In March 2020, the Government of Alberta declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic changed the way people lived, worked and learned. Businesses and learning institutions across the country were forced to shut down temporarily and come up with various scenarios to accommodate this altered reality.
On the education front, the pandemic caused chaos and post-secondary institutions had to quickly shift to online learning. This did not happen overnight, and instructors and students alike had to learn to adapt to a new way of teaching and learning. It was not an easy task and, for some, the transition to virtual platforms was somewhat challenging. But there is something to be said for perseverance. Fast-forward nearly a year later and post-secondary institutions nationwide continue to adapt to the ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines and a post-pandemic world. Only now, this altered reality doesn’t seem so new anymore – a reference to the ‘new normal.’
The Haskayne School of Business (Haskayne) responded quickly to the pandemic by offering various channels of program delivery. While adhering to strict Alberta Health Services (AHS) guidelines, Haskayne continues to hold in-person classes for its Executive MBA program and for a small subset of MBA electives. Haskayne’s Director of MBA Programs Catherine Heggerud says, “These classes were chosen as they either had smaller enrollment numbers or they moved in cohorts where we could easily maintain AHS health requirements to ensure student and faculty safety.”
Heggerud adds that online learning accommodates the program’s larger classes and incoming daytime students. As the federal government has closed the borders, the online platform gives international students the opportunity to continue their learning. Over the last several months, students have learned to adapt and even appreciate the value of online learning.
While the pandemic has proved to be challenging from an internal and external standpoint, Heggerud is proud that enrollment continues to be “very strong.” She adds, “For our incoming winter cohort, we are at full capacity and will likely admit more students than we would have traditionally.”
Manager of Cash Management, Corporate Treasury at TC Energy, Lavender Murray completed Haskayne’s MBA program in 2001 with a major in finance and accounting. She leveraged her MBA to obtain a Chartered Professional Accountant designation, which helped progress her career to her current role. “The building blocks I worked on while obtaining my MBA facilitated my achievement of increasingly complex and senior roles.”
Murray understands that working remotely has been a challenge for many, but also sees the value in virtual sessions and how it is beneficial in the workforce. “One of the biggest pivots to working remotely was the requirement to lead a team of analysts in a new way. I learned the value of regular, consistent meetings with each of my team members.” She adds, “Sometimes in-person sessions are harder to fit into your schedule so virtual sessions provide more flexibility for students.”
In addition to its traditional MBA program, Haskayne is seeing healthy enrollment for its Accelerated MBA program, targeting those with an undergraduate degree in a business discipline. Designed specifically for graduates of a four-year business program from a recognized/accredited Canadian or U.S. post-secondary institution, the Accelerated MBA is aimed at early- to mid-career professionals looking to enhance their business acumen, critical thinking skills and leadership capacity to achieve their professional goals. The program can be completed in as little as 12 months. Students enrolled in the Accelerated MBA take 11 courses, as opposed to 20 courses in the regular MBA option. The program saves students both time and money.
Launched in May 2019, Haskayne’s Master of Management Program (MMgmt) has also seen “exponential growth” since its inception. New or recent graduates in a non-business field with limited work experience would benefit from the MMgmt program, which helps those with strong technical skills in their chosen field wanting to learn how to apply those skills in a business setting. The intensive 10-month program allows students to enhance their previous degrees with business knowledge and skills and quickly begin their careers.
Despite the pandemic, Haskayne also launched two new MBA specializations this past fall; Business Intelligence and Data Analytics and Management Analytics. A specialization within an MBA degree provides the opportunity for students to focus on a specific functional or industry area. Some choose to pursue a specialization to either consolidate their prior experience or to complement their existing skill set. Heggerud says, “These specializations allow students to focus in the emerging field of data science.”
On top of it all, the Haskayne, in conjunction with the Faculty of Science and the Cumming School of Medicine, launched the Master of Data Science and Analytics with applications now being accepted for fall 2021. One of the key areas of focus with this flexible program will be Health Data Science and Biostatistics. This unique graduate degree combines technical knowledge and a hands-on learning experience that will prepare students to take their career to new heights in today’s data-driven world. Heggerud explains that the program is designed in a laddering-format, which means students can take up to six years to complete it.
Understanding that the pandemic has not been easy for anyone, Heggerud is optimistic. “I think COVID-19 has put more of an emphasis on using technology. While students were likely not happy about shifting to Zoom classes, the skills learned in these virtual classrooms will be super beneficial to their futures.”
Having completed Haskayne’s traditional MBA program in 2013, Caitlin The says students should see the pandemic as an opportunity rather than a challenge. “When I was enrolled in the MBA program many years ago, one of the benefits was being able to interact and meet with other students. Now that most programs are being delivered online due to the pandemic, students may not be able to experience the same type of collaborative community. They will, however, have an opportunity to take advantage of today’s technology, and apply that in the workforce. Technology is infused in everything that we do today and will continue to further integrate itself as we move forward. When you take into account the future state of living, in my mind, virtual learning should be considered a benefit, whether it be professional or personal, not a deterrent.”
Haskayne’s efforts and innovative approach to teaching and learning has not gone unnoticed. Heggerud proudly says, “The Haskayne MBA was recently recognized for its commitment to a better world when it ranked in the 2020 Top 40 Better World MBA Rankings. Haskayne’s Strategic Plan focuses on three priorities: innovative research, unparalleled learning opportunities and meaningful community engagement. We are executing on that plan and looking forward to expanding our reach with the 2022 opening of Mathison Hall.”
A recent Harvard Business Review study focused on remote learning revealed that “Individuals, teams and entire workforces can perform well while being entirely distributed—and they have.” Heggerud agrees and adds, “I think the skills our students are acquiring today will translate well in their future careers.”