From March 30, 2021 to April 1, 2021, business students at VWU hosted their annual Marlin Business Conference. This year, due to COVID-19, the conference took a different form from its normal 5-day in-person format. The conference was hosted in an entirely virtual format and was condensed to only three days in hopes of attracting the highest number of attendees possible.
According to Professor Frank Futyma, several challenges were discussed in the planning phase of the conference. Among these included the possible loss of internet connection due to network instability across campus. To combat this, the planning committee met with network administrators to discuss avenues to prevent this from occurring. Solutions included separating students by geographical server and granting administrative power to student hosts for them to be able to troubleshoot in real-time if something were to go awry.
Professor Futyma also noted how demanding the student leadership roles were to make this virtual conference a reality. Junior Ashlee Bobzin was deemed the CEO of the conference and spent numerous hours planning every detail, down to hour-by-hour programming. Among other student leadership positions, the MBE 301 class filled other executive positions that were also intensively involved with planning.
Part of the schedule for the event included outside speakers from the Hampton Roads community. Most notably, according to Futyma, was John Kushka, who created a disinfecting business. He formulated his business model around purchasing disinfectant foggers and cleaning a variety of public spaces. He noted that this business venture would not have been possible/profitable without COVID-19. Professor Futyma would like to remind everyone from this example, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
Preparation for the new delivery method of the conference included coaching outside speakers on how to properly use the Zoom video-conferencing platform. Training included how to begin and end screen sharing, muting/unmuting the microphone, adjusting computer audio settings to eliminate feedback and adding a virtual VWU presentation background.
According to Bobzin, one of the most challenging parts in planning was fundraising for the event. Fundraising tactics included a 50/50 raffle and “big-ticket-item” raffle. Both garnered generous student participation. She noted they had students set up in Batten every day for two weeks preceding the conference selling tickets for various types of raffles. In addition to selling raffle tickets, students reached out to local businesses and connections from home with pleas to donate.
Bobzin indicated her favorite part of the conference was getting close “on another level” to her classmates. Due to the large amounts of time they spent together, many days from 7am to 4pm, they were able to feel a sense of community in a time that is not easy to do so. She ended with sincere gratitude for her peers by stating, “Thank you to my classmates!”
By Jack Palmer