Stock image of a student working on a laptop

When Jaehla Meacham first stepped into Fisher’s MBA program, she was elated at the opportunity to travel to another country and gain hands-on, experiential learning as part of her continuing education. But when travel restrictions from COVID-19 ultimately kept her stateside this past spring, Meacham’s plans to go global pivoted to a modified international experience that was both valuable and relevant — and kept her safe.

As part of the college’s Global Applied Projects (GAP) program, Meacham and a team of students collaborated with technology manufacturing and digital storage leader Western Digital Corporation.

Before COVID-19, the original project for the GAP team was to take a deep dive into how prepared the procurement division of Western Digital’s Asian-Pacific (APAC) region was potential disruptions. The team was tasked with analyzing existing processes, flows of information and resources associated with institutional knowledge. The end goal was to develop a playbook of best practices.

The project would culminate with the students traveling to Western Digital’s Fujisawa, Japan, office for two weeks before heading to the company’s headquarters, located in San Jose, California, for a final presentation.

Jaehla Meacham
Jaehla Meacham

Then came the news that COVID-19 was grounding flights; it was “a hard pill to swallow,” Meacham said.

Amid disruption, however, the team found opportunity. With the pandemic shedding light on Western Digital’s vulnerabilities related to major supply-chain interruptions, the students reshaped their project to examine how employees in the company’s APAC region could improve communication during COVID as well as in the face of future once-in-a-lifetime “black swan” disruptions.

“It became about developing a playbook and understanding the processes that Western Digital has in place to navigate crises right now and then building on to those processes and understanding some of their employees’ pain points,” Meacham said.

The students continued to interact with employees through video conferencing while navigating time zone differences. They ultimately recommended centralizing Western Digital’s crisis management information, which would strengthen overall communication, shore up potential supply chain susceptibilities and reduce downtime in the event of future similar disruptions.

“The feedback we received from Western Digital about the GAP team’s work was incredible,” said Joyce Steffan, senior director for the Office of Global Business. “Because the company had such positive experiences working with Fisher on previous projects, Western Digital trusted our students to undertake such a large and significantly visible project within the company.”

Despite having to adapt her global experience, Meacham said the program remains a win-win for students and companies.

“The GAP program shouldn’t be discounted just because we didn’t get to travel internationally to complete our project the way it was initially intended to be completed,” she said. “We still were able to connect with people from the other side of the world and have meaningful conversations and actually put together a final product that was meaningful and hopefully helps Western Digital in the future.”

The GAP program is just one part of an MBA experience built around experiential learning abroad and domestically. Fisher’s Business Labs program connects students with organizations that have a presence in Columbus, Ohio, and a desire to work with MBA students on real projects.

Jeff Prestel
Jeff Prestel

Sarnova, located in Dublin, Ohio, sells emergency medical technician (EMT) supplies and respiratory products to hospitals. Through the Business Labs program, the company tasked a team of students with analyzing Sarnova’s company sales over the last five years to determine recommendations for future investment or divestment. The information would be used by CEO Jeff Prestel in the development of the company’s strategic plan.

We’ve been growing pretty healthy,” he said. “We wanted to know what our full return on investment was, what should we double-down on and what should we stop and redirect those dollars potentially elsewhere?”

As the pandemic created a surge in demand from Sarnova’s customers — especially as it related to respiratory equipment — Prestel said the students’ project would play a critical role in the company’s post-pandemic future.

“You can’t forget about your future,” he said. “This project was a key part of what we are going to do, not with strategy but freeing up dollars for other initiatives that will be beneficial for our future. We had to adapt and adjust and we did; we still had to keep moving the ball forward. The team jumped on it and just did a great job.”

Anna Chopp
Anna Chopp

Like many of her classmates, first-year MBA student Anna Chopp said the pivot deepened her experiential learning.

“These types of pivots and unforeseeable changes happen more often than not on projects like these in the real world, and we were quickly forced to exercise those skills and perfect them,” she said. “It was the perfect simulation of obstacles encountered in the real world, one that would have not happened had COVID not happened.”