MBAs find ways to stay social from a distance

By: Stephen D'Angelo
Johnson MBAs with their pets during Meet My Pet virtual event

Johnson MBAs with their pets in the Meet My Pet hangout, part of the school's virtual Sage Social

What happens when a group of highly motivated MBA students are forced to take an unplanned break from their program and go into isolation from their colleagues?  At the Johnson Graduate School of Management, they find fun, interesting, and valuable ways to make the best of physical distancing—creating opportunities to engage with their professors and classmates during otherwise isolating time the COVID-19 pandemic has created.

“The communal experience at Johnson is one of the program’s most defining qualities,” said Varun Ramadurai, MBA ’21, Student Council co-chair. “With this outbreak causing us to go remote, we wanted students to feel like the Johnson community was still there for them despite the isolation.”

The Johnson Student Council’s Daily Brew newsletter keeps students in the loop.

The council took the initiative to mix things up and curate a list of digital activities that appeal to a wide variety of interests, allowing their peers to continue to connect and engage through their laptops, tablets, and devices. The council shares the list in The Daily Brew newsletter to the Johnson community.

Development continues with subject matter experts

Students on the Ithaca campus resume classes on April 6, fully online; however, the pause in class instruction hasn’t slowed the community’s academic or business pursuits. Daily lectures from professors and practitioners are keeping the community intellectually engaged while providing valuable learning experience for students. Some of the events to date include The Perceived Scarcity of Toilet Paper & the Psychology of Risk Perception with Associate Professor Manoj Thomas and Anticipated Supply Chain Disruptions from COVID-19 with Associate Professor Li Chen.

Wellness and fun in a time of uncertainty

Recognizing that the realities of the pandemic and isolation from friends and colleagues can take a toll on mental health, students are leading online fitness classes and meditation sessions, live yoga classes, cooking tutorials, and discussions around mental health.

“We want to make sure that during these times of social distancing, everyone still maintains a strong tie to the Johnson community,” said Brendan McGrath, MBA ’21, the council’s health and wellness chair. “By incorporating virtual activities that help address these aspects of our students as well-rounded individuals, we believe this will help maintain a sense of normalcy during a period of uncertainty.”

Students have further found creative ways to keep in touch with their colleagues, take a load off, and just have fun. Activities include virtual poker nights, video game tournaments, Women of Johnson Trivia, online Happy Hours, and sharing selected fun photos simply ‘seen around.’

MBAs are heading online to stay connected to Johnson.

Virtual Sage Social takes Johnson tradition online

Sage Socials are a longstanding and long-cherished tradition at Johnson: Every Thursday evening, the Dyson Atrium at Sage Hall transforms from café and study seating to a place for food, drink, networking, and programming that highlights Johnson students’ talents. Knowing its importance as an anchor point for the school’s community-oriented culture, Johnson Student Services moved the events online—starting a series of virtual Sage Socials to help connect faculty, students, and staff. The office has also been running weekly virtual town hall meetings with Dean Mark Nelson and Associate Dean Drew Pascarella, online faculty lectures, and daily virtual office hours.

“Community has always been an important aspect of the Johnson experience and is often what seals the deal when accepted students are weighing their options against offers from other schools,” said Rhonda Velazquez, director of student activities and special events. “The support and collegiality that students and their families enjoy in the Johnson community is unique and highly valued.”

Team rankings for the virtual Sage Social's trivia challenge.
Team rankings for the virtual Sage Social’s trivia challenge.

The first official virtual Sage Social consisted of a Johnson trivia challenge – pitting faculty, student, and staff cohorts against each other – and several “virtual hangouts” people could choose to join based on their interests.

Meet My Pet was without a doubt the most popular hangout, where dogs, fish, and even a rat took center stage. Binge Watching & More highlighted what community members were watching while at home. Some popular choices included Sherlock, Little Fires, and Star Trek: Picard. Other hangouts included Feeling Sporty? and Let’s Get Political.

Outside during the virtual Sage Social "Get Outdoors!" hangout.
Outside during the virtual Sage Social “Get Outdoors!” hangout.

“The council has worked closely with student services to convert previously in-person activities to virtual ones,” said Marisa Werner, JD MBA ’22, Student Council co-chair. “We have been able to both promote and support student-led activities, which we believe has been immensely successful in ensuring that we all stay connected to each other while practicing social distancing.”

“The Johnson community has done an excellent job of attending both professor and student-led events, and we are truly very proud to be members of a community that continue to support one another while simultaneously learning more about each other’s interests and passions,” she said.