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Business school pilots online ‘happy hours’ to connect alumni, online students

The business school piloted its first happy hour, an informal online webinar hosted through Blackboard, on Sunday.

Updated: Jan. 30, 2019 at 11:02 a.m.

Students and alumni in the business school can now participate in hourlong online happy hours to network with one another.

The business school piloted its first happy hour, an informal online webinar hosted through Blackboard, on Sunday. Officials said the video chats will engage alumni and online students who have limited opportunities to participate in on-campus events.

Liesl Riddle, the associate dean of graduate programs in the School of Business, said the happy hours will be “occasional” opportunities for business school alumni, faculty, students and staff to chat and get to know one another in an informal setting. To develop the event, she said she worked with School of Business Dean Anuj Mehrotra, who co-led the first session.

“For all of our participants, we hope that this is an opportunity to both mentor and learn from one another,” she said in an email last week. “This type of event is one we hope will encourage lifelong learning among our community.”

She said participants are placed in conversation groups in online video “rooms” to introduce themselves and discuss rotating topics relating to business.

Riddle added that at the end of the hour, participants are put into a “plenary” group to discuss what everyone in the group learned. The first session focused on resilience, which explores what it means to be resilient and what resilience looks like across a variety of business contexts, she said.

“Given growing uncertainty and change in the global economy, we thought this would be a great place to learn more from one another about how to be more resilient and cultivate resilience in our teams and organizations in the workplace,” she said.

She said space in the happy hour is “limited” because of the technology the webinar will use to create small groups, but more than 70 people replied to attend the event.

“We have made extra efforts to reach out to our online students to promote the event since they often are less able to take advantage of other networking events on campus as many are outside of the D.C. metro area,” she said.

Dave Halliday, a teaching assistant professor who leads virtual classes in strategic management and public policy in the business school, said the events will help online students network with others in their situation.

“The happy hours should allow people to break up by interest, and I think that’s going to be extremely effective for the students to network effectively,” he said.

Halliday said his online students have told him that they want to be more integrated into the business school. He added that the new happy hours would also provide an opportunity for faculty and students involved in online courses to interact more closely.

“For faculty, it is fantastic when you can actually have a conversation with the student,” he said. “When you’re online, one thing you’re missing is the relaxed chit chat that happens before and after class. You’re missing that informality. The happy hours provide a really easy way around that problem.”

Virtual technology experts said their universities hold similar happy hour events to help foster a community for online students and alumni.

Jessica DuPont, the executive director of market development and student experience at the Oregon State University Ecampus, said the school holds events similar to the happy hours, including virtual career fairs.

“The majority of Oregon State Ecampus students are adult learners who juggle multiple life responsibilities, and they find a supportive network of peers and instructors in the online learning environment,” she said in an email. “These happy hour events could be an extension of that for the GW community.”

Mark Hart, the director of online learning at the College of Public Health and Health Professions at the University of Florida, said the informality of happy hours will help students and alumni develop close relationships.

“You’re going to get a certain bond between students talking about whatever the academic aspects are of a class,” he said. “Hopefully, you get a better bond if people have the opportunity to speak freely and not just on whatever the discussion prompt is for some class.”

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly identified Dave Halliday as a teaching assistant. He is a teaching assistant professor. We regret this error.

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