We were at Harry’s Breakfast Pancakes in Myrtle Beach eating, when one of us read the news about Harvard moving virtual for the rest of its term because of the COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts. It was our spring break trip—six of us drove in two cars from Durham to Myrtle Beach for a couple of days. We did not want to take an elaborate trip because of our recruitment plans, hence the short two-day getaway. It was the second week of March, and North Carolina was not facing an imminent COVID-19 threat, so we were not worried about Duke moving to virtual classes.
We drove back to Durham and had a couple of beers at a local bottle shop to celebrate the end of the trip. Later, I woke up from my afternoon nap to the email from President Price—Duke was extending spring break by a week and making all its classes virtual. That is when it dawned on me. I had attended my last in-person class at Fuqua and my last Fuqua Friday, not knowing that they were the last.
In our final term that was about to begin, I only had two classes—Pricing and Business Communication 2. We knew moving the latter and its presentation-heavy deliverables online would pose a challenge, but what about our capstone project?
Fortunately, the 6-credit, 6-week project where MQM teams work with an actual client as analytics consultants to solve a business problem, rolled on. My capstone client’s scope was so vast that Fuqua decided to assign two teams, 10 students total, to one project. We had to work with our faculty advisor, the clients, and the other team that we had never collaborated with, to roll out a project. Not a classroom project with theoretical data but a real one for the marketing leadership of our client. And now we had to do all of this virtually!
The last week of spring break was a wave of emails, MS Teams notifications, Zoom account subscriptions, notes from Fuqua’s Dean Bill Boulding, our MQM dean, Dr. J, our faculty advisor Veena Raman, and everyone else! It was a tough week. We were all trying to wrap our heads around the new reality.
Duke provided premium access to all sorts of resources—project trackers, video conferencing platforms, etc. We were expected to coordinate with the other team virtually, and deliver on the original scope including weekly check-ins with the clients. One thing was clear—the quality of learning and challenges that a capstone is supposed to offer would not be compromised in light of recent events. And what ensued for the next six weeks cemented the Team Fuqua spirit for me.
Over numerous zoom calls, we meticulously designed task-level plans for the 10 of us and received coaching from Professor Veena and the Business Communication faculty to prepare for a virtual corporate world. The switch in the learning environment seemed seamless with Fuqua and Duke, and it was not just because of the preparedness, the infrastructure, or adaptability. At the end of the day, it’s people coming together and working towards a common goal. We never met in-person after that email from President Price but made sure that we doubled down on Team Fuqua’s core principles—Impactful Stewardship, Loyal Community, and Uncompromising Integrity.
Although it was not the same scenario as when we all headed to our offices for work after graduation, the learnings from those six weeks shaped us. Making the most of meetings, working across time zones, and not letting a virtual setting be a hindrance to the quality of presentations for the client, were all instilled in us. We even got super creative—topical jokes, fancy Zoom backgrounds, and whatnot. The payoff? During our final presentation, the CMO looked at a tool we built and said, “Thank you, guys! This is Christmas in the summertime.”
My key takeaway from the virtual capstone project experience? I witnessed what Victor Cheng talks about—the difference between growing pain and suffering pain. Thanks to the spirit and support from Team Fuqua I could turn this into growing pain. And years later, when I am faced again with a brazen challenge, I can look back these six weeks and put on my game face. And that, that helps a lot!