Persevering in Uncertain Times: B-School Students Adapt and Thrive Amidst Remote Learning

In the midst of a global pandemic, college campuses around the country, including William & Mary and the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, switched to online learning in a concerted effort to ensure student safety.

The switch has had its challenges as residential programs throughout the B-school were designed to maximize student engagement and rely heavily upon group work and interactive discussions. But even in these uncertain times, Mason School students and faculty are demonstrating resilience and perseverance by adapting to the new format and finding ways to connect virtually.

“I have found that a lot of my peers are technologically savvy and because of that, we have all been able to maintain communication fairly easily,” said Tara Tiernan ’21. “All of my classes were very discussion-based and relied on student participation, but the professors have done their best to keep this aspect of their teaching style as close to what it was before the stay-at-home order using discussion boards and Zoom meetings.”

Business analytics major Lauren Freeman ’20 agrees that faculty support has been key to the transition.

While students are seeing the very structure of their classes evolve to meet the current circumstances – which can at times be challenging – many agree the transition to online has been successful due to the flexibility of their professors and the ongoing support they’ve provided to a diverse student body scattered across the globe.

“One of my courses is very group project heavy, and at times it has been somewhat difficult,” explained Missy Cundiff ‘22. “The most accommodating thing my professors have done for all their students is to have exams open to complete at any point over a day, to even multiple days, to account for things like time changes and any individual circumstances.”

“My professors have been wonderful. They are extremely supportive and understanding and they are willing to help whenever I need them” she said. “Online office hours have been helpful and professors have been very responsive to emails as well.”

The change of pace from typical daily life on campus has caused some students to take an introspective look as they try to find a balance between completing academic assignments and maintaining personal health.

“I have been able to put more effort into all my schoolwork tasks,” said Tiernan. “This time has also changed my perspective on how valuable relaxing and self-care truly is. I find myself so busy in normal life that I disregard taking care of myself, but I am appreciative of all this time I’ve had to rewind and tune into my own needs.”

Students are also finding the flexible nature of the virtual environment allows them to explore other interests or try new hobbies. It’s a small benefit that’s come from this uncertain time.

“There is so much more freedom when you want to do your work. I feel like I have more free time to do what I want and explore new hobbies, like cooking,” Tiernan said.

For Cundiff, however, the temporary reprieve of the daily grind will have a trickle-down effect for months and even years to come.

“This summer, I was supposed to compete at the swimming Olympic Trials in late June,” she explained. “I was planning on doing an internship in the summer of 2021 but with the Olympics being pushed back to next summer and the deadlines for internships I was interested in already passed, I am going to have to take on both the Olympic Trials and an internship next summer.”

Students – especially graduating seniors – are facing this adversity head-on and taking the changes in stride. For those entering the full-time workforce this summer, they are especially grateful to have secured employment before the pandemic began.

“I am very lucky to still have my job,” Freeman explained. “Onboarding may become virtual instead.”

For graduating finance major Ian Bidwell ’20, these unusual and unanticipated circumstances have made him pause and reflect on what a special place William & Mary is.

“My start date might be pushed back. Right now, it has not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does,” he said. “I think the switch to online learning and this situation have helped me fully appreciate my time at William & Mary.”