The Center for Online Learning at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business hosted its largest Online MBA Residency program from February 28 to March 1 on William & Mary’s campus. Over seventy online MBA students shed their virtual environment traveling from all over the United States and as far as Tunis, Tunisia to meet in-person at Miller Hall for the weekend-long program. It’s an opportunity, that in retrospect, students, faculty and staff alike are grateful to have had in light of the university’s recent decision to cancel large in-person events and move entirely to a virtual format for all students in the interim.
Offered twice a year, the Online MBA Residency program is a one-credit seminar required for graduation. Enrolled students must attend at least one residency during their time in the Online MBA program. Recent Residency weekends have focused on core business topics like leadership and finance. This particular Residency’s theme revolved around marketing, which aligned for many students with their completion of the Online MBA’s marketing course the week prior to arriving in Williamsburg.
Students arrived at the Wren Building on Friday evening for a reception where they had the opportunity to meet Online MBA faculty, staff, Executive Partners, and fellow classmates, many of whom they have interacted with solely over digital platforms.
“I think coming to campus makes it feel like I’m more a part of the William & Mary family,” said Doug Nidiffer OMBA ’20. “I’m looking forward to putting faces to people I’ve talked to virtually and to get a little more experience, hear from people who’ve been in the industry and talk with them.”
Mason School's Dean Larry Pulley welcomed the Online MBA students to William & Mary’s historic grounds. For many, it was their first time visiting the campus.
“Our purpose as a business school is really quite simple. We prepare our students for lives of principled achievement,” he said. “These are simple words, but pursuing a life of principled achievement will guide you in every direction. It will induce a caring for others, a desire to make a difference for good in the world, it will ensure our reach will always exceed our grasp. It allows us to look forward with hope, conviction, and confidence.”
It will be a remarkable weekend. We are delighted you are here. We are delighted you are part of our family and community, as our charter says, for all times coming,” he concluded.
Saturday proved to be a busy day, packed with briefings, team meetings, and guest speakers all focused on the impact marketing can have when it is applied to propel forward innovation in business. Matt Williams BBA ’89, visiting Mason School Clinical Professor of Marketing was joined by Professor and Marketing Area Head K. Scott Swan to moderate the day’s events. Williams highlighted the importance marketing has in the creative age of business during his luncheon presentation.
“We are living in a time where creativity will propel mankind forward fastest. The question we then have as businesspeople is if creativity is the new source of competitive advantage, how do we build an environment where we can do something that’s never been done with the same stuff that everybody else has?” he said. “Creativity feels like uncertainty and [we’ve been taught] uncertainty is bad. Uncertainty is risk. It’s why we put you through simulations like this.”
Students spent the remainder of the day working in small teams to develop marketing strategies for one of several assigned simulation exercises. The day was capped with a dinner and keynote address by Kristen Cavallo, CEO of the Martin Agency, the advertising firm responsible for generating impactful campaigns for brands like Geico, CarMax, UPS, and Buffalo Wild Wings.
Carvallo explained that in her experience, customer loyalty no longer statistically drives revenue for businesses. She urged the Online MBA students, as the next generation of business executives, to use innovative strategies to drive brand relevance, which is the greatest predictor of a company’s ability to successfully break-through an oversaturated and competitive market.
On Sunday morning, students returned to Miller Hall early to deliver their final simulation presentations. In a rousing delivery of the competition’s results, Williams and Swan recognized the winning teams – and solicited lessons learned from the teams who experienced greater challenges – during a wrap-up session in Brinkley Commons.
“I think what surprised me the most was the team I was on,” said Gabrielle Desonne OMBA ’20. “Everyone was very invested even though it was a fake simulation. It felt like a real work environment, like you’re in a strategy room making game time decisions. It was a great experience.”
For Online MBA students who had departures arranged for later in the day, an optional walking tour of campus was available to bring the school’s virtual students tangibly closer to the famed brick, ivy, and history of William & Mary. Otherwise, students began their journeys home to their respective corners of the world to resume their professional pursuits and online courses.