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Daniels and its students build communityeven while sheltering in place

The day before spring quarter started at the Daniels College of Business, and as the coronavirus pandemic descended on Denver, first-year MBA student Hasib Nasirullah gave himself a pep talk.

“I told myself to see attending school remotely from home as an opportunity—not a burden,” said Nasirullah, who moved to Colorado three years ago from Florida. “I promised myself I’d be patient with myself and others as we all adapted to the new normal.”

As he hunkered down in his apartment near the University of Denver, he soon realized he was connecting with people more than he was before the crisis, courtesy of a cyber networking smorgasbord at his fingertips: virtual classes, meetings, webinars, panels with executives, case competitions—even weekly happy hours on Fridays with classmates.

Woman waving at her phone screen

Source: Getty Images

“The weekly cohort meetings on Zoom were particularly relevant to ensuring we were successful with our online learning experience,” Nasirullah said. “And we had several virtual panels where executives at major companies discussed their responses to the pandemic.”

He added that he and a team of classmates even took part in—and won—an online case competition with their solutions to a business challenge in the media industry, beating four other universities.

After nearly two months in quarantine, Nasirullah still feels good—and grateful. “Kudos to Daniels faculty and staff for delivering a great online learning experience,” he said.

Those were nice words to hear for Kate Dillon, director of External Relations for Daniels, and Kari Graham, director of Graduate Student Services.

They both admit they were concerned about keeping students connected amid the pandemic because alumni, corporate partners, executives and everyone else were facing the same storm.

“Initially we were hesitant because we didn’t know [stakeholders’] capacity to engage with us,” Dillon said. “Their world was imploding, too, but their response has been overwhelming. Despite all their pressing challenges, they have been eager to help.”

One example: When Daniels Executive Education set up a Zoom meeting—asking alumni and business leaders to discuss crisis management, strategy and share ideas, over 300 people took part.

Dillon added that Zayo Group, the telecommunications company, partnered with Daniels to create a new virtual case competition. “They were willing to pivot to make it happen online and 30 students are participating,” Dillon said. 

“These are just a couple of many successful events,” Dillon added. “We can’t keep track of all the things. Everybody is being supportive, involved and innovative—student groups and clubs, faculty, staff, alumni have been so involved and engaged. It shows that it’s true: In crisis, people band together.”

Graham agreed and said DU and Daniels “have gone above and beyond” with more networking options: Career webinars, mini-courses, even cooking classes and virtual wine tastings hosted by alumni.

“In some ways, the pandemic has given folks time to slow down and truly value reconnecting,” Graham said. “While we’re looking forward to getting back to normal, we also know we’re blessed to be able to keep the College functioning well right now.”

Dillon added, “No one just threw their hands up and said ‘Let me know when this is over.’ Everyone leaned in to finish strong. It’s been a huge learning experience for everyone.”

For Nasirullah, it’s all good; the coronavirus cloud’s silver lining is shiny. He even said seeing dogs, kids and messy tables in the background on Zoom calls doesn’t bother him.

“That lets us see and appreciate the people in our lives for what they are first—humans struggling to make do, just like you and me,” he said. “It lets us form deeper bonds and reminds us we’re not in this alone.”