes and ears on the ground there.
“She is working in China, supporting these efforts, and supporting our students’ career goals,” Jen said. “She is actively hosting employer events and helping students connect with Chinese companies.”
We’ve also expanded our footprint as a global business school through our global MBA, which I’ve written about before and which has given us the contacts and resources in China to create a valuable student experience now for our SMP students. I’ve also discussed how our investment in the Center for Digital Education has prepared us to evolve course delivery and knowledge dissemination for online learning and virtual classrooms.
As I’ve said in this space before, our work is singularly focused on traversing three horizons—the “firefighting” horizon at the outset of the pandemic, the “raise-our-game” horizon as we’ve adapted and the “look to the stars” horizon as we reimagine business education in a dramatically new global environment.
With our new SMP intake in the spring, I believe we find ourselves spanning the second and third horizons as we both raise our game and explore new ways to disseminate knowledge, bestow the accreditation of a WashU Olin degree and preserve the important student experience.