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Business as unusual

Aerial UNC Kenan Flagler School of Business Grounds at Sunset in Chapel Hill

Be kind. Be compassionate. Be safe.

That’s the mantra for the UNC Kenan-Flagler community as it navigates the new world of COVID-19.

“Our guiding goals are to ensure our community’s health and safety, keep our students on track for graduation, and continue teaching, research and service at the highest levels,” says Dean Doug Shackelford.

The School is fully operational online. Students have been attending classes online since March 23, and faculty and staff are working remotely. The School’s IT team is supporting class meetings on Zoom every day, with the number of people participating ranging from a few thousand to more than 5,500 a day. Meetings and events moved online, too, including town halls for faculty and staff and career and social events for students.

The School’s long track record of successful online programs – MBA@UNC since 2011 and the online MAC format since 2015 – benefited the transition. Classes are taught on Zoom, however, and don’t use the same design or delivery and reach many more students.

Full Time MBA students in a virtual course format.

Full Time MBA students transition to a virtual course format.

“It’s been a mammoth undertaking to move classes online for business majors and minors, on-campus MAC students, on-campus MBA students, Evening MBA, Weekend Executive MBA and PhD students,” says Shackelford. “Many professors had never taught online, just as most of our students had not learned online. It’s a sea change.”

The Undergraduate Business Program (UBP) perhaps had the greatest hurdles, helping 1,100 business majors and minors navigate a drastically different educational experience – not returning to campus, moving to classes online and learning from home instead of from Chapel Hill. Over 260 students were studying abroad or slated to go abroad as the implications of COVID-19 were still not fully understood. The UBP global team made early and unpopular decisions to cancel their programs and get students home safely.

UNC Kenan-Flagler Press Briefing With Faculty and Staff

A view of the April 7 virtual press briefing hosted by the Kenan Institute

With the changes come many challenges, innovations and silver linings. The Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise continued its mission by sharing faculty’s expertise on COVID’s financial, business and human costs  through weekly briefings for the media and the business community.

“None of us have experienced anything like this and it’s taken a toll on our community, especially our students whose dreams spending spring semester at Carolina, studying abroad and attending May commencement don’t match their reality today. We are doing our best together as we adapt, learn and grow.”

The online switches were made across the entire University in about a week. “In many ways, that the University could make this switch so quickly and students are still learning is nothing short of miraculous,” says Shackelford. “I’ve never been prouder of our people. Staff and faculty worked night and day to make this happen and make the learning as successful as possible.”

Tremendous challenges await UNC Kenan-Flagler as the full costs – human and economic – become clearer, he says. “I am confident that ultimately we will come through this better than ever. The School attracts mission-driven, caring, good people and we are living our core as we navigate this crisis together. We will continue to provide world-class education, research and service – even as we are scattered, working and learning from our homes. We look forward to sharing amazing stories of the UNC Kenan-Flagler spirit in the days ahead.”

4.16.2020