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Darla Moore School of Business

International business students creating community with virtual interactions

April 16, 2020

A Moore School international business faculty member is leading virtual networking efforts to connect students during the COVID-19 pandemic. While students have been instructed not to return to campus until August due to the ongoing pandemic, international business clinical associate professor Daniel Ostergaard is still encouraging students to have conversations and engage in networking opportunities through the Zoom online chat room platform.

Ostergaard maintains a private Facebook group for international business undergraduate, Master of International Business and Moore School foreign exchange students as well as international business alumni.

“One of the fundamental aspects of this page is to build community,” Ostergaard said. “One of the greatest aspects of the Moore School is that everywhere you look, you can find interesting, intelligent people to strike up a conversation.”

Ostergaard said that traditionally students have connected in the Global Café or the SCANA Commons in between classes and to go over group projects. Noting there “is a seemingly endless supply of compelling and interesting conversation, we wanted to continue those same vibes while the community is spread across the world.”

Beginning after spring break in late March, members of the Facebook group began virtually meeting on Zoom for Tuesday company panels, Thursday language tables and Friday happy hours.

For their first company panel, John Price, who is the chairman for Greffex, a company on the front lines of developing a coronavirus vaccine, discussed the business and ethical issues pharmaceutical companies are currently facing. The discussion drew 116 participants, including more than 20 IB alumni.

“Price gave a brutally honest talk that was well-received by the students and alumni present,” Ostergaard said. “The opportunity to speak with a business leader who is currently on the front line of the coronavirus issue is timely and gives our students and alumni a cutting-edge view on what is happening in the world around us.”

Other company panels for April included Moore School international business alumni who participated in subgroup virtual gatherings to answer students’ questions about their particular industry, career path, and job and internship opportunities within their companies.

“This gave our current undergrad and MIB students a great opportunity to speak in a small group setting with these accomplished alums and to really benefit from their wisdom and insights,” Ostergaard said.

Another speaker scheduled for April was Doug Fears, a U.S. Coast Guard rear admiral and the former homeland security advisor for the White House, who discussed national security as it pertains to COVID-19 and terrorism threats with more than 100 students and alumni.  

The Zoom meetings are also interactive for students. For their second round of virtual language rooms on a recent Thursday, dozens of students entered a common Zoom English room and asked to be transferred to one of 10 sub-language rooms where they practiced speaking in their chosen language with other classmates and alumni.

“I am participating in virtual language rooms to connect with other students who are learning Japanese and to improve my Japanese listening and speaking skills,” said Atifah Jatoi, a sophomore majoring in international business and economics and minoring in Japanese and environmental studies. Jatoi intends on studying abroad in Japan next spring. “I have gotten a lot better at reading and writing Japanese, but I struggle listening to the language and picking up what someone is saying. Listening to other students speak Japanese during the language table is really helpful. There are a few native speakers who join the Zoom chat as well, and they really help explaining the nuances of the language.”

Like Jatoi, sophomore Cameron Russell attends the virtual language tables to practice his Japanese. An international business, finance and marketing triple major, Russell was a regular attendee of the Maxcy language tables held each week before all classes and activities had to move online.

“This opportunity not only allows me to continue my studies, but it also helps me hold onto some sense of normalcy, as I can now practice with the same people I usually meet each week at Maxcy,” Russell said. “Honestly, the adjustment to online education hasn't been easy. Surprisingly, I feel a lot busier now than I did before. However, all of my professors have been nothing short of phenomenal.”

While the Thursday language tables allow the students to practice their language skills, their Friday happy hours are just a good way to end the week with friends, Ostergaard said.

“The Friday IB outreach happy hour is a casual scene where everyone is encouraged to bring their own beverage and snack, and we just hang out on Zoom to discuss any topics someone wants to throw out,” he said. “We have had some fascinating discussions about current events, coronavirus of course, various public and private sector responses, etcetera, as well as topics around careers, internships, studying abroad, which classes to take, the best chicken sandwich in Columbia, which is running a close tie between Drake’s Duck-In and Chick-fil-A.”

With just over 1,000 members in the outreach Facebook group, Ostergaard and the students are also engaging in conversations in between the scheduled virtual events by posting their thoughts on coronavirus or asking for advice on their next steps.

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