University of Tennessee

Haslam Masters Students Succeed Despite COVID-19 Challenges

February 3, 2021

Pursuing a master’s degree, especially if you are a working professional, requires determination, vision and stamina. Ratchet those requirements up a factor of 10 for attaining a degree during a pandemic.

When Covid-19 reached America, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business was forced to adjust its delivery of services, and students – including those in the highly accelerated masters programs – had to adjust, too. Several of Haslam’s graduate programs last 11 months and began in January 2020, so students had physically met only once before the pandemic hit.

When classes moved online in March, the graduate and executive programs followed suit, and many adjustments were required. A few examples of unique changes and events in 2020 include:

  • Hosting program residencies in hybrid formats and fully online
  • Introduction of mini-residency periods
  • Social distancing and mask protocols and enhanced technology
  • Accommodations for students who were unable to travel so that they could fully participate in all class sessions and activities
  • Leadership at Lunch: Leading in Trying Times” webinar series offered free to all graduate and executive students and friends from April through July
  • Hosting graduate hooding ceremonies by program in a variety of formats, including limited guests, no guests, outdoor and online  

Despite uncertain circumstances, the innovative spirit of Haslam’s program teams and faculty enabled continued academic progress for all students. 

 “That we had such strong graduating classes in all our master’s programs is a testament to both the determination of our students to earn their degrees and to the dedication of the faculty and staff in continuing to produce high-level educational programs in extraordinary conditions,” Bruce Behn, associate dean for graduate and executive education, says.

Haslam’s MBA grads persevered through the pandemic upheaval, and what some say they will most remember from their time here is more typical of graduate school in a normal year.

For instance, Todd Batenhorst, a new alumnus in Executive MBA Healthcare Leadership, says he will recall not the pandemic but “the cadence of learning, the ability to tie healthcare leadership and decision making together, and, mostly, the people. The people are the best, relationships – both personal and professional – that would not have happened otherwise.”

Marjory Day, a dual MBA/engineering student who will complete her engineering degree in May 2021, voiced a sentiment commonly expressed about completing a degree during the pandemic.

“As one might imagine, the COVID-19 quarantines put serious restrictions on the program,” Day, winner of the MBA Dean’s award, says. “While our professors and staff did an incredible job quickly shifting the program online, the physical separation during the spring and restrictions in the fall decreased the casual chats I enjoyed during the non-pandemic part of my academic career. I especially loved stopping by the grad office, where our career team and admissions are, or a professor’s office for a quick chat or question.”

However, like Batenhorst, what Day says she will most remember is the people.

“The best part of my MBA program had to be the people I interacted with,” she says. “From students to professors to the Haslam graduate administration, each person I met through the MBA program was amazing and deepened my understanding of business.”

Perhaps the best summary of all the novel realities MBA students endured this past year comes from a newly graduated Physician Executive MBA. Ana Kelegama says that when the pandemic hit, she had to adapt quickly to a challenging Covid-19 environment as a frontline physician and medical director leading a team of physicians, all while attending weekly zoom lessons, completing her assignments and maintaining a high GPA in classes. Although she had concerns about making it through the program in the first residence period, those soon melted away.

“I managed not only to survive a pandemic, but also to graduate from PEMBA with an A,” she says. “The best part of my experience was to be in class and share my experience with others. My dreams became true when I presented my OAP on our last day. I knew at that moment I finally made it.”

The master’s program Classes of 2020 carried through to earn their degrees in the most trying times. They will serve as an example for their peers that follow them, as a reminder that even the most formidable barriers can be overcome. Most importantly, they will remember 2020 as the year they earned their degree, demonstrated their flexibility and fortitude, and partnered with Haslam to prepare themselves, no matter the circumstances, for the future.

About the Haslam College of Business Master’s Programs

Haslam offers a comprehensive suite of master’s programs targeted to the needs of business. In addition to the full-time Haslam MBA and six specialty master’s programs, applicants can choose from six MBA programs for working professionals. All programs address real-world challenges through an interdisciplinary approach where students develop and enhance their skills in critical thinking, leadership and the foundations of business. The faculty are industry thought leaders, seasoned practitioners and accomplished researchers who work tirelessly to make the learning experience apply directly to each participant’s current or future job.

Haslam’s graduate and executive education programs website provides information about traditional master’s degree programs, programs for working professionals, executive short-course offerings and more.


Scott McNutt, business writer/publicist,