After being on two international business case competition teams that did not advance to the finals, senior Trevor Nigus had a hunger to prove himself before graduating in December. This fall, when he joined a four-person team to compete in a virtual event hosted by San Diego State University, he hoped to take the lessons he learned from the past competitions and “show that Illinois State University was truly a quality team and was able to improve.” The hard work and dedication exhibited by himself and his teammates paid off, and the group placed third overall out of nine schools representing three different countries.

Nigus observed that achieving his goal of making it to the finals in the competition was not only a reflection of the high caliber of the team but also a testament to the College of Business and the International Business faculty and curriculum.

“As in the heat of battle, our output is a summation of our experiences up to that point,” he said. “There is truly something to be said about the ‘crucible’ aspect of this that truly brought me back year after year hungry for more. You are so tired and exhausted after working virtually non-stop over multiple days. But there is a true sense of pride in being able to see what you’re made of.”

When assembling a team of students for a case competition, Dr. Barbara Ribbens, director of the Carson and Iris Varner International Business Institute at ISU, looks for “diversity of experience, diversity of perspectives and diversity of interests.” She also tries to get students representing a range of ages because “a sophomore sees things differently than a senior … they’re coming in with a fresher eye.” This year’s team included two seniors, a junior and a sophomore.

“I was excited about the team because they have such a variety of perspectives,” said Ribbens. “One person studied in Germany. One person studied in France. One person lives in Ecuador. Another person studied in Australia and has a Polish background so they had a wide range of experience, and I thought that might prove to be really good.”

When her students are preparing for a case competition, Ribbens warns them, “You’ve got to be ready for anything.” She went on to explain that the events “are not for the faint of heart.”

“It’s a lot of work,” she continued. “It’s very intense. I’ve had some really good students do one case competition and say, ‘Never again,’ because it’s just too intense for them. And I say, ‘Well, that’s a good thing to know about yourself because in some companies that intensity is a way of life, and if you’re not good at that, then you shouldn’t work there.’ So it is a really good growing and learning experience.”

The team received the case information on October 9 and by Ocober. 12 had to send a PowerPoint and video presentation to the panel of judges. The students compared the task to completing the equivalent of a semester-long project for a class in a three-day period.  

This year’s case dealt with a firm that does “corporate social responsibility auditing and supply chain auditing,” Dr. Ribbens reported.

“This case competition involved a real problem that an existing company actually faced. We had to use real-life figures and data, and provide a realistic solution. Some of our ideas and solutions came from a combined knowledge of different courses we have all taken,” added team member Rosa Rolon, a senior International Business major.

Rolon and Nigus were able to meet on campus and work socially distanced, while junior Kasia Kostelic and sophomore Sebastian Gonzalez Hidalgo joined the team discussions via Zoom.

The latter student participated from his home country of Ecuador. He admitted that this semester he has missed having “human to human interaction” since all of his classes are online and explained how he has sought out ways to still feel connected with ISU. The case competition provided a valuable opportunity to get involved and to familiarize himself with different facets of the business world. He also hoped the competition would help him identify the concentration he wants to purse in his major.

Four days after submitting their presentation for the first round of the competition, the ISU students received their team scorethe highest of all the teamsand learned they were set to advance to the finals. The following day, they made a live presentation to a new group of judges. The students were required to use the same PowerPoint but could make adjustments to the presentation script for the finals.

“For me this experience was an eye opener because it gave us a real situation, and I realized the complexity of finding the best solution … every single person in the team had a different approach to the problem. Communication was key in order to determine which approach to the problem was the best. By combining the best parts of each idea we manage to finish third,” Hidalgo said.

Kostelic described participating in the competition as an opportunity for personal growth.

“From this, I was able to learn that what happens in the classroom doesn’t have to stay in the classroom,” she said. “You can apply it to any aspect of life. It allows you to incorporate your knowledge with new experiences and show the world what you’ve got. It gives you a chance to speak up and prove to others what you know, and that’s the kind of mentality you need when stepping into the real world. If anyone is even considering doing this competition in the future, I hope they do take the opportunity as it was well worth it for me.”

Nigus explained how the competition took him out of his comfort zone and taught him important lessons about delegation and managing a team.

He went on to call the experience “transformational” and credited it with providing professional development, team collaboration, and networking opportunities as well as the opportunity to hone soft skills. 

“This event stands out as one of the BEST experiences our students can participate in. There is no (comparable) event where you can simulate real-world conditions, have such real character development and showcase our talents and skills,” he said.

The students recommend the case competition format as a valuable resume-building opportunity and encourage their peers to get involved in this kind of personally stretching event.

“Being put in a realistic simulation is always going to be good experience. You can learn from it and apply what you have learned in future situations or your future career. So I think it’s a great opportunity for students to go beyond the classroom before going out to future internships or jobs,” Rolon concluded.