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September 5, 2013

Competitions are a part of the UW-Eau Claire COB culture

“Competitions are an important part of the UW-Eau Claire undergraduate business student experience,” according to Diane Hoadley, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire College of Business. “They build student confidence and show universities and recruiters that our students can compete with the best around the United States, and in some cases, around the world.”

Over 360 UW-Eau Claire College of Business students participated in a business competition during the 2012–13 academic year. Approximately 300 of those students took part in a competition as part of a required senior capstone business course. The remaining students engaged in case competitions, sales roles plays, and other competitive events outside the classroom. These events, which were sponsored by a department or student business organization, often required students to qualify at the state or regional level before advancing to a national or international competition.

All of these competitions, whether in class or out of class, required a significant commitment from students as well as the faculty. Thirteen business faculty members mentored students at competitive events last year: Dr. Joe Bonner (Mgmt & Mktg), Emily Elsner Twesme (BCOM), Don Gaber (IS), Dr. Bob Erffmeyer (Mgmt & Mktg), Matt Fish (Acct & Fin), Dr. Tom Hilton (IS), Dr. Todd Hostager (Mgmt & Mktg), Jerry Kollross (Mgmt & Mktg), Dr. Kristy Lauver (Mgmt & Mktg), Dr. Pedro Sottile (Acct & Fin), Dr. Scott Swanson (Mgmt & Mktg), Terry Wells (Mgmt & Mktg), and James Windsor (Mgmt & Mktg). These faculty members often helped students develop strategy, edit written documents and refine oral presentations. In addition, they frequently gave up weekends to attend competitions with their students.

Assistant Dean Gretchen Hutterli interviewed five of these faculty members to learn more about competitions and their value to students and the college.

AMA International Conference Competitions

Scott SwansonUW-Eau Claire American Marketing Association students were involved in over a dozen different competitions this past year, according to Dr. Scott Swanson, associate professor of marketing and faculty adviser for the AMA student chapter. The amount of time students spent preparing for each event varied widely.

“Some AMA events are very intense, such as the International Collegiate Case Competition which required students to do in-depth research and create an extensive integrated communication plan and professional presentation,” explained Swanson. “To prepare for this event, students met twice a week from September to March.”

And the preparation paid off. UW-Eau Claire was one of 10 teams invited to compete in the final round of the case competition held during the 2013 AMA International Collegiate Conference last March in New Orleans, LA. The UW-Eau Claire team finished third in the event which included teams from British Columbia Institute of Technology, Florida International University, Hofstra University, Portland State University, Texas State University-San Marcos, University of Arizona, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The UW-Eau Claire AMA chapter also placed first in the Marketing Strategy Competition, second in the Outstanding Marketing Week Activities Competition, second in the Top International Collegiate Chapter and fifth in the AMA Saves Lives Video Competition.

When asked why AMA members participate in competitions, Swanson’s reply was simply, “Why not?”

“Competitions provide AMA members opportunities to be engaged and contribute to the success of the organization and university,” he explained. “Students also develop important skill sets and show how we stack up to other universities in North America. Involvement in these types of high-impact practices is what differentiates our students from others.”

APICS Great Lakes District Student Case Competition

Theresa Wells“We have participated in the APICS Great Lakes District Student Case Competition for over 10 years,” said Terry Wells, senior lecturer in the Department of Management and Marketing and faculty adviser to the APICS student organization. “Unfortunately, a snow storm kept us from traveling to the event in February.”

The APICS case competition, which is held annually in Downers Grove, IL, is host to 20 to 30 student teams from universities in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The case used in the competition is based on a real life company problem, according to Wells. While the case changes annually, the format for the weekend event varies little from year to year. Student teams receive the case at 7 pm on the first day of the competition. They work throughout the night to develop a strategy, and produce a 6-page paper and 5-minute PowerPoint presentation highlighting their recommendations. Print materials are due to the judges by 10 am the following morning. Later that day, teams present their recommendations to a panel of judges who evaluate each team’s strategy as well as the quality of their paper and oral presentation.

“UW-Eau Claire students always do well at this competition as their written and oral communication skills are outstanding,” said Wells. “They gain confidence in their abilities and they learn another way to work as a team in a high stress situation.”  

“Competitions also bring recognition to UW-Eau Claire and our business programs,” she added. “Professionals attending the event are always impressed by our students.”

International Collegiate Business Strategy Competition

Matt FishMatt Fish, assistant professor of accounting, also sees the value of student competitions. 

“I’m a firm believer that authentic learning can only happen if students are forced to struggle and wrestle with their discipline from a larger contextual vantage point,” he said. “This sort of environment cannot be replicated in a classroom and more closely simulates the competitive pressures often found in work settings.”

Pedro SottileFish, along with Dr. Pedro Sottile, assistant professor of finance, were faculty advisers for students participating in the 2013 International Collegiate Business Strategy Competition (ICBSC) hosted by California State University, Long Beach. The event gave student teams the opportunity to experience what it is like to run a manufacturing company in head-to-head competition in a simulated environment. The ICBSC had two phases: the remote phase, which began January 23, and the on-site or intensive phase, which was held in Anaheim, CA April 18–20.

During the remote phase, teams made up to 80 business decisions per quarter, per week for ten weeks via the Internet, according to Fish. After ten weeks of remote competition, the UW-Eau Claire team travelled to California for the on-site phase. In this phase, students completed their company’s quarterly decision, wrote a strategic business plan and annual report, and made a formal, oral presentation to judges who served as the board of directors.

The UW-Eau Claire team placed first in its division, which included teams from HEC Montreal, Ithaca College, Loyola Marymount University, and the University of Northern Colorado. The victory was especially sweet because it was the first time a UW-Eau Claire team participated in the ICBSC.

“Events like the ICBSC are important because they pull students outside the comfy confines of a classroom,” said Fish. “They are forced to practice both their soft and hard skills in front of unfamiliar people, in unfamiliar settings, and are assessed by unfamiliar judges.”

Fish felt that students also gained important collaboration skills as they worked on a multidisciplinary team with students they had not previously met.

“UW-Eau Claire students learned to rely on each other for their expertise within their given discipline” said Fish. “Conflicts occasionally arose but students learned to peacefully resolve issues among themselves.”

Fish and Sottile solicited feedback from the student participants after the competition. Their responses were very positive.

“Students felt the experience enhanced the solid academic preparation they received in the College of Business,” said Sottile. “They also viewed the competition as one of the most beneficial experiences of their college career.”

Sales Competitions

Jerry KollrossJerry Kollross, coach of the UW-Eau Claire Sales Team and co-adviser to the Pi Sigma Epsilon sales and marketing student organization, mentored students at 11 sales competitions during the 2012–13 academic year. Kollross traveled with students to events in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, and New Jersey. He also coached students at two events held on the UW-Eau Claire campus.

The UW-Eau Claire Sales Team’s competition schedule started in September with the Blugold Sales Challenge and ended in April at the Western States Collegiate Sales Competition held at California State University, Chico. All competitions were held on weekends. While the schedule was grueling at times for Kollross, who also taught full-time for the Department of Management and Marketing, he thought it was time well spent.

“Traveling to sales competitions allowed students to make contacts with other students and potential employers,” said Kollross. “The selling role plays they prepared for each event also allow them to challenge themselves outside of their own university setting.”  

By all measures, the UW-Eau Claire Sales Team had a very successful year last year. (See 2012–2013 UW-Eau Claire Sales Team Results.) They hope to do as well or better this year.

“Success has come in many forms—awards, internships and jobs,” acknowledges Kollross. “The value of attending sales competitions is shown by the fact everyone on our sales team has secured an internship or a full time position through their participation in these events.”

Excellence. Our Measure. Our Motto. Our Goal.