Imagine this: you walk into a room filled with senior executives from some of the top international corporations. Your mission is to use 15 minutes to present the best solution to a complex business problem in a consulting format. Your team has had just 24 hours to prepare for it. And you are a sophomore in college.
This is precisely what happened to Minnesota Carlson School of Management junior, Katrina Rudisel. She was the youngest member to ever be a part of Carlson’s team at CaseIT, one of the better-known international case competitions with a focus on management information systems (MIS). Oh yeah, and she received the best speaker award at the event.
Case competitions are not new to business schools. The University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce hosted a student-run and planned international competition way back in 1981. Many business schools do case competitions in classes. Some host domestic competitions and others sponsor international events, pulling in students from every far-flung corner of the world. But the experience these contests provide boosts self-confidence, sharpens communication and presentation skills, and gives students a leg up on others in landing a job.
If you are going to go to a school with case competitions, go big. Carlson has been a leader in MIS education for a while now, so it makes sense they send students on a regular basis to the CaseIT competition. And the fearless leader of the program is professor, Corrie Fieldler.
Fieldler admits the teams she coached were not great at first but have been slowly improving over the years to the point where applicants now vie for a spot on the team. After a tryout, Fieldler connects team members with top executives in the area to offer feedback during pseudo competitions. Her role is largely to coach students on how to break down and examine problems in unique ways.
“One of the values is getting real-world cases from real companies and then getting feedback from some of the top business leaders,” says Matt Blumberg, member of the Carlson 2011 CaseIT team. “Not only do you get to meet and connect with students from around the world, you get to see the different presentation styles they have.”
Rudisel says in addition to interacting with students from wildly diverse backgrounds, you get to see and compete against the best students worldwide.
“It doesn’t feel like you are a student attending a lecture,” Rudsel says. “It feels like you are a professional attending a conference.”
STUDENT-RUN AND SPEED CONSULTING
The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business is to international case competitions as Carlson is to MIS. They do it well. Foster is entering its 17th year of hosting the Global Business Case Competition and has developed something special. The week-long event hosts schools from the U.S. along with 12 to 14 international schools and is largely student-run.
Undergrads gather in Seattle and after a brief orientation and tour of the city, students are mixed and matched into different teams for a practice round with the likes of Starbucks and F5 Networks. The jumbled groups are presented with a real case, given a couple hours and then present the cases to the company’s leadership staff. Foster calls it speed consulting.
The real action begins at the end of the week. Students are given a challenge and 48 hours to prepare. All teams receive feedback and four are selected to move to the final round. One team is selected as the champion and that school is invited back to defend their title the following year. Unique to Foster’s competition is one team is completely a global. One student from Foster is paired with members from other teams to comprise the international group. According to Kirsten Aoyama, director of the Global Business Center at Foster, that team almost always makes finals and won last year’s competition.
Foster’s effort in creating a diverse experience goes beyond inviting countries from Africa, Eastern Europe and other far-reaching universities, says faculty member Debra Glassman. They also create unique cases. The cases are always global and have included problems involving climate change and online media streaming.
“We want students and faculty advisors to walk away thinking our cases really made them stretch their brains and were unique and special,” Glassman says. “We want them to say, ‘whoa, that was interesting.'”