Practical Plan, Sleepless Nights Fuel Carol A. Ammon Case Competition Win

Student teams huddled in office space in the Fintech Innovation Hub until late in the evening on March 14, preparing for the final round of the Carol A. Ammon Case Competition.

When organizer Amy Estey left at 9:30 p.m., she noticed that the eventual winning team, the “Analytical Artisans,” remained in a conference room hard at work. When she returned at 7:30 the next morning, there they all were, still preparing.

“Did you guys go home?” she asked. (They had, briefly in the wee hours, to grab a little sleep and change clothes).

The annual competition for graduate students in the Alfred Lerner School of Business and Economics at the University of Delaware is demanding. Students spend hours researching a problem or goal facing an area organization, and have to distill all that into a 20-minute presentation on the best plan for meeting that need. They do all this while juggling their coursework and sometimes day jobs.

The Analytical Artisans’ hard work paid off as they impressed the team of judges, including past contestants. They earned the win over 18 other teams, a record number for the competition, earning $2,500 to split and more importantly, a chance to stand out.

“It’s a resume builder for them,” said Kurt Norder, an assistant professor of management who set up the business case. And, “it gives them the application (of classwork) and the skills, and they learn a lot in the process.”

Those who don’t win still take away benefits, said Estey, an academic program manager in the Lerner College’s MBA program.

“Even if they didn’t make the finals they still put in a lot of hard work and effort, and all of that means something,” she said. That includes building their public speaking and presentation skills in a higher-pressure environment than a typical class project.

The Analytical Artisans included Asish Sadaram, (master’s in business analytics and information management, ’24), Obi Bruno Da Silva Ndubueze, (master’s in business analytics and information management, ’24), Terrence Chin-Young Jr. (dual MBA and master’s in business analytics and information management, ’24), and Parmender Singh (dual MBA and master’s in business analytics and information management, ’24).

Sadaram, who earned an MBA in India in finance and marketing and then worked in the financial services industry before continuing his education, and Singh had actually been partners on a team that finished third in last year’s competition. Sadaram said of their frame of mind afterward, “We know that we can do better, and we know our areas of improvement.”

“It was just a fantastic feeling,” he said of coming back to win this year’s contest.

UD’s School of Nursing provided the business scenario, or case, for the competition. It is developing software to allow pre-professional healthcare students to collaborate better while practicing with a simulated electronic health record.

Teaching nursing students to work with electronic health records is vital. Medical errors cause many deaths each year in the United States, noted Heiddy DiGregorio, director of simulation at the School of Nursing, who is giving input into the software. “One of the problems with contributing to error is miscommunication. And electronic health records are how health professionals communicate with one another. So it’s really important that we have a useful product that allows us to teach those types of concepts.”

The app, she said, uses fictional patient cases because of privacy. But it still gives students a chance to learn the basics, and it’s more collaborative than the program the school was using previously. “The idea is that our students would have something that’s a little bit more realistic,” DiGregorio said.

In the competition, the teams worked to come up with a plan to market the app beyond the University.

Norder liked the scenario because it was complex, with multiple goals: making an effective learning app that the University could use at no cost, while also finding a way to make it profitable.

“It’s complex enough to allow the students to be really creative (and) gives them a chance to do a lot of the different types of analysis,” he said.

The contestants were able to hear various perspectives on the situation, DiGregorio said, including from her (the end user) and associate professor Andrew Novocin, who is developing the software.

In their turn, contestants got to showcase communication abilities, Sadaram noted, and develop crucial analytical skills. “Only when you understand the objective (can you) solve the problem like we did this time,” he said.

From the business students’ perspective, the scenario was a good chance to draw on their knowledge in a more realistic setting — not unlike the benefit nursing students get from the app.

“We took a lot of components from various courses, and we were able to put it together in our presentation,” Ndubueze said. “And I think that was a very valuable experience and a way for me to also refresh my memory and reflect back on all the things that I’ve learned.”

“We directly took things that we learned in class and applied it to how we were going to convey our message back to the audience, and they seemed very receptive,” Chin-Young said.

Many of the judges are MBA alumni, Estey said, and some come back year after year. She likes to see what they’ve achieved since earning their degrees and how they’ve grown since their own contestant days.

Chin-Young had heard of some of the judges before and was pleased at the chance to meet them. “These were faces I had seen on the website, and I was like, ‘Wow, I want to be like one of these folks in the future.”

Estey participated in two of the competitions herself as a student and recalls the grueling work involved.

The winners can relate to that.

“There were some sleepless nights trying to work on this,” Ndubueze said. He had wanted to participate last year, but said life was hectic at the time. That hadn’t changed this year, but he resolved to compete no matter what.

Chin-Young, who does graduate studies and case competitions in his spare time while working in a credit card division for JPMorgan Chase, recently moved to Dallas and flew here for the finals. He wanted to challenge himself, whether he won or not, but was gratified to become part of case competition history.

The team said they benefited from a mix of skills, from business analytics and computer science to finance, marketing and project management.

Their plan to use UD’s position in the region and reach out to community college nursing programs in the area set the team apart, Norder said. “They were really practical … they focused on the education and training market, which made sense.”

“We were really, really excited,” Ndubueze said of the win.

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