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MBAs find ways to stay social from a distance

What happens when highly motivated #MBA students are forced to take an unplanned break from their program and go into isolation from their colleagues?

Students in the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management have found fun, interesting and valuable ways to make the most of physical distancing – by creating opportunities to engage with their professors and classmates online.

“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.”

The council curated a list of digital activities allowing their peers to continue to connect and engage, and shared it in the new Daily Brew newsletter, a morning update email for Johnson students created during the pause in classes.

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.”

Sage Socials are a longstanding and cherished Johnson tradition: Every Thursday evening, the Dyson Atrium at Sage Hall transforms from café and study seating to a place for food, drink, networking and relevant programming. Now, Johnson Student Services has 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, as well as online faculty lectures and daily virtual office hours.

“With this outbreak causing us to go remote, we wanted students to feel like the Johnson community was still there for them.”

Varun Ramadurai, MBA ’21

“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.”

The first 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. The most popular hangout was “Meet My Pet,” where dogs, fish and even a rat took center stage.

“The council has worked closely with Student Services to convert previously in-person activities to virtual ones,” said Marisa Werner, J.D. 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.”

Stephen D’Angelo is a content strategist with the SC Johnson College of Business.

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