How Powerful Can a Virtual Orientation Really Be?
When I first applied to the EMBA program at RIT, I knew it was the right fit for my busy working life, because I could complete the entire program online from the comfort of my home, or whatever hotel room I’d be hunkered down in on another business trip. There was the minor inconvenience of a global pandemic raging while I completed my application, but I was confident I’d meet the students and faculty in the New Year in person to kick off this next exciting chapter in my life. Little did I know I wouldn’t take another business trip, nor would I grace the halls of RIT before embarking on this journey.
We rang in the New Year hopeful for vaccines and freedom from lockdown, and before we knew it our Orientation Week was finally upon us. Despite having more than 10 months under our pandemic belts at this point, the surge persisted and we were forced to remain completely virtual. So many questions entered my mind.
Would a virtual Orientation even work?
Can you even make meaningful team connections without ever shaking a hand or laying eyes on someone?
Will I make any friends?
Can we possibly endure another 3 full days on Zoom?
Day One of Orientation came bright and early for me on the West Coast, leaving me grateful for the short commute to my kitchen for coffee. Little did I know I’d be the rookie time zone warrior in our cohort, as colleagues soon dialed in from as far away as India and Uganda. With smiles and nervous excitement, we began Day One of the next year and a half of our lives.
We spent the better part of the day getting to know one another as a broader group and with 1:1 conversations before getting a chance to meet our smaller team. Jeff, Lauren, Emilee, and Jessica were fantastic facilitators, and in between finding fun ways to have us interact and getting us to journal our thoughts, they took time to field our many questions and familiarize us with the program flow team cohort structure. Dean Mozrall joined in to welcome us to the program, and we got a sneak peek into the concept of transactive memory, and how this collective memory would help steer our team’s success throughout the program.
After what was undoubtedly the fastest 8 hours of Zoom I have participated in to date, we closed our screens on a great first day, excited for what Day Two would bring.
Day Two’s alarm clock was as painful as the first, but my rise was buoyed by the opportunity to spend the day learning with my 15 new besties, so the coffee pot went on and I sat down to another day’s adventure.
Day Two was all about building the foundation of our teams and identifying the key ingredients to making them high performing. We had the chance to meet the faculty and spend time with them to ask questions in small groups. We learned the concepts of psychological safety, and got a bit personal with each other, meeting our families – both human and furry – so we could solidify the bonds we were creating together. We shared something near and dear to our journey, and even dared to dream big in our smaller team – showcasing our future vision on the cover of a magazine.
We finally arrived at Day Three, ready to learn more about the months to come. We finished our time with Professor Barbato, learning about business ethics and challenging ourselves to consider the impact of morality on the cultures we will shape as future leaders. We met four alumni of the program who shared their experiences along with tips and tricks for success, and learned above all else the importance of leaning on the cohort and our team to succeed through life’s challenges. We took that notion of leaning with us in a virtual escape room to close out the week with something fun. This activity proved to demonstrate the dynamics of our team, and made us reminisce about the great 80’s music that some of us grew up teasing our hair and donning our neon colors to.
We finished the week exhausted but recharged, and excited at the 17-month journey ahead of us all. Safe in the knowledge that we had 15 new friends on whom we could share our challenges and successes, and a team of new family that has our backs while we tackle our new world.
At the end of the experience, students were asked to submit their favorite quality of each of the members of their cohort through an online wordcloud software. See Kelly's above
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