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Graduates of the 2020 Haslam College of Business' highly accelerated masters programs pose in the Tennessee Theatre.

Pursuing a master’s degree, especially as a working professional, requires determination, vision, and stamina. Ratchet those requirements up by 10 when earning a degree during a pandemic.

After COVID-19 reached the US, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business made many adjustments. Students—including those in the highly accelerated master’s degree programs—had to adjust, too. Since several graduate programs last 11 months, students who began in January 2020 met in person only once before the pandemic hit.

When classes moved online in March, the graduate and executive programs followed suit, requiring many adjustments. To list a few examples, unique changes and events in 2020 included:

  • 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 they could fully participate in class sessions and activities
  • The “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 with limited guests, with no guests, outdoors, and online

Despite the uncertain circumstances, innovations by the program teams and faculty helped students continue to progress.

“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 the dedication of the faculty and staff in continuing to produce high-level educational programs in extraordinary conditions,” said Bruce Behn, associate dean for graduate and executive education.

The MBA graduates persevered through the pandemic upheaval, and what some say they will most remember is more typical of graduate school in a normal year.

Todd Batenhorst, a new alumnus from the Executive MBA Healthcare Leadership program, said he will recall not the pandemic but “the cadence of learning, the ability to tie health care 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 and engineering student who will complete her engineering degree in May, voiced a common sentiment about completing a degree during the pandemic.

“As one might imagine, the COVID-19 quarantines put serious restrictions on the program,” said Day, recipient of the MBA Dean’s Award. “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 nonpandemic 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, Day said, she will most remember the people. “The best part of my MBA program had to be the people I interacted with. 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 the novel realities MBA students endured comes from a new graduate from the Physician Executive MBA program. Ana Kelegama said when the pandemic started, 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 and completing her assignments. Although she had concerns about making it through the program in the first residence period, they soon dissipated.

“I managed not only to survive a pandemic but also to graduate from PEMBA with an A,” Kelegama said. “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 [Organizational Action Project] on our last day. I knew at that moment I finally made it.”

The master’s program classes will remember 2020 as the year they earned their degree, demonstrated their flexibility and fortitude, and partnered with the university to prepare themselves, no matter the circumstances, for the future.

About the Haslam College of Business Master’s Programs

The Haslam College of Business offers a comprehensive suite of master’s programs targeted to the needs of business. In addition to the full-time 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.

The college’s graduate and executive education programs website provides information about traditional master’s degree programs, programs for working professionals, executive short-course offerings, and other educational options.


Scott McNutt (865-974-506,