The coronavirus pandemic has affected all Americans’ lives at a personal or professional level, or both. In accordance with the CDC’s social distancing recommendations as well as Governor Kemp’s shelter-in-place order, Robinson faculty and staff have been working remotely for several weeks. Many professionals jump at the opportunity to telecommute. But Dana Itkow, Robinson’s HR officer, said others were uncomfortable with the arrangement at first.
“Some people need human interaction,” Itkow said. “They like going to lunch and grabbing coffee together, and stopping by coworkers’ offices to ask how they’re doing.”
One way to satisfy that need for socialization is to set up a WebEx or Zoom meeting, with audio enabled at least.
“We’re all rocking the ‘tele-hair, don’t care,’” Itkow laughed.
Other issues have arisen and since been resolved. The College Technology Services team expanded the VPN network in response to a slow connection. And managers have offered flexible schedules to parents whose children’s schools and daycares suddenly shut down. But what rocked the Robinson community most was a staff member’s hospitalization with COVID-19. Instead of gossipy attempts to discover the person’s identity, Itkow said she received a flood of messages expressing genuine concern for the staff member’s health.
“It was heartwarming to see all the emails and texts,” Itkow said. “I’ve always felt a sense of family here. Everyone really cares about each other.”
One might think graduate enrollment would stagnate during such an uncertain time, but the numbers suggest otherwise. According to graduate recruitment coordinator Richard James, more participants than normal showed up to a recent WebEx session for newly admitted MBA students. Ninety-one percent of registrants attended the virtual event; this past December, an on-campus version of the reception saw a 78 percent yield.
Plus, year-over-year, deposits are up 1.9 percent* for the fall semester. Created applications have risen by more than 7 percent* overall, per James.
“I’ve increased our monthly webinars as well as my availability for one-on-one virtual consultations,” James said. “A lot of students are really excited about starting this fall.”
A couple of students deciding between Robinson’s MBA and EMBA programs visited John Thielman’s remote Legal and Ethical Environment of Business class.“They were able to see exactly what students are doing and experience the new remote format,” James said.
The global health crisis has ruined a lot of plans: birthdays, weddings, vacations or, in so many students’ cases, graduation. Eleanor Chin, Robinson’s director of undergraduate student engagement, spearheaded a number of informal polls to better understand undergraduates’ concerns after Georgia State’s two-week closure. Disappointment over the cancelation of graduation was a top issue expressed on each of the polls.
“This rite of passage is really important—acknowledging the years of hard work including holding down internships and multiple jobs, doing whatever was necessary to stay in school,” Chin said.
The university has delayed its formal graduation ceremony. In the meantime, Chin is exploring avenues to celebrate graduates’ achievements.
Then there’s the anxiety surrounding a probable recession. An economic collapse would affect internship openings, job offers and employment stability for current students, new graduates and even seasoned alumni. Marilyn Santiago, director of graduate career advancement with Robinson’s Career Advancement Center (CAC), is leading the coordination of Georgia State University’s Alumni Virtual Career Fair. Attendees can engage in one-on-one and group chats as well as official interviews with employers.
“There will be a waiting room of sorts,” Santiago said. “Once an employer is free, candidates can start a conversation and share their resume.”
Plenty of opportunities are available. According to Denise Holmes, the CAC’s director of undergraduate career advancement, companies including BlackRock, Deloitte, Georgia-Pacific, The Home Depot, NCR and Truist are moving forward with a large number of internship and full-time positions this summer and fall.“We’ve heard a lot of positive reinforcement,” Holmes said. “The internships aren’t getting dropped. They’re just going virtual.”
Robinson’s campus might be empty, but there is no lack of activity. We are doing what it takes to prepare students for the future of business, from a distance.
*As of May 4, 2020.