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Wharton Offers Course on the Consequences of the Coronavirus Crisis

Wharton Offers Course on the Consequences of the Coronavirus Crisis main image

The University of Pennsylvania’s The Wharton School swiftly composed a 6-week online course to help future business leaders understand how to manage the coronavirus crisis and its consequences.

“Epidemics, Natural Disasters, and Geopolitics: Managing Global Business and Financial Uncertainty,” launched March 25, with more than 1,900 MBA and undergraduate Wharton students signing up, making it the largest class Wharton has ever had.

Focusing on the impact the virus and shutdown will have on business, the economy, and financial markets, the course is worth half a credit and is run via live stream. In addition, students have assignments and readings and videos to watch. If students are in another time zone (everyone has now returned home to observe social distancing), they can watch the live portion of the course as a taped video.

To nurture dialogue within the class, course creators included a moderated chat room. Students will also participate in a capstone project at the end of the course, where they will work in teams and write a paper – and their peers will grade their work.

One of the highlights of the course is an opportunity to hear from alumni who are interviewed regularly. For example, the head of buyouts from the private equity firm, Carlyle Group, shared his thoughts on how coronavirus is decimating Italy and the uncertainty about the buyout market. He conveyed that companies are trying to preserve cash to continue operations, said Mauro Guillén, professor of International Management at Wharton.

Wharton School Dean Geoffrey Garrett called upon Guillén in the wake of the crisis and told him he had to devise a course to help students grapple with the potential economic factors.

Guillén said: “I’m an educator, researcher, and communicator. I want to learn more about the crisis, share what I learn with students, and help people cope.”

What prompted the dean’s call was the fact that Guillén created a similar course 12 years ago during the Great Recession. In that instance, Guillén had three months to come up with a curriculum, whereas this time around, he basically had days.

Still, he united with colleagues and came up with a plan, which included an all-star faculty line-up, including Guillén, Garrett, Professor of Finance Jeremy Siegel, American businessman and chief economic advisor for Allianz Mohamed A. El-Erian, Professor of Operations, Information, and Decisions Katherine L. Milkman, and Oncologist and Bioethicist Ezekiel “Zeke” Emanuel. The creation of this course is coinciding with the greater effort to shift all face-to-face learning to online education virtually overnight, with the intent of emulating the same course value and rigor.

In this course, the faculty are aiming to provide the following learning outcomes:

  • Grasp the scale and scope of the impact the virus will have on business, the economy, and financial markets
  • Understand the key decisions that will be made as organizations and government leaders conduct crisis management
  • Consider what leaders should do in the middle of the crisis to procure better outcomes later

In an interview with Guillén, Garrett talked about leadership in a time of crisis and offered advice for Wharton community members who were tuning in.

He said: “Events are literally unpredictable. The pace of change is faster than ever before. And we live in a world of contested facts or no facts.

“I’m arguing for a leadership model that I call, ‘Be Real.’ Be humble. Be open. Transparency is really important but so is the role of explainer in chief. My overall message is to be real. It’s an incredible challenge, but it’s one I think we need to rise to.”

Amid this crisis, educators are experimenting with online platforms and making use of their previous experience with this alternative form of education. Guillén, for instance, was an early adopter of online education and teaches three classes online, and as a result, he recognizes the pros and cons as compared to traditional teaching.

He said: “The future is not face-to-face or online, it’s blended education. I think this will happen at all levels. The winning formula is to blend online and face-to-face learning.”

In the meantime, like the rest of the world, Guillén and his students are trying to make sense of this pandemic in real time. While many of these students will go on to lead multinational organizations, they are still facing the personal tragedy of this new reality.

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Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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