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USM COBED Maintains Quality of Academic Programs while Learning Remotely

Mon, 05/11/2020 - 08:51am

Along with most universities and schools, COVID-19 caused The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) College of Business and Economic Development to seek innovative solutions to keep students engaged after converting all face-to-face spring 2020 courses to an online delivery format in a matter of two weeks.

Online course delivery and virtual meetings became the new norm, as many professors hosted their classes in a live video format, and worked with experts in the field as they virtually hosted guest speakers and worked with companies and organizations on class projects. Students and faculty alike worked diligently to uphold the high-quality standards of the college’s curriculum.

Chris Balaski, a Professor of Practice in the USM School of Marketing, worked to keep his course as close to the real thing as possible. By utilizing video conferencing technology, his students continued with their assignments as they would in the classroom.

Experiential learning is a major component of Balask’s Advanced Professional Selling course, a highly interactive and hands-on class that often hosts sales representatives and professionals in the classroom as guest speakers, or sales pitch and role play participants and judges. These professionals provide examples of their own sales experiences and techniques before students take what they have learned and implement it into sales pitch scenarios.

Since converting to online delivery, Balaski hosted virtual presentations and role play scenarios with large corporations such as Zoetis. He has also invited former professional selling student Leighton Keonnen to virtually provide valuable peer feedback, while playing a customer in their mock sales pitches.

Savannah Rheams, a student of Balaski’s, said, “I’m so thankful for the frequent check-ins by Mr. Balaski to see how we are all doing with the course, virtual roleplay preparations and sales calls with real professionals over Microsoft Teams, and full lessons plans provided on Canvas, so we are fully prepared for all exams. I think I can speak for all students in the College of Business and Economic Development in saying ‘thank you’ to all of our faculty and staff for working so earnestly to create just as comfortable of a learning environment online as we were provided in Scianna Hall.”

The advanced professional selling students worked with Northwestern Mutual, a financial services company. Representatives Keith Frye, Managing Director & Financial Advisor, and Becky Broersma, Experience Leader, assisted the students on perfecting their sales pitches as they performed roleplays.

“This is our second semester partnering with Chris to help his students develop in their advanced sales skills. I believe the skills and experience they are getting in this class are top notch,” Frye said. “It is also impressive that these unprecedented times could not stop them from learning and growing. Learning to adapt is an extremely valuable skill in any marketplace.”

These resilient business students overcame their fears of the unknown and thrived in this new format. Chelsey Liddell, a student in the class, shared her thoughts. “Mr. Balaski has done an exceptional job transitioning our course to an online format. Advanced professional selling is a nontraditional course, and requires interaction to get the full benefit, and by incorporating Microsoft Teams into our home learning experience, we have been able to continue doing exactly what we would be doing in the classroom,” Liddel said. “We still get to hear from real professionals, learn their techniques, and then give our own spin to them during our virtual role-plays. At the very least, finishing school at USM during COVID-19 has taught me to become more resilient and flexible, which is a necessary trait in the sales force.”

For information about the USM College of Business and Economic Development, visit