An Unprecedented Beginning to our MBA Program

Although both impacted and dismayed by the global pandemic, we found ourselves filled with enthusiasm and anticipation as the Class of 2021 began its studies this past month. Guided and supported by a strong belief that truly great leaders do not merely survive in uncertain times, they thrive, we directed our energies toward managing and overcoming the seemingly endless series of barriers and obstructions that blocked our path.

Although the pandemic had obligated the University of Iowa to postpone our Full-time program at the last moment, our continued efforts to overcome this obstacle brought together an eager and determined new group of Part-Time-Only MBA students made notable by their own individual uniqueness: An American family in the process of moving to live in the beautiful Asolo hills, another juggling the joys of a newborn while taking on the demands of both the MBA and his job, and with many other great life stories and adventures still unfolding as we get to know the students and they get to know each other.

With the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff of utmost concern, we consulted with trusted experts to create a productive, but protective, learning environment. This took the form of desk distancing, mask requirements, cross ventilation, sanitization cleaning, temperature testing, and hand sanitizer galore.

Determined to break away from the confines of virtual learning to the maximum extent possible, we put our energies into identifying professors who would be able to hold classes in person. We remain convinced that today’s (and tomorrow’s) demanding work environments require holistic learning and development, not just content mastery, and that necessitates real social interaction in our learning environments (See Dr. Al’s ABC). Both the government and University of Iowa had prohibited our U.S. faculty from traveling here, meaning that their involvement would be limited to virtual learning environments only. Through our wide-base of contacts, we were led to Dr. Garen Markarian, who specializes in financial accounting and private equity, and currently holds the Chair of Financial Accounting at WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management in Switzerland. His high-energy, enthusiastic approach to both life and work made him an ideal fit and we were pleased to welcome him to the CIMBA family when he agreed to lead our opening MBA class, Corporate Financial Reporting.

Unfortunately, just a few days before class were to begin the Swiss government issued a travel ban on its citizens, prohibiting travel to certain regions in Italy; the Veneto, the home region of the CIMBA campus, was included in that ban (an ill-conceived policy directive that has since been rescinded).

Despite the short and unexpected change in plans and expectations, the course was delivered flawlessly as Dr. Markarian had been teaching it online since 2006. He guided class meetings with great enthusiasm, energy, and professionalism. His approach to teaching took a workshop format, as he walked students through the material in a Socratic style, pushing them to a form of cooperative, argumentative dialogue in reaching answers to their own questions.

There are many lessons to be taken away from the challenges of the “new normal” (Or, as Dr. Al says, the “new, new, new normal”). We can learn about planning with flexibility, adaptability, and agility in the face of uncertainties. We can learn of the importance of being proactive, not only with regard to the tasks at hand, but also in our interactions with others, making sure that they are minding their physical and mental well-being in these demanding, often frustrating, times. We can learn that the best means in building resilience to the stressful challenges we most certainly will confront in our daily lives is to take on more of them. The little doses of pain from such experiences assist us in growing stronger and wiser.
The pandemic has certainly dosed us with such a painful opportunity, and we are completely confident the Class of 2021 will fully embrace its challenges and grow stronger and wiser from it.