EMBA Special Feature: Finding Ways to Make it Work - An Interview with EMBA Program Manager Carissa Marquez
Successful people don’t fold under pressure, they perform, and many don’t even stop to think about the stress or the stakes when they’re in the moment. It’s only after some time has passed that they acknowledge the weight that’s been lifted off their shoulders.
That’s what 2020 was like for Carissa Marquez. When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Nevada and a state of emergency forced UNLV’s Executive MBA students out of the classroom and online, Carissa had to make the most of a near-impossible situation: How do you recreate an in-person classroom experience using video -conferencing?
“Last year was an opportunity to see things in a different light,” she recalls. “We were forced to move classes online due to COVID, but once solutions were realized, it became apparent that this is something that can serve the students best long-term.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to improve the program, and even with remote classes, we were able to create the same engagement between the students virtually.”
Carissa joined UNLV’s EMBA program in 2013 as a program coordinator after a successful career in marketing and sales. She was later appointed Program Manager in 2019. In her role, Carissa is deeply involved with all aspects of the EMBA – from strategy to scheduling, contracts, and marketing -- and deeply invested in each student’s success. Though she may not interact with the cohort as often as they do with each other, she is always there behind the scenes, looking for ways to better serve their needs, with a personal touch that many don’t anticipate when they first enroll in the program.
“I'm always looking for special ways to help encourage students to keep going and power through, because the program is a tremendous commitment,” she says. “For example, each year I coordinate a ‘Halfway There’ party for the current cohort, to celebrate what they have accomplished so far and give them extra encouragement to get them through the remainder of the program.”
“It’s fun to find creative ways to get them excited and reinvigorate their commitment to the program.”
When the pandemic struck, Carissa oversaw the transition for students and staff, coordinating training sessions for those unfamiliar with video conferencing and ensuring that every member of the cohort would be able to participate in the new online environment. Relying on her undergraduate degree in sociology from UNLV, along with her management and leadership experience, she was never overwhelmed by the stress of the moment.
Students of Cohort 18, and academic faculty, followed her lead, and the students continued to thrive in the new online environment. Because there was no opportunity for the usual in-person snacks and meals that the program provides, Carissa and EMBA administrative assistant Gina Muhammad coordinated the delivery of snack packages to each member of the cohort. Carissa even personally delivered some packages to each member of the cohort herself.
The little things, combined with the guidance she and fellow EMBA staff could provide, ensured that no student fell behind during the shutdown. Further, Carissa found that online learning - a temporary fix at a time of crisis - had created a solution to an ongoing challenge.
“We found a way to make it work, and now, many of the students have said they enjoyed having the opportunity to be remote,” Carissa says. “We’ve also found that our online solution creates more opportunity for students, because the program can be difficult for those that travel for work.
“Now students can participate remotely and not miss out on classes.”
When Nevada’s pandemic restrictions began to relax, Carissa began to plan for the cohort’s eventual return to the classroom. Currently, the EMBA program utilizes a “Hy-Flex” model that combines in-person and online learning. For the latter, Carissa drafted a “Returning to Campus Safely” outline of policies and procedures for the EMBA program that remain in place for the current cohort. These guidelines serve as just another example of how the EMBA experience continues to evolve alongside its curriculum.
“Each cohort is so impressive; every individual student brings so much to the table with their professional background, drive, and determination. These outstanding professionals accomplish great things in the workplace and throughout the community,” she says. “Everything that we do for the cohort is meant to make students' lives just a little easier, so they’re able to focus on their schoolwork without worrying about what happens behind the scenes.”
Evolving the EMBA experience is something that occupies much of Carissa’s mind. Having successfully steered students and staff through the worst parts of the pandemic, and after learning some valuable lessons along the way, she wants to double down on the “executive-level service” that the program can offer cohorts.
“I love that what I’m doing is helping people achieve their goals,” she says. “The payoff is the look of accomplishment and pride on each student's face when they complete the program."
"Successfully achieving that educational goal is huge, and it feeds my soul to know I was a part of their EMBA journey.