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First-Year MBAs Share How They’re Building Community, Staying Focused Despite Challenges Posed by Pandemic

With the first semester well underway, first-year MBAs have now gotten a feel for the ins and outs, the benefits and challenges of business school. After many weeks — and some trial and error — students have largely found their groove and established the routines that will help them succeed.

We recently checked in with members of The Consortium’s class of 2022 to see how the first semester is going. MBAs Alyssa Buchanan, Bryan Shepherd, Whitney Pollard and Chumar Williams share insight into what has challenged them the most, what they are doing to stay organized and focused and what they are enjoying the most about business school.

Bryan Shepherd
Emory University, Goizueta Business School
Bryan Shepherd
Bryan Shepherd

My first semester has been wonderful. This process is incredibly challenging, but getting out of my comfort zone is exactly what I was looking for. I’ve really enjoyed the professors at Goizueta as well as deepening my knowledge of subjects like finance, strategy and economics. I’m also enjoying building relationships with my classmates through informal conversations and mock interviews — and through formal responsibilities like my role as the first-year representative for Goizueta’s Consulting Association.

The most challenging part of this unique MBA experience is controlling your attitude. No one wanted to go to school during a global pandemic, but this is the reality, so I’ve made an effort to be relentlessly optimistic with myself and my class. I want to help reach our collective maximum potential despite the situation. Quite a few members of our cohort are working under some extreme time zone differences — could you imagine having your day now start at 7 p.m.? To overcome this, I’ve stayed focused on my goals of getting a great role within strategy consulting, building genuine connections with and learning from my classmates, and helping increase representation for underrepresented minorities in business school and business.

It’s been helpful for me to treat business school like a job. At the end of each week, I take a moment to plan my time for the upcoming week and block it off in my Outlook calendar. I then create daily to-do lists to ensure I’m finishing all daily responsibilities across academics, recruiting and community work. I’m actually preparing for two finals, one final project, one midterm and one midterm project as I’m writing this!

Alyssa Buchanan
The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business
Alyssa Buchanan
Alyssa Buchanan

Wow! I can’t believe it’s October and I am already two weeks into my second fall term. During this term, I’ve had the opportunity to take an elective, and I’ve chosen Analysis of Markets. I’m really excited about this class because my career goal is to get into marketing. Alongside the core elective, I am taking courses in operations management, marketing management and leading for impact. I’ve recently been accepted into marketing fellows, where we will engage different companies on a weekly basis and solve their business cases. I look forward to the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and work with my colleagues.

So far, my greatest challenge has been balancing the workload. While the coursework is engaging, I find it nearly just as important to network and get to know my classmates. To solve this challenge, I have set a goal to schedule a coffee chat with a new student in the program every week. This ensures that I am pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone while effectively managing my time. 

Through trial and error, I’ve learned that my morning routine is imperative to my success. I am committed to taking the time in the morning to prioritize immediate tasks and organize my day. I’ve noticed that when I do, I am more productive and better able to manage my new responsibilities. Re-integrating yoga into my weekly routine also ensures I’m able to efficiently and effectively manage my mental and physical health. I’ve focused solely on time management because there are so many other opportunities competing for your involvement. The real challenge is for students to select ones that will personally enrich their career journey.  

Whitney Pollard
University of Michigan, Ross School of Business
Whitney Pollard
Whitney Pollard

It is hard to believe that I have already finished my first quarter at Ross and am now starting a new one. I have really enjoyed getting to know my classmates and learning from my professors. I was really worried about COVID and how it would alter my MBA experience, but as a class, we are finding creative and safe ways to engage and build community. I have hosted small group dinners, participated in virtual happy hours and trivia, safely traveled with my CGSM family and even went for a night of stargazing, which was something I have never done before.

One thing about business school is there is always something happening, and early on, I was struggling with how to balance class, social life, recruiting, clubs, etc. What helped me was remembering why I chose business school and knowing what skills and relationships I wanted to build during these two years. I joined the Black Business Student Association, Wolverine Wine Club, Detroit Revitalization and Business, Real Estate Fund, Human Capital Club and the DEI Committee — and I have leadership roles in two of the clubs.

With so much happening, I have learned to stay organized by using my planner to track class assignments and important dates, creating a daily to-do list on my phone and placing every activity that must happen on my Google calendar. This planner helps me understand what must happen at a high level, the to-do list allows me to know what must get done today to stay on track, and my calendar communicates to myself and the outside world my availability and the time in which each task will be executed. Prior to business school, I didn’t have a detailed system, but I quickly realized its importance.

The final thing I will say is, even with so much going on, one thing that has really helped me is finding alone time to reflect and recharge, to give myself grace and to protect my peace. Confucius said “Knowledge without reflection is a waste of time; reflection without knowledge is dangerous.”

Chumar Williams
Washington University in St. Louis, Olin Business School
Chumar Williams
Chumar Williams

My first semester here at Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin Business School has been one of promise and progression. I have been remote, for the most part, after a short emergency trip away from campus led me to remain remote for a while. Although all of our courses are already offered in a virtual setting, doing so 100 percent remotely has presented some challenges to starting such an intensive program. However, I’ve appreciated the support that the faculty here at Olin have offered us to ensure we’re progressing and not becoming overwhelmed through it all. It’s also been refreshing to see how well our cohort has come together under such circumstances to assist each other in any way necessary, especially among Consortium students — both first- and second-years. 

I’ve really had to develop a level of time management beyond what I typically take on to be able to excel within the program so far. The resources we have been given — between our advisors, career coaches, professors and the Olin MBA student body — has really facilitated, and sometimes initiated, a lot of my organization and focus. However, none of it would have come together the way it has without the support and guidance from my Consortium peers every step of the way. We’ve been here for each other in ways I didn’t even expect, especially considering the virtual and socially distanced climate. This family dynamic between us will prove even more important as midterms are now underway for us and as recruiting starts to pick up even more. I welcome and appreciate the busy atmosphere and the opportunities it will create for the future, so I’m looking forward to seeing what comes about between now and the next blog post.

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