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When COVID-19 halted all national and international trips for business students, the School of Management (SOM) at the University at Buffalo (UB) looked to pivot these experiential programs entirely online. The faculty director, Dr. Dorothy Siaw-Asamoah, asked the business liaison librarian to collaborate with alumni partners on a series of case studies that would provide students with as comparable an experience as possible. For fall 2020, our team needed to move beyond the virtual panel discussions SOM used as an emergency response in spring 2020, toward experiential learning that provided students with an opportunity to solve a real-world problem and immerse themselves in the role of a business professional. Through research and interviews, our team created several cases focused on real-life industries’ and companies’ responses to COVID-19.

The case studies’ structures involved one to two companies based on one of our corporate panelist’s real-life situations. Each case introduced a unique leadership challenge (low morale, employee safety, budget constraints, etc.) brought on, or exacerbated by, the pandemic. For example, one team looked at how an airline could still operate efficiently while keeping passengers and crew safe, and the best ways to communicate these policies to each group. In their teams, each student was assigned a role to assume (e.g., Communications Director, Chief Wellness Officer, Chief Technology Officer, etc.) and tackled the problem from that vantage point. Students had five days to work on their solution, which included a 20-minute presentation "in-character." This was followed by a corporate panel who asked the students questions and then revealed "what actually happened" in their company with a presentation of the real-life solution.

Large-scale teamwork was essential in building the case studies. On the library side, it required locating research on the latest topics about leadership during times of crisis for several different industries. Providing already-overwhelmed alumni and corporate panelists with the background research and structure of the cases at the onset of their involvement was essential in securing their participation. Additionally, students needed the most current resources and data in order to come up with an effective solution and navigate these resources within the short timeline.

The feedback received from all participants was highly encouraging. Students became invested in their solutions and found high value in working from a real-world scenario while meeting leaders in those industries. Guest alumni and corporate panelists were impressed with the students’ professionalism and solutions, and they were able to share internal strategies from their companies’ experiences. All participants enjoyed the opportunity to network with each other. MBA Global Programs registration rose during the fall 2020 semester, showcasing how virtual programs can be a fantastic way to provide an experiential learning opportunity for students who cannot travel due to work, family, or finances. Additionally, this was an opportunity for a librarian to influence experiential learning program development and collaborate as an embedded partner with the business school, rather than coming into a class a week or two ahead of time and reacting to the assignments and programs already in progress.

While all of us look forward to being able to travel again, this venture into virtual programming showed our collaborative team how program offerings could expand and grow, even in times of crisis. Additionally, it gave me, as the business librarian, an opportunity to form a stronger partnership with the School of Management and move beyond a support role.