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Darla Moore School of Business

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International MBA adapts to pandemic with virtual immersions with multinational executives

The COVID-19 pandemic caused innumerable disruptions for all industries, but one of the main ones impacted was travel. When the Moore School’s International MBA faculty couldn’t send their degree candidates to their expected immersion countries because of the pandemic, the faculty and program staff brought the immersions to the students.

The Moore School’s International MBA program, ranked No. 1 in the nation for the past eight years and in the top three for the past 32 years, sets itself apart for having the longest international immersion of any competitive international MBA program.

“The contextual intelligence gained by an extensive immersion abroad is the hallmark of our International MBA program,” said Jennifer Ninh, full-time MBA programs managing director. “Since the International MBA candidates couldn’t physically be ‘on the ground’ in their immersion countries, virtual trips extended our global reach and student impact via direct access to the contexts of doing international business — which is the guiding objective of the IMBA program and curriculum.”

Because of the health risks and travel restrictions imposed around the world, all immersion experiences were canceled through spring 2021. Some International MBA candidates found themselves suddenly stateside when they had intended to be abroad for at least a year.

“Obviously students were very disappointed their immersion abroad was canceled, and since this experience was also for credit, the faculty and program directors needed to provide an alternative for these students,” said Jeff Rehling, marketing lecturer for the IMBA program and director of the Center for Marketing Solutions. “Instead of their originally planned immersion, we developed a project-based class involving several multinational corporate partners, which included virtual trips to these organizations’ offices around the world.”

The first trip was to Belgium with FedEx’s European E-commerce team. The IMBA candidates learned more about FedEx’s overall European operations, including location details, cultural differences, regulatory processes and current strategy/operational structure. The FedEx executives also shared the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the European team.

“This virtual immersion gave our students the chance to learn about FedEx’s overseas operations with a particular focus on the growing digital/e-commerce business,” Rehling said. “Students were able to network with FedEx executives and discuss business dynamics, international operational strategies, COVID impact and hiring trends all over the world.”

FedEx team members talked about industry and company job employment opportunities and their advice for IMBA students looking for jobs during the ongoing pandemic.

After the first immersion experience, International MBA faculty and program staff planned similar virtual experiences with CapGemini in Hong Kong and Apex Tool Group in Germany. One to two additional virtual immersions are being planned before the end of the semester.

“The experience we are able to deliver with the virtual immersion class is expanded intelligence of the challenges international businesses face each day — and an insight into the disruption the pandemic caused,” Ninh said. This knowledge will serve our International MBA students with even greater expertise on how to navigate and succeed in an international marketplace as they are entering their new full-time positions following graduation.”

Business operates on a global scale, with or without a pandemic, and virtual meetings are becoming the norm for many multinational organizations, Rehling added.

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