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By Kelsey Wagner
Eller Marketing ’12

Eller students have never shied away from competition; the fall semester concluded with three major case competitions across the Eller MBA, MS MIS, and undergraduate programs. Each of the competitions was sponsored by a client organization, ensuring that the challenges are not only a learning experience for the students, but an opportunity for alumni to come back to campus for fresh and new ideas and expose students to career opportunities within their companies.

The winning Nextrio competition team (from left to right): Naren Sulur, Suyra Munukutla, Mark Grimes, Steven Louting and Mengwen Cheng.

The winning Nextrio competition team (from left to right): Naren Sulur, Suyra Munukutla, Mark Grimes, Steven Louting and Mengwen Cheng.

“The relationships we develop through these activities are important for the university, the students, and the community as a whole,” said MBA student Mark Grimes, winner of the Nextrio case competition. “Participating in projects like this is a great learning experience and really helps prepare students for a successful future.”

Nextrio Case Competition for MBA and Master’s in MIS Students

Nextrio, the Tucson-based IT company founded by Eller Executive MBA alumna Cristie Street, approached faculty in the Business Communication and the MIS master’s programs to sponsor a case competition. The Network Design Case Competition was conducted in conjunction with a business workshop for local businesses in November. Students were broken into teams and given a complex business problem.

The student teams were required to form a solution to the problem, and present their results to a judging panel of local professionals. “We were asked to provide a solution of networking architecture for Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, including all the wired network, software, hardware,” said Mengwen Chen, who, along with Grimes, Naren Sulur, Surya Munukutla, and Steve Loitz, was on the winning team.

“We provided a solution that not only satisfied the clients’ needs but also brought them added value,” Chen said. The most important lesson learned from this case competition was teamwork: “I learned that all members in the group have to cooperate well to win.”

Intel Case Competition for MBAs

Intel is no stranger to the Eller campus: the company has hosted and judged an annual case competition for MBA students for over ten years. The competition is the capstone experience of the first-semester business communication program, for which Intel also donates prize money to be awarded to the group that demonstrates the best critical thinking, application of core business functionality, and most savvy business presentation.

Mengwen Cheng and her team present at the Nextrio Case Competition for MBA and MS MIS students.

Mengwen Cheng and her team present at the Nextrio Case Competition for MBA and MS MIS students.

“Every year we use the Intel Case Competition to anchor and conclude the fall semester for our incoming MBA Cohort,” said Diza Sauers, business communication senior lecturer. “This course requires students to investigate the complexities of communicating within an organization — both internally and externally — through a series of simulations and action-based learning to strengthen and measure core professional communication competencies.”

Students have the chance to combine their business knowledge, analytical skills, and teambuilding abilities in an environment that is both collegial and competitive.

“This year, students also had the opportunity to present to external panelists as they formed their ideas,” Sauers said. “Barry Holt, Kirt Gardner, and Micheal Moore (all executive mentors) brought their expertise with investor relations and hosted feedback sessions for students prior to a first round with faculty judging.” The faculty selected the top three finalists, and the finalist teams went onto the final round hosted by Intel.

“Intel is very gracious in its involvement with our students,” Sauers said. “They role-play analysts who put each team through a full thirty-minute interactive presentation session where they challenge student thinking and assumptions, and actively push students to put forward their ideas and defend their positions.” Henry Corral, corporate services comptroller at Intel, is among the Intel judges, and participates annually.

“Henry did a great job as usual this year, and noted that this year’s student teams were the most prepared he has ever seen,” Sauers said. “It is only through the dedication of an entire faculty and staff that we are able to host events like this, and it was a wonderful, celebratory way to conclude the semester.”

Community Showcase and Eller Branding Competition for Undergraduates

Every year the Business Communication program holds a case competition to end the term for first-semester undergraduate students. Thanks to the generous donations of Paul Lindsey and David Freshwater, the department will be able to continue these competitions for the next three years.

This semester’s case competition was comprised of two separate events. The Community Showcase presented 24 projects focused on collegial social responsibility. The student teams paired up with local refugee groups and nonprofits to solve problems facing those living right here in Tucson. All other students competed to present their findings of a stakeholder analysis as part of a major rebranding effort that the Eller College is undertaking. The students reported their findings on key stakeholder groups, what the Eller brand represents, and recommendations for the future of the brand to a panel of judges including local business leaders, alumni, and members of the College’s branding task force.

Business Communication prepared me for all my school and internship communications,” said Kylie Beacco (Eller Marketing ’12). “The case competition prepared me for future semesters, and also for job presentations in the real world. the course was one of the most useful classes I’ve taken here at Eller. Some of the material might seem obvious, but there is nothing worse in the business world than coming across unprofessional!”

Video extra — see the students’ perspectives from a past case competition:

View more Eller-related videos on UA’s YouTube channel.