Come Together

Building community during the coronavirus crisis.
Come Together

AS THE PANDEMIC unfolds around the world, the education field faces massive disruptions. Most campuses have closed down, forcing administrators to move classes online and seek substitutes for experiential learning. While it’s been a time of stress and uncertainty, it’s also been a period of innovation and hope, as institutions and individuals have found creative ways to connect, cope, and continue their essential activities.

Some of the solutions have been fun, even playful. For instance, a handful of Boston University students joined with friends from other schools to create Quaranteen University, which allows graduating high school and college students to use the videogame Minecraft to participate in virtual commencement ceremonies. By mid-April, had signed up close to 900 students from more than 300 schools who planned to receive their diplomas on a virtual stage during a May 22 ceremony.

Similarly, a startup called My School Dance—an online platform that helps schools organize events—created Virtual Prom Live to give teens an alternative option to the spring dances that had been canceled by the pandemic. Virtual Prom Live aimed to give region-specific prom experiences to students, complete with DJs and the crowning of kings and queens, during online events held in April and May. My School Dance is among the 20 startups supported through the Master of Business Creation program at the Eccles School of Business and Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Other responses to the crisis have been thoughtful and determined, designed to support vulnerable students, struggling local businesses, and overwhelmed business leaders. Here, we present just a few of the actions schools have taken in recent months to support their students and their stakeholders through this chaotic and uncertain time.

Student-Centric Solutions

Some students have struggled to enroll in classes; others are wrestling with more basic needs. Schools are devising ways to help them through a host of different challenges.

◼︎ Kedge Business School in France has expanded the emergency fund that it maintains—even in ordinary times—to help students facing financial difficulties. The school’s 2019–2020 fund was nearly depleted by spring, but donors quickly raised an additional €50,000 (approximately US$54,250), which the school matched to create a fund of €100,000 for student relief. The school also has deployed teams of volunteer employees and psychologists from its mental support program to help students dealing with isolation, inactivity, and anxiety.

“The common good is one of our strategic priorities,” says Céline Claverie, Kedge’s general secretary. “It was therefore unthinkable that we would fail to help our most disadvantaged students in the face of this unprecedented health and economic crisis.”

◼︎ SKEMA Business School in France has launched a fundraising campaign to aid students impacted by COVID-19. For the effort, SKEMA’s Alumni and Sponsorship Department has mobilized the school’s stakeholders—including 2,500 partner companies, 45,000 alumni, service providers, school employees, and students.

By the end of the year, the school plans to allocate 300 social grants to students who have lost internships or work-study contracts, as well as parents who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Students may submit requests for assistance from now through December 20. The school will disburse “SKEMA United” grants of between €1,000 to €3,000 (approximately US$1,080 to $3,240).

◼︎ Similarly, two Florida schools are expanding aid to students who have lost jobs or are experiencing financial hardship because of the pandemic. The College of Business at Florida International University in Miami has expanded the mission of the Dean’s Destination Fund, and FIU Business has redirected US$25,000 from its general operating budget to support this effort. The school also is reaching out to alumni, supporters, and the wider business community to raise funds to keep students in school.

The University of South Florida in St. Petersburg will provide emergency financial support to struggling students thanks to a US$50,000 gift from longtime supporters Kate Tiedemann (the namesake of the business school) and Ellen Cotton. The gift was made in response to the USF United Support Fund effort and will be administered through the Stay AFLOAT fund. Together, Tiedemann and Cotton have contributed more than $15 million to the university. Stay AFLOAT scholarships are open to full- or part-time students at all academic levels and in all majors on the St. Petersburg campus.

◼︎ ESADE in Barcelona, Spain, has reached out to applicants to its full-time MBA, EMBA, and MSc programs who can’t take GMAT/GRE tests because of the pandemic. The school has told candidates who have already submitted applications that they can take the online version of the ESADE Admissions Test and the online version of the ESADE English test. In addition, the school contacted candidates to set up interviews by videoconference and offering applicants a virtual tour of the campus.

The school also has reassured candidates that it will be flexible with students who are having trouble obtaining transcripts or who miss deadlines by a few days. In a school communication, officials say, “We understand that there could be unexpected delays on your side due to covid-19 disruptions, and hope that you will understand that there may also be some technical problems on our side that could delay application submission.”

Community Component

Many schools are also reaching out to local populations, either to offer educational opportunities or to provide practical assistance during the pandemic.

◼︎ Rice University in Houston, Texas, will offer for-credit summer classes at a significant discount not only to registered undergraduate students, but also to the general public. For-credit summer courses that usually cost $1,000 per credit hour will be offered for $500 per credit hour to members of the general public; further discounts are available to current Rice students, students who receive need-based aid, or community members who take multiple courses.

University president David Leebron asked deans and department chairs to “consider adding summer offerings that will be strategic and in high demand,” including those in business, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering. “We recognize the Houston and Texas communities are suffering right now,” says Leebron. “Lives have been disrupted. Families now aren’t able to do what they had planned to do, and college-age students will have had other opportunities canceled. So, we’re trying to help the broader community continue to learn at a challenging time.”

◼︎ Similarly, Arizona State University in Tempe will be offering more than 5,000 summer courses at reduced rates for a wide range of learners looking for educational opportunities during the pandemic. Classes will be provided in a traditional online format as well as an interactive, digitally enhanced format.

Learners at all stages can learn through ASU for You, most of which is free; they also can take courses on ASU Open Scale, which allows them to convert courses to university credit if they decide to do so later. University students in the U.S. who are in good standing at their home colleges can enroll in summer courses through a streamlined application process. Admitted ASU students who want to take summer classes will receive a $500 Summer 2020 Award for every three credit hours enrolled. High school sophomores and juniors can begin earning college credit through ASU Digital Prep and ASU Open Scale classes. Continuing ASU students will have access to all ASU summer courses; for Arizona residents, financial aid will be available.

◼︎ The University of Miami in Florida has authorized a series of rapid response grants administered by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. To receive the grants, which range from US$5,000 to $40,000, faculty members and students must develop and execute research that will broaden understanding of COVID-19 or begin to mitigate its impacts quickly.

Among the 24 ideas that have been funded so far are an oral rinse test that detects the virus earlier, a behavior therapy program for parents, and reusable N95 mask designs that can be created on 3D printers and shared with other medical facilities.

“Our idea was to take advantage of researchers’ creativity and commitment in tackling some of the most pressing problems around the COVID-19 epidemic,” says John Bixby, vice provost for research and professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology and neurological surgery. “We challenged them to examine the effects of the pandemic on multiple aspects of people’s lives—not just the physical ones, but the social aspects, the economic ones, and the environmental.”

◼︎ Two Indiana business schools are collaborating to help healthcare provider IU Health manage the COVID-19 demand surge in its 16 hospitals across five regions in the state. The interdisciplinary team is made up of professors from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in Bloomington and Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management in West Lafayette. Since late March, the schools have been working to develop a predictive model of the resources required for an adequate response to the pandemic. The model integrates disease prediction with a sophisticated patient flow workload model.

“A lot of models that predict the number of ICUs and ventilators you’re going to need really are back-of-the-envelope calculations,” says Kelley’s Johnathan Helm. But different regions have different demographics, populations, and needs. “We are creating a learning model of how the patients in each region of Indiana are being affected and how they differ from those in the national model.” The team quickly began providing weekly updates to IU Health and is exploring the possibility of having the tool deployed statewide.

◼︎ Several schools have been able to secure assistance for their communities by capitalizing on connections they have with China. For instance, Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, runs a Master of Business Administration–Global Executive Track, or GET-MBA, program at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. About 25 Chinese students enrolled in the initial program last fall, and this spring they conducted a personal protective equipment (PPE) drive that sent 3,000 respirator masks, 12,000 surgical masks, 1,250 pairs of surgical gloves, and 50 isolation gowns to Shenandoah University to be distributed to healthcare professionals.

At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, about 100 members of the Chinese Alumni Association at the Ross School of Business donated personal protective equipment and US$42,000 to the University of Michigan Health System. It was part of a larger campuswide fundraiser organized by the U-M Association of Chinese Professors, which brought in $120,000 for the health system, as well as physical donations of protective gear such as masks, face shields, goggles, and coveralls.

Active members of the alumni community in China reached out to their social networks to raise money and secure the gear. On U-M’s website, Bin Zhao of the university’s office of development said, “Ross MBA alumni in China are a tightly knit group. They have lived through the worst of COVID-19 in China.”

Business Backup

Schools are helping business leaders navigate the crisis through either local activities or online resources.

◼︎ The Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., has devised a number of activities to support small businesses that are struggling. For instance, its Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship has hosted two virtual workshops on “Positioning Your Business Amidst COVID-19,” which were attended by students, faculty, and Mess Hall, a community of D.C.-based food entrepreneurs. Ciocca Center presenters reviewed topics such as SWOT analysis, Michael Porter’s Five Forces, and the Business Model Canvas before taking questions from attendees and conducting individual consultations.

Going forward, the center will offer all of its business contacts virtual individual consultations with the Entrepreneurship Center team and professors from the Busch School. In addition, the Ciocca Center will host weekly “virtual happy hours” that encourage collaboration, commiseration, coalition building, and community among small business owners in the D.C. area. The center will produce its monthly newsletter on a weekly basis to provide subscribers with the most up-to-date resources.

“When we saw all the businesses our students collaborate with during the year plunged into a sudden crisis, we knew we couldn’t just stand by and watch,” says Brian Becker, director of Small Business Outreach for the Ciocca Center. “We find ourselves uniquely suited to aid these businesses in their greatest time of need.”

The Smith School of Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, is joining forces with the City of Kingston and Kingston Economic Development to help local businesses, not-for-profits, and social enterprises survive the impact of COVID-19. Under the banner of the Kingston Region Business Support Network, the school is offering a number of free services.

◼︎ For instance, a matching platform on the school’s website will pair organizations with student consultants who have a diverse range of skills and work experience that encompass small business, large business, and entrepreneurship. Supported by faculty, students will help organizations with research, strategic planning, website development, sales and marketing, e-commerce, grant writing, and more. Smith School of Business faculty and instructors are also hosting free webinars for regional businesses on topics such as maintaining cash flow during the coronavirus crisis and making critical changes in response to the new normal.

“We are ready to help local organizations as they cope with the extraordinary impact of COVID-19,” says Brenda Brouwer, dean of the Smith School. “These are our neighbors, friends, employers of our students, and the businesses, stores, and services we rely on day-to-day. We want to contribute what we can to help them through this difficult time.”

◼︎ Harvard Business School in Boston, Massachusetts, has created the COVID-19 Business Impact website to provide information for business and government leaders. Topics include economic and financial impacts, healthcare management, crisis management, leadership, and technology. The site will generate a weekly newsletter about the pandemic’s potential impact and eventually will house data, articles, and podcasts.

Also at Harvard, the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative and Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Coronavirus Local Response Initiative is providing guidance to mayors and municipal leaders through virtual gatherings taking place in Harvard Business School’s Live online classroom. In one of the first sessions, 60 participants were displayed on the screen wall in the classroom and allowed to pose questions directly to faculty. Special guests have included Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and former president Bill Clinton. Critical takeaways from each gathering are posted online.

◼︎ The Oxford Foundry (OXFO), an entrepreneurship center at the University of Oxford in the U.K., has launched a two-part action plan to accelerate entrepreneurial solutions to the current crisis. In the first part of the plan, the school will dramatically scale up support and access to funding for 13 of the startups that have been involved with the Foundry since its opening in 2017. These 13 startups are actively engaging in the fight against the virus through inventions such as fever detection cameras, communication platforms, sensors that monitor hospital bed availability, and a remote tutoring app.

The second part of the plan revolves around the OXFO Covid-19 Rapid Solutions Builder, which is designed to find and scale up innovative solutions to challenges that will arise from the pandemic. The initiative is reaching out to all Oxford students and alumni who are devising solutions within healthcare; education; inclusive social engagement and mobility; and operations, logistics, and supply chains. Those with the four most viable solutions will be put into a newly created two-month intensive program that gives them access to master classes, a network of mentors, and partners who can provide technical and operational support. The Foundry will also ask students and alumni—particularly those in the Oxford AI Society, Engineers without Borders Oxford, and Oxford Biotech Society—to contribute their time and expertise to developing the proposed solutions and ventures.

‘The pandemic is shining a fierce light onto the areas of our society that urgently need fixing. It has highlighted the inequalities, the divisions and the scarcities,” says Ana Bakshi, director of the Foundry. “Our society post-COVID-19 will be presented with multiple challenges. Universities are uniquely placed to address these, being home to multiple communities and having the capability to bring them together rapidly and effectively.”

◼︎ LSE Ideas—the foreign policy think tank of the London School of Economics—has launched a digital information platform that will serve as a resource for people in public, private, and civic sectors. The “Better Together” platform showcases evidence, good practices, and lessons on how companies are teaming up with other actors to tackle the coronavirus crisis, with a particular focus on experiences in fragile societies. It was launched with organizations such as Business and Human Rights, the United Nations Development Program in Colombia, and the PeaceStartup Foundation.

"Collective action at the local level and learning across borders will ultimately be the key resources that rebuild societies hit by the wide-ranging and profound implications of this pandemic,” says Mary Martin, director of the U.N. Business and Human Security Initiative at LSE Ideas. “Through the Better Together platform, we want to build a picture of that collective action … we want to make these actions visible and make them count.”

◼︎ The Sasin School of Management in Bangkok, Thailand, has been using social media and email blasts to promote alumni businesses that are having a positive impact on the well-being of the community. These include restaurants and other food-based businesses; businesses producing health-related items such as masks and sanitizers; and tech-related businesses that make it easier for people to work from home. In addition, the school is drawing attention to alumni outreach programs that are providing meals, face shields, and clean water to healthcare workers and people in need.

At the same time, Sasin is putting together a series of interviews with prominent leaders to look at the future of business, work, and society. So far, the school has conducted interviews with Sasin faculty members, a top banker, a venture capitalist, and a Buddhist monk. Target audiences include students, prospective students, and the general public.

“We’re focusing on big picture ideas and long-term implications about how the world is changing,” says Dean Outerson, ambassador and writer-in-residence at the school. “What will business, education, and life be like in 2021 and beyond?”