Fourth of a nine-part series spotlighting each GCU college as the fall semester begins.
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Some people identify problems. Successful people solve them.
Same goes for businesses. And business colleges.
“We’re still progressing because that’s what businesses do,” said Dr. Randy Gibb, Dean of the Colangelo College of Business (CCOB) at Grand Canyon University. “We have to innovate and continue to move forward.”
Move forward enthusiastically, too. Just listen to Dr. Jennifer Elfenbein, who teaches hospitality management. Sure, the industry has never faced a challenge quite like this pandemic, but she refuses to shy away from the challenge.
“It’s compelling,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many webinars I’ve been on this summer, just learning about how hospitality businesses are recovering, reopening, shifting. It’s so interesting. I get to observe, and that’s what I want to impart on our students.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum are entrepreneurs who live for moments like these. One of Tim Kelley’s favorite sayings is, “Embrace the chaos,” and as the Assistant Professor for Entrepreneurship and Economics looks around at what’s happening, he sees possibilities, not problems.
“There has never been a moment like right now that is an impetus for innovation,” he said. “This is it. This is when all the things converge and accelerate and new businesses are built like never before. From an entrepreneur’s perspective, now is the time.
“When I say, ‘Embrace the chaos,’ I’m not kidding. You want to go into a market that actually is in chaos and at the downstroke so that you can build relationships, and when things are on the upswing you now are there as a new player and a new paradigm.”
All across CCOB, the paradigms are shifting into the new blended-learning model to make the fall semester even more relevant for students. Here are five programs that have had to adjust, much like the businesses students someday will lead:
Elfenbein has worked closely with Brett Cortright, General Manager of GCU Hotel and Canyon 49 Grill, to create a fall semester plan that will give hospitality students reason for hope despite an industry in crisis.
“We just want to infuse some positivity in all of this,” she said. “It’s going to come back eventually, and the fact that they’re students and don’t have to start their career right now, they’re in a really good position because they can explore how the industry is going to change.”
Case in point: Elfenbein said many of her students last year wanted to become event planners; these days, there are no events to plan. Maybe that will change before too long (let’s hope so), but she wants them to look at their chosen career in new ways.
When students in the hotel operations class, for example, are assigned the task of interviewing a front desk employee and housekeeping employee, they will be instructed to outline the new guest journey, complete with COVID-19 safety and health precautions. Previously, they talked with those employees about such issues as guest privacy.
There will be a steady stream of guest speakers, just like previous semesters, but now they’ll be on Zoom. Elfenbein has stayed informed by tapping her hospitality network all summer, and in the HOS Leadership Series on Mondays students will hear from a list that includes Cortright, restaurant owners, general managers of hotels and even employees who have been furloughed.
“We’re just trying to get as many industry experts as possible,” she said. “I’m trying to get students to critically think about how the industry is going to change, what they see, what they envision. It’s an intriguing time for knowledge.”
Dr. Mark Clifford regularly tells his sports business students to try to stand out for potential employers. Now that COVID-19 has played havoc with the sports world, that applies even more.
“One hundred percent,” the CCOB Associate Dean and Director of Sports Business said. “I’ve always tried to challenge our students to find a way to be different and valuable to set themselves apart.
“A lot of that comes with experience, but it also comes with bringing something different and new to an organization. The organization may or may not go with it, but at least it shows that you’re trying to think differently and have some foresight and vision on what possibly could be.”
Like Elfenbein, Clifford plans to provide a pandemic-related challenge to students: He’ll have them study the impact on universities if fall sports are canceled.
“More specifically, large football programs that typically fund the majority of the athletic department, what does that look like from a sports business perspective?” he said. “Let’s have them see the impact of COVID on the business side of sport rather than just on the sport itself.”
Another interesting topic might be the effect of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo being delayed for a year. Clifford thought back to earlier this year when a group of visiting Japanese students were asked about the possibility of the Games being postponed. Impossible, they replied. A few weeks later, it wasn’t just possible – it happened.
One good thing to come out of this: Guest speakers are available, and geography no longer is an issue. “And the majority of speakers have the time because they’re working remotely,” Clifford said.
Guest speakers – and visiting financial services representatives – also are a key aspect of Mark Jacobson’s teaching and career coaching, and he has been pleasantly surprised by the response he has gotten from big-name companies such as Charles Schwab, Merrill Lynch and Vanguard.
“They’re all in,” Jacobson said. “They need to hire people, which is good news for us. They’re willing to go where the students are.”
They’re also willing to take the students to where they are – the pandemic just requires a little more creativity, that’s all. Schwab transported students to its Scottsdale campus for an event earlier this year; now it will be a Zoom visit.
Jacobson also will have employers Zoomed into classes to offer insight and advice, and they’ll also be recruiting with virtual job fairs. The Finance Club will kick off the semester with a panel of industry experts talking about the economy, and Jacobson will remind students that professionals who used to knock on doors now do most of their work via Zoom. Similarly, he intends to teach students online as much as necessary – whatever it takes to reach their minds.
How things have changed.
“This is such a teaching moment,” he said. “There’s so much material. This reminds me of 2008 and 2009. I’m trying to get students focused, watching and learning what’s happening right now in the world, in the U.S., with our economy, a political year on top of it. This is one of those life-defining moments you’re going to remember for a long time – ‘I lived through that.’”
Mindy Weinstein’s only concession to the coronavirus is that she won’t have students do in-person projects with businesses like Tough Apparel. But she has another good idea: She’ll have them design promotional campaigns for national restaurant chains.
“I know it’s going to be a little bit more of a challenge for them, but I’m really going to push them to consider, ‘How do you create a promotional campaign for a business that is impacted by the pandemic? How do you keep their revenue up? What messages do you tell customers?’” the marketing instructor said.
Weinstein is adding a wrinkle for guest speakers by pre-recording the interviews and then inviting students to ask follow-up questions she will relay back to the speakers. Like the other instructors, she has discovered that Zoom gives her access to experts from across the country.
She also will share what she has learned from her own marketing clients: It’s hard to determine how the pandemic has affected consumer behaviors and internet searches. At one point, the most frequent search was for banana bread.
“I’m not going to ignore what we’re going through; I’m going to bring it into the classroom,” she said. “You have to be flexible, you have to be able to move, you have to be able to adapt. Otherwise, you’re not going to be successful.”
Kelley has discovered an interesting benefit of virtual conversations via Zoom.
“In many ways, I had more effective conversations with students on Zoom than face-to-face,” he said. “Everybody learns differently, and that’s what we’re seeing. Those who may be quieter in the classroom, you can get them on a personal Zoom call and they’ll share so much more. It’s given me some insights that I didn’t really expect.”
Like the others, Kelley marvels at what he is seeing in the business world. It’s nothing to fear, he believes. It’s something to embrace, and he is grateful for a group of instructors who see it the same way – because they’re all entrepreneurs, too.
“Entrepreneurship is always about adapting to an ever-changing market,” he said. “This has been one of the most dramatic shifts that we’ve seen in a marketplace in such a short period of time.”
The dramatic shift for students will be blended learning, which will place them in the classroom one day a week and online the other. It has required most instructors to work long hours this summer, and it has been Clifford’s task to make sure CCOB is ready. He’s confident.
“A lot of our faculty have done a really good job of figuring out what they’re going to do when we get back,” he said. “The guidance from the Provost (Dr. Hank Radda) and the academic leadership team and all of our teams have really outlined how to go with this blended model, so now it’s more of just, how does the Colangelo College of Business adjust to fit that blended model to make sure we deliver the content and curriculum to the students that still makes it impactful?”
You do it with impactful solutions. No problem.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
Also in the series:
GCU Today: GCU pledges its allegiance with teachers
GCU Today: CSET programs earn prestigious accreditation