Bonds forged in the Executive MBA program cohort model are leading to innovations in remote learning and relief for overwhelmed parents. The connection among three alumni who graduated together in 2019 – Matty O’Reilly, Scott Ceplecha and Ben Boaz – led to Project 53, a new venture with the potential to solve some of the most pressing issues of our day. Project 53 refers to the number of years since the last single-room schoolhouse closed in the U.S. It serves as a reminder that not all problems require new solutions.

As parents of remote learning students, O’Reilly, Ceplecha and Boaz recognized that something needed to change because the current model is unsustainable for working parents. Parents are struggling to maintain full-time jobs while playing the dual role of full-time teaching assistant to their children. According to a survey by Perceptyx, 42% of working parents are worried to either a “moderate” or “great” extent about their job security because of their children learning from home.

Executive MBA alumni Scott Ceplecha, left, and Matty O’Reilly pose for a portrait outside of a temporarily vacant Green Mill restaurant in Eagan on October 5, 2020. Along with their colleague, Ben Boaz, they have created a new venture, Project 53, a model in which business spaces that have emptied due to the Coronavirus pandemic can be instead used as a remote learning space for students.O’Reilly, Ceplecha and Boaz saw building vacancies as providing affordable space for learning; a recent Star Tribune article noted that approximately 85% of the downtown Minneapolis workforce is still at home. The resulting business closures have created vacancies with cascading negative consequences for communities. Project 53 will occupy these vacant commercial spaces, providing safe and efficient hubs for remote learning. Students will follow the curriculum of their respective schools while trained teaching assistants usher them through their daily lesson plans.

“We had a concept, and 35 text messages later, we had a business,” O’Reilly said. For $110 per week, a student will have access to a four-hour session every weekday. Individual drop-in sessions will run $25 per day.

While the three bring a ton of relevant expertise to the table, they recognized immediately that they would need help navigating a variety of outstanding questions around law, intellectual property, licensing and sanitation. For answers, they turned to their former business law professor, Susan Marsnik, J.D., who was more than happy to assist. “We talked through possibilities where the legal risks might be,” Marsnik said. “I told them they need to have a really good lawyer … so I contacted an attorney friend of mine and asked if this is something their firm does. He said yes, and I put them together. I was really pleased that they contacted me. That’s the best thing, when a student contacts me years later.”

In addition to the connection with Marsnik, the three are thankful for the Executive MBA cohort-based program experience, in which 25-30 students progress through an intensive 21-month curriculum as a group. The team-based learning environment exposes students to valuable insights and unique perspectives from members of the cohort representing a variety of industries.

“I don’t think it would be possible to form the types of bonds we’ve formed in any other program structure. I now have 20+ of the smartest people I’ve ever met, with a diverse set of expertise that I can call with any type of problem, professional or otherwise, at any time.”

O’Reilly, Ceplecha and Boaz hope that Project 53, which is planning to open this month, will lift some of the weight of the remote learning model that parents are feeling.

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