[Webinar] UMD Online Student Experience

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As you’re considering pursuing your master’s degree with Smith, you may wonder about the Smith MBA and MSBA online program experience. 

In this webinar, graduate Dan Goldsmith presents on his experience in the online program and provides tips for success.  Also covered will be:

  • Online platform preview
  • Interactive components, including the weekly live sessions
  • MBA Residency overview
  • Networking capabilities
  • Time management tips


  • Dan Goldsmith, Adjunct Faculty and Smith Online MBA Graduate
  • Jacques Avery, Sr. Enrollment Advisor


– [Jacques] Hello and welcome to the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business presentation providing insight into the life of a Smith online student. I am Jacques Avery and I’ll be your host today. I’d like to thank you for joining us and taking time out of your busy schedule. Before we begin, I’d like to review a few housekeeping items about today’s sessions. At the bottom of your audience console are multiple application widgets you can use. If you have any technical difficulties, the help widget provides answers to common technical issues. If you have questions during the webcast, you may submit your questions using the Q&A widget. We will answer as many questions as time allows toward the end of our session. An on demand version of today’s session will be available tomorrow. A link of the recording will be sent to you via email. I’m actually going to provide a quick message to folks who may not be able to hear me at this moment just to let them know to refresh their browser if you have any difficulty hearing our session so far.

I’d now like to introduce our panelists. Dan Goldsmith has been a serial entrepreneur for two decades, buying and growing businesses in several verticals. Most recently, he founded X-Laser, a high-powered laser manufacturing firm that came to count numerous high-profile music artists and theme parks as clients and grew into the largest firm of its kind in the United States. He earned his MBA online from University of Maryland Smith School in 2016 and now works for Smith as an adjunct professor for marketing as well as director of marketing for a large residential construction company.

Through our session today, we’re going to cover a few points with our agenda. Why Smith? An overview of the online programs. We’re gonna go into detail about the online student experience, resources that the online students have to be able to tap into, common new student questions, and also getting started with the application process and of course your questions toward the end of the session. I’m again going to introduce Dan here, let him introduce himself to you guys, and just say hey really quickly before we move into our first agenda item on why Smith.

– [Dan] Hey, everybody. My name is Dan Goldsmith, as Jacques said. I’m very excited to be here with all of you today and talk about the online student experience in Smith. As he said, we’re gonna leave time for questions at the end, so if you do have questions, please feel free to type them into the Q&A widget and we’ll answer as many as we have time for. So thanks a bunch.

– [Jacques] Thanks, Dan. Covering why Smith and why earn a degree from the Smith School of Business? First, our world-class faculty, including some of the best and brightest PhDs from all over the world and many of them teach in the online programs. We believe that we have a track record for excellence. We work to produce students that are prepared to be successful in the world of business and it shows in our rankings. Here are a few rankings I’d like to note. Of course, the number one ranking in faculty quality with the online MBA program, it is actually ranked eighth in the nation with a number four ranking in student engagement across the online programs and as a business school, it’s ranked 40th in the nation as well.

We’ll also focus on experiential reality-based learning as much as possible through the program. We try to weave into the core theoretical knowledge that you’ll need in order to master that subject area but we also try to give you the opportunity to apply that, both for perhaps a problem that other companies have faced and also problems that your company may be facing, as well.

Smith provides a suite of career development resources to online students, the same as campus-based students receive. The career coaches will customize to the needs of the online student. They can assist with everything from the most fundamental and very important basics as a resume review to career assessment to determine where you can transition your skills to network, even mock interviewing. Many of our online students have leverage and seen greater career success as a result of taking advantage of these resources. Skills learned in Smith’s master’s programs are transferable across industry and that is what our career coaches focus on quite a bit to help you to be able to leverage that resource.

We do have a strong entrepreneurial spirit here at Smith. We have a very diverse group of individuals from our faculty to our staff and our students and it’s that diversity that drives the innovation in our programs. We’re looking for both incremental and radical innovation. We’re looking to ensure that we imbibe our students a spirit of impact and community so that they make a difference in their organizations. In the current world, we live in, with a lot of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, it’s important that our students are looking with an innovative lid.

And finally, there’s a commitment to community within the Smith School of Business. It’s something that we really take pride in, that we can instill in all of our programs including in the online program. Allowing our students to come to build those relationships in person and online, we strive to mirror the real business world, building our classes with students from all walks of life, background, ethnicities, and nationalities. The result is a class teeming with different experiences and viewpoints that better prepare each person to walk with the diverse base from a diverse base of future colleagues.

Here is a breakdown of the structure of the online programs. As you can see, there is a slight difference between the online MBA program and the online Master of Science in Business Analytics program. Both programs have 14-week long semesters and the program is designed so that students are taking one or two courses at a time. A full-time student will take two courses simultaneously. For the MBA program with its seven-week courses, however, that may mean in one semester, you may have up to four courses. For the Master of Science in Business Analytics program, it means taking two courses in a semester. The difference is, with the online MBA program, there are 54 credits, whereas, with the Master of Science in Business Analytics program, there are 30 credits that are delivered in the program. And so what that means for students is that as you’re going through those online courses, you along with 18 to 22 other students, that’s the typical class size, will go through weekly assignments and also webcam sessions to be able to interact with each other, work on projects, develop your skills as you progress through the program.

With the online MBA program, there are two campus residencies that students do physically come to the College Park campus for, an opening weekend event, and a closing weekend event. We’ll dive into that a little later into our presentation. With the Master of Science in Business Analytics program, it can be completed 100% online without any residency requirement. To go into a little bit more detail about what you can expect with those campus residencies from the online MBA program, I’ll let Dan take it away.

– [Dan] Hey, everybody. All right, thanks so much, Jacques. So first of all, I’d like to just say again I’m really happy to be here with all of you. These kinds of webinars didn’t exist when I was considering doing an MBA and I think I would have found them super useful. So before I get into the residencies, I’d like to just tell you a little bit about my journey into the online MBA. Along the way, I’m gonna call out some stuff that is also relevant for the MSBA, the Business Analytics degree, but most of all I have to say today it’s about the OMBA ’cause that’s where most of my experience resides. And if you have questions about the differences between the two, please always feel free to reach out to your enrollment advisor.

So I think that my journey into OMBA, which I’ll only just talk about for just a minute or two, might be familiar to some of you at least. I have been a serial entrepreneur most of my career, as Jacques said and I got to the point where I was in this business, it was going so well, and even though I was the CEO of the company, I had basically been doing business by the seat of my pants. I didn’t really know anything. I was running on instinct. And I reached the point where in order to go further in the business, I had to know more. I’d run out of the ability to Google things at two o’clock in the morning and trying to figure out how to do this bit of accounting or that bit of strategy or whatever. And so I decided, I really need to go back to school, I need to learn something. And I was in a situation where as a full-time entrepreneur, I was working 70-plus hours a week, I was father of two young kids, I was a husband, I was a son, I had lots of responsibilities outside of my working life and I was trying to figure out how I was going to make all of this work.

And I landed where I think probably a lot of you are right now, wondering can I fit this into my life? Can I afford it? And if we’re being totally honest, can I do it? I had been out of school a long time. I had never taken a lot of the quantitative type classes that you find in the MBA and MD, MSBA. Never taken econ, never taken data modeling, never taken financial management or anything else that would have seemed useful for this.

So as I began this information search, I looked around at a lot of different kinds of programs and they sort of fell into three buckets. The first bucket were all of the on-the-ground programs, which is sort of the traditional way of doing an MBA, right? For me personally, that was just not going to work. I couldn’t commit to working a full day, then driving somewhere, giving myself enough time for traffic, finding something to eat, getting into class, sitting through a few hours of class, then driving back, I was gonna miss too much of my kids’ lives. I didn’t feel like that was a good fit for me to be around and be a good dad.

And then I also looked at the second bucket, which were the asynchronous only programs, what you might call a correspondence MBA. And a lot of the interaction there with your peers and the professors was just done through messaging boards and sometimes chat applications and stuff like that and for me personally, if I was gonna do this and I was gonna dedicate a couple of years of my life to this, I wanted to do it right. I wanted to have a real relationship with my professors. I wanted to be able to ask them questions and get feedback in real time, interact with my classmates, and I just couldn’t do that in those asynchronous degrees and that was a huge value point for me personally.

And that basically left me with an OMBA type degree. My commute was opening a browser window. I could take courses after my kids went to bed so I could do my work, be a good dad, and then feel like I had time to actually do my MBA work, and I had that live interaction that was so important to me. So that sort of takes me up to where I made the decision to jump into OMBA.

I hit the ground running. I went to residency, and again, the residencies are only for OMBA, not the MSBA, so we’ll get back to the MSBA part of this in just a second but coming into the residency, I was kind of like, if this is an online program, why do I need to physically go there? What’s the value? And it turned out there was actually quite a lot of value.

So there are two residencies, the opening residency, as you see here, and the closing residency. And the opening residency is really about setting you off on the right foot in the program. I actually teach one of the classes during residency that’s all about how you can learn new study skills and new ways of collaborating and interacting with your peers in order to really thrive in the online environment. What I came to learn as I went through the program is that it’s highly collaborative. And so this opportunity to meet your cohort, be able to do some networking, start to build those strong bonds, is really key to developing the kind of relationships that are going to help you and support you and challenge you as you go forward through the program. It’s also just great to get to know people and know where they’re gonna add value to your experience. In the opening residency, you do sessions on how to build and thrive in teams.

As I said, there’s lots of content around being able to thrive in the online environment. You get introductions to several of the key disciplines of the MBA. You learn how to sell ideas, you break off into groups and work on group projects, and of course, you get to do a tour of the UMD campus and network with your professors and sort of feel like you’re actually a student there as opposed to a name on a message board somewhere.

And then the final residency is really like the homecoming, right? So you’ve been spending a couple of years looking at people on webcams and stuff and then finally you all get back together and it’s hugging and high fives and all of that kind of stuff. And then you get down to business, doing the capstone simulation and all of the stuff that you’ve been learning over the last couple of years comes back and it’s a highly competitive simulation. It’s a lot of fun. We did not get a lot of sleep and that was totally okay. And we all learned a lot in the process and then you get to graduate and it’s a great sort of cherry on the sundae of the whole degree. So for me, those residencies, even though I didn’t necessarily want to do it from the outset, really added a lot of value to the experience.

So that having been said, now let’s talk about what it’s like in the actual classes and let’s pivot to talking about the online environment which is gonna be the same for the MSBA students. So this is what the online classroom kind of looks like. You have the 12 or 18 pack of floating heads, as we sometimes call them, in the upper right so you can actually see the people engaging with the class and with the professor. You can see their reactions, you can see where they’re confused and when they think things are funny and it’s kind of like being in a real actual classroom setting. There’s a chat down below where you can either direct message people or a message out to the class and people will talk about issues offline and ideas and so on and so forth in that. And in the main space of the online environment is really whatever the professor needs it to be.

Here we’re looking at what looks to be probably a student presentation of some kind, so students can upload PowerPoint decks or PDFs into the online environment and do presentations that way. During class, professors will show slide decks if they’re lecturing. They’ll work problems on digital whiteboards. They’ll show you an Excel spreadsheet and show you how they’re actually working through their problems. And it’s this really sort of collaborative involved process where you can see exactly what’s going on, you can ask questions in real time and get feedback in real time.

So that’s the bulk of the live session experience and so for OMBA, that will usually happen one night a week. For MSBA, as I understand it, that either happens one or two nights a week depending upon which classes you’re taking. Once you get outside of the online classes themselves, the bulk of the work actually lives in Canvas. So this is the online learning management system, that’ll be called ELMS, and each class is broken into modules and those modules are arranged by topic. So as you can see here, there’s a week one topic, a week two topic, week three topic, and so on and so forth. Everything that you need for that class or almost everything lives inside of those modules. That’s where you’re going to find all of your readings, all of your lecture videos, all of your weekly assignments, whatever deliverables you may have to do.

And then if you actually punch into the modules, you’ll see it’s all broken down. There’s introduction, there’s a schedule, you learn about a bunch of stuff, there’s an agenda for the live session, there’s a summary, all of that kind of stuff. And then you also have the ability to see all of your upcoming assignments. They’re all given dates inside of the online learning management platform. So you can organize your time, you can see your grades, you can interact with people, you can read the syllabus. All of that stuff that you would need as an online student is right there at your fingertips.

I just want to make a quick point about this. This is a fundamentally different experience from being an on-ground student in a couple of ways, but one of them that I think is really important is that when you’re on ground, you’re usually listening to a live lecture and taking notes and stuff like that. In this case, everything that you are doing, everything that you are seeing is something that can be captured. The slide decks are all provided to you. All of your assets and resources for all of the courses are digital. You can take your entire degree, or the vast majority of it, with you by just downloading that content and keeping it locally, putting it in your Dropbox or your Google Drive or whatever and you can take all that value that you’re getting in the online environment with you forever so you can refer back to it often, and I very often do. So now, a couple few years out of the MBA, I still have all of my notes arranged digitally, all of my course presentations are arranged digitally, all of my readings, all of my lectures, everything that I need, I take it with me for forever and it’s very, very useful.

So that’s sort of what the online experience is like. You have that live session and then you have all of the asynchronous work that you can fit into your life however makes sense to you and we’re gonna talk about that in just a moment here. But I wanted to sort of circle back on these questions and the first thing that people really want to know is how long is all of this gonna take? The answer is, at least for OMBA, MSBA I think is similar, but for OMBA, the answer is something like 20 hours a week. There are people that do it in substantially less, there are people that do it in substantially more. Most people are gonna fall between 15 and 25 hours a week. If you’re doing more than that, you’re probably doing it wrong. If you’re doing less than that, then you’re probably doing it wrong. Obviously, that varies from week to week. Some weeks are busier than others. But in general, about 20 hours a week.

Another question becomes, okay, 20 hours a week, I was running a 70-hour-a-week company, I was a dad, I had all these other obligations, how do you fit that into your life? And the answer is it’s really up to you, as long as you get yourself on a schedule and that’s really the key. You’re gonna be doing this for a couple years regularly so for me, with kids, I don’t know how many of you out there have kids, but if you do, you’ll probably relate to this, I’d say, hey, kids, it’s time to go to bed and they’re like, no, we don’t want to, and then it’s like, hey, I need a drink of water and now I have to go do this other thing and there’s a bug on my ceiling and there’s all of this stuff that takes up a ton of time. Once I got them into the mindset that I was going to be in class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we started getting ready for bed a little bit earlier. They knew they had to get it all together. They knew they had to put on their pajamas and brush their teeth. I got them into a system and it was great and it worked out really, really well.

As far as just managing the workload of all of this, the programs are often compared to drinking from a fire hose. It is quite a lot, and I think everyone is pretty transparent about it being quite a lot, but it is manageable, especially if you get yourself onto that schedule. What do those schedules look like? Well, for morning people, they will usually get up early and do an hour or two of work every weekday. For night owls, they’ll usually do the opposite, they’ll usually do an hour or two of work after everyone else goes to bed in the evenings. And then usually, most people will spend one day of their weekend doing things related to OMBA. So that’s going to mean assignments, papers, tests and quizzes, and collaborating with classmates. So a lot of the classmate time where you’re going to be actually engaging with people live is gonna happen on the weekends because that’s when everyone has time. And there are other folks that don’t want to do anything else during the week, so they want to spend their whole weekend working on MBA, so other than classes, they’re gonna do all their work on the weekends. And there are other people that want to have their weekends free and they’re gonna shift all that work into the weeks for the most part and they’ll do a couple hours in the morning and a couple hours at night.

The point is, however it fits into your schedule, that’s about how much time you need to work out and it is actually honestly really quite accomplishable once you get onto that schedule. We were actually amazed when we all graduated how much free time we suddenly had and then we were also amazed at how quickly life just rushed back in to fill in all of that free time and we just got this incredible sense of, wow, we had no idea how much time we were actually wasting on things that really didn’t need to happen. So even if you don’t feel like it can fit into your life, I assure you it can.

That having been said, a lot of people on this webinar have probably been out of school for awhile. A lot of you are probably adult students. It is not uncommon to see folks in a residency that have been out of school 10, 15, 20, 30 years and they all sort of have this look on their face, it’s like they’re not really sure that they can do this and that’s a totally valid feeling. But what we come to find is that once you get into the online environment, once you see all the resources that you have available to you, once you see that your classmates are really there, as Jacques said, to be your biggest fans, to help you and support you, it really becomes not a question of can you do it, it becomes a question of are you going to choose to do it?

I was a psych major. I had, as I said, no experience with econ, no experience with data modeling, financial management, accounting. I very rarely used Excel, which is atrocious for a business owner, but it’s true. And so I came into OMBA not really sure that I was going to be able to do all of this coursework and what I found was that there’s a lot of pre-work that helps give you the foundation that you need to understand this stuff. At least in the OMBA, the math is really honestly not that bad. It’s high school algebra that you need to brush up on a little bit. And for the most part, the program is designed to prepare you to be successful. As I said, it’s not really a question of can you do it, it’s a question of whether or not you’re going to choose to do it. So that’s most of what I have. If you have questions, I’m very, very happy to answer them for you, but that’s a quick look at what the life of an online student is like.

– [Jacques] Thank you, Dan. I certainly do appreciate you being able to provide that perspective as a professional, an entrepreneur, as a parent. That is certainly the most common, these are the most common questions that we have for new students coming into the program, that nervous energy right at the beginning of the program and it really comes down to making a commitment to yourself, as you mentioned, but also being able to leverage the resources that are delivered by the program and that’s gonna be our next topic here.

As you go through the program, what you will begin to identify when you do connect with other students is that you have a built-in network within the program and many students may be local, be proximal to the campus, but also of course with an online program you’re going to have some folks who are quite a distance away from the campus. But that doesn’t mean that you’re alone and also within the community, within the business school, within the graduate school, there are events in Maryland, through the D.C. area. If there are any podcast listeners out there, I encourage you to subscribe to the Bootstrap podcast which is actually something that’s led by some folks who are connected to the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship as well.

There of course is the Office of Career Services that you’ll have establishing a relationship with you from the beginning of the program and throughout and also for the remainder of your career so that’s something that of course an amazing resource that you have to be able to leverage as you go through the program as well. There’s also the Graduate Writing Center as well as the student resource centers.

You’ll also have a team of advisors. Many of you have already been working with an enrollment advisor, but also as you go through the program, you’ll have a connection with the student services advisor, as we mentioned, the career services advisor, and for those who have questions about funding the program, you’ll also have a financial aid advisor. So that is a network and a team of individuals that you have to be able to leverage into helping yourself to be successful as you go through your program.

And for those of you who have military affiliation, there is also a great Military and Veteran Affairs team that we have working for our students, as well. And also with the online MBA program, we have a number five ranking as a military-friendly online MBA program, as well.

So keep those things in mind and the perspectives that Dan shared when you think to yourself, I don’t know if I have time, I don’t know if I have the ability to balance being a student, with going through all of those other obligations that you have in life, and also do keep in mind that not everyone goes through the program as a full-time student always. There is some flexibility in the program, as Dan talked about, with how not only you make time on a week-to-week basis, but also how you pace yourself through the completion of your courses and I certainly do encourage you to connect with an enrollment advisor about different options that you may have in terms of the structure of the program and how that may work with your personal and professional obligations.

Again, referencing that relationship that you have with an enrollment advisor, here are the admissions requirements with the online MBA program as well as the Master of Science in Business Analytics program. With both programs, they have an online application. In terms of the difference between the applications, you will see really no difference in the applications, you will just need to make certain that you’re declaring the correct program intent. In the online application, there is a pull-down tab that asks you to select your program and you will need to make certain that you are either selecting Online MBA or Online MSBA.

With applying to the program, you would also need to provide your official transcripts from the institutions that you have earned credit toward your Bachelor’s degree with and upload those to the application along with your resume. If you have them, GMAT or GRE scores will also be self-reported and you would provide the official transcripts from GMAC or from GRE. And also, you would need to provide the name and email address for a letter of recommendation. It’s preferred that your recommendation be from a professional source. So when you provide their name and email address in the online application, we will send them an invitation to an online recommendation form.

There is also providing one personal statement or MBA essay which is an outline of goals with the MBA or MSBA, what you expect to gain from the program, an application fee of $75. For those who have completed their education outside of the U.S., they will need to provide either a TOEFL or IELTS score, and again, do encourage that if you do have any questions about completing your application, that you do connect with an enrollment advisor so that you can continue to take those steps through the enrollment process and get off to a smooth start. If necessary, you may be asked to provide an interview with the Admissions Committee, although with your relationship with your enrollment advisor, that’s typically not required.

As you can see, there is contact information for the admissions team listed here as well as our upcoming dates, including the dates for the opening residency for the online MBA program, the beginning of the term for both the online MBA program and Master of Science in Business Analytics program are the same. Still 14-week terms and the next upcoming term is the fall 2019 entry that begins on August 26th.

And with that, we’ll start with any questions that you may have. Please do pull up your Q&A widget and ask any questions that you’d like to know about student experience, what you can expect from the program, and also any questions that you may have about admission to the program.

All right, first question here. It’s about GMAT or GRE scores. The question is about ideal GMAT or GRE scores. And the acceptable level for a GRE score would be a 300 or better and for GMAT would be a 500 or better. Of course, this is a balance with your academic history as well as the quality of your writing and your professional experience, as well. So it is a holistic review and GMAT and GRE scores are typically not the sole reason why an individual may be admitted or denied admission to either the online MBA program or the Master of Science in Business Analytics program. But again, an acceptable score is a 300 or better with GRE and a 500 or better with GMAT.

Next question here. Dan, I’ll actually ask you to answer this question. Is business strategy taught as part of the program?

– [Dan] Yes, it is. It is both explicitly taught as a class and it is absolutely woven throughout many, many other classes. As a small example, I teach Marketing Strategy and most of what we are talking about in that class, which ostensibly is more about marketing, a lot of people think of it as how to get better at selling stuff online but in reality, it’s really a class about strategy. Even in your data modeling class and stuff like that, it is about how to understand the problem in order to build a better business strategy. So strategy is really woven throughout the curriculum in myriad ways in addition to a course where you are explicitly going to be taught about strategy.

– [Jacques] We also have a question here about I believe structure in the program so we’re gonna go back a little bit in our presentation to a previous slide so that you’re again able to see what the pacing is like through the program with its 14-week semesters. So as you can see, both programs, the Master of Science in Business Analytics and the online MBA program both have 14-week semesters but the MBA courses are seven weeks in length and the MSBA courses, because they do build technical skills, are at 14 weeks in length. They are also three-credit courses while the MBA courses are two-credit courses. So that is a difference that you do see in the structure of the programs, as well.

Is there a minimum GPA to stay in good standing? In order to successfully complete the program, in order to graduate, you do need to graduate with a 3.0 GPA. You have a student services advisor working with you throughout the program if you are at risk of no longer being in good standing, good academic standing, as you do progress through the program, but in order to successfully complete the programs, you do need to graduate with a minimum GPA of a 3.0.

I’ve got another question here about GMAT and GRE, about the validity of older testing outcomes. After five years, GRE and ETS and GMAC, for the GMAC, will no longer provide your official transcripts. So after five years, those testing outcomes have expired. So that is what you run up against with older testing outcomes from GRE through ETS or GMAT through GMAC.

Awesome, great questions. And I’d like to thank everyone for joining our session today and taking time out of your schedule for the event. Again, this session will be available on demand as early as tomorrow, and on the screen you’ll find the contact information for the enrollment office and Dan Goldsmith should you have any additional questions. If you’re ready to apply to either of the online programs, you can schedule an appointment to speak with your advisor. Links to do so can be found in the resources widget. Additional program information links are also available to you there. I’d like to thank Dan for your time and willingness to share your experience and expertise with the program, and also thank you to all of you who participated. We’re glad you could have joined us and hope the session was helpful for you. Now I’d like to allow Dan to make his closing comments and thank you again for attending.

– [Dan] All right, yes, I just want to echo Jacques. Thank you all so much for attending. We’re really proud to be alumni from this program. It is quite a journey. It’s a journey that we all enjoyed. And I just want to say, for those of you who are considering OMBA, I think one of the best parts for all of us is I don’t know that we necessarily realized this coming in, but the MBA is an incredibly practical degree. It is all about teaching you how to think, how to analyze, and how to add value in any situation or context that you happen to find yourself. And that having been said, it is affable in almost every industry and almost every situation and the tools that you learn will follow you for the rest of your lives. So that having been said, it’s a degree that has a tremendous amount of ROI associated with it and I think I can speak safely, at least for the folks in my cohort that I went through the program with, that all of us got a ton of value out of it and we’re really glad that we did. So I hope to see you at residency coming up soon.

– [Jacques] Thank you, Dan. With that, we’ll close our session, and again, this session will be available tomorrow on demand. Thank you for participating.