A student team from Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management placed in the top 10 at the annual Kelley School of Business National Diversity Case Competition (NDCC) in January. After making it into the final round, the team finished in 7th place, solidifying a top slot out of an original 42 teams.
Each year, the NDCC brings underrepresented minority business students from across the country together to learn about diversity-related problems in the workplace, work to formulate a strategy to tackle these issues and network with other students and professionals from some of the biggest companies in the world. The competition’s corporate partners include 3M, Ernst & Young, Proctor & Gamble, General Electric, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Amazon.
Though the first NDCC was in 2011, this was the first year that Whitman sent a team to compete. The members were Matthew Piotrowski ’23, Andrea Lan ’22, Jabril Alston ‘22 and Omari Romain ’22. They, along with 41 other teams, were tasked with creating a strategy for 3M, a multinational manufacturing corporation. The case challenged the teams to “develop a specific strategy for a community or neighborhood in the U.S. to engage more underrepresented and under-resourced students in STEM programs.”
Even beyond a central strategy, students were encouraged to address a multitude of factors, including their audience, promotion, means of communication, differentiation and how the strategy fits in with the existing 3M brand. The teams each created a presentation deck outlining all aspects of their strategy and were given 15 minutes to present to the judges, including time for any questions the judges may have had.
“The strategy that we came up with was centered around the acronym ‘TAPE,’ which we called a ST3M Solution that Sticks,” says Piotrowski, who acted as director of marketing for the project. “We developed a pipeline strategy to increase engagement within underrepresented and under-resourced neighborhoods in the Bronx borough of NYC, using many different methods and corporate partners, but culminating in a lab-type physical space in the Bronx where students could go for any of their STEM needs.”
Though students often work in teams for various assignments, both in Whitman and in other schools on campus, the case competition allowed the students to experience a higher-pressure, “real world” environment.
“The business case was released to the team two days before they left for winter break. They had one opportunity to meet face-to-face,” says Diane Crawford, executive director of institutional culture at Whitman and advisor for the team. “This really added pressure and allowed them to experience working under remote conditions. This situation enhanced the team’s ability to think and work under pressure which is typical of the business world environment.”
Though the competition wasn’t until January, students dedicated much of their time over winter break to make sure their proposals were as complete and detailed as they could be.
“There were so many moving parts to this competition, so I think we handled all those little details thoroughly just by working really hard,” says Piotrowski. “We were given the case during finals week pretty much, so it meant a lot of work on our own and a lot of FaceTiming to collaborate and long meetings the week before the competition.”
The uniqueness of the experience allowed the students the opportunity to build both hard and soft skills. “Among all the different skill sets that were in play, the students’ ability to apply critical thinking was enhanced,” says Crawford. “The team created a strategy aligned with increasing potential for attracting more students into STEM fields, while also solving for how they would accomplish the task in a uniquely creative way and keeping cost at a minimum.”
Lan, who acted as director of programming, says that the experience gave her an outlet to enhance many of her professional skills. “The competition allowed me to practice and refine my public speaking and presentation skills in a way that I have never been able to in a classroom setting,” she explains. “I was able to dive deep into a specific topic and gather thorough research and well thought out recommendations. Furthermore, our team focused heavily on our presentation skills and creative and strategic ways to present our information.”
Though the students were prepared for the competition, as is evident by their high final ranking, there are some aspects of the competition that could be brought into the classroom to improve students’ skills.
“Oftentimes when I work on group projects, it seems that the majority of our time is spent trying to find the ‘right’ answer, rather than giving the students the space to explore creative ways to approach a problem,” says Lan. “Whitman does a great job of getting students a lot of practice to get comfortable speaking in front of an audience.”
Learn more about experiential learning opportunities at Whitman.