Diversity, and its critical role in the long-term strategy for successful organizations, continues to be top of mind throughout the business landscape. For four second-year students from McIntire’s Commerce Cohort program, the Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business National Diversity Case Competition (NDCC) gave them the opportunity to represent UVA and apply their skills to solve a diversity-related challenge.
The UVA team, captained by student Hannah Ventura and composed of Jack Gentile, Najib Habib, and Jaya Singhal, advanced to the final round of seven teams, placing sixth overall. Their task? Proposing methods to help corporate sponsor 3M meet its environmental justice (EJ) goals. The case required the students to seek solutions “through local engagement, solution-based thought leadership, and partnerships with community stakeholders” by asking what the communities near its plants regard highly with regard to EJ efforts and why.
For the 2023 edition of the NDCC, its 12th annual version of the competition, 38 teams fielding talent from colleges and universities from across the nation met on Jan. 13-14, during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. In addition to the case competition, the event featured networking with the event’s corporate partners, informative workshops, and topical discussions by business professionals.
McIntire’s Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Sharice Welch, who served as the team’s faculty adviser, says the competition remains a particularly worthwhile endeavor, as it is one a few competitions centered wholly on diversity, equity, and inclusion: “For 12 years, it has focused on diversity-related business issues and required diverse representation in the formation of each university team. Our students have several opportunities to engage with corporate partners who value and actively work to bring meaningful change around DEI in their industries. It is a wonderful learning experience!”
Welch noted how proud of the team she was for not only placing in the final round of the competition, “but also for their commitment, effort, and motivation. They received the case at the beginning of December and sacrificed their time during finals and winter break to develop their strategy and practice their presentation.”
Meeting the Challenge
Ventura says that the group’s presentation met 3M’s challenge by implementing a three-part solution. “It included evaluating 3M’s current facilities, establishing a representative initiative, and focusing on facility improvements.”
Gentile explains how their presentation implemented the use of representatives: “Depending on the size of the plant, each manufacturing facility would receive one to seven representatives to speak on behalf of the surrounding communities. Any successful environmental justice proposal must meet the specific needs of a community, and our group felt who better knows those needs than the community members themselves.”
Finally, the team’s plan for facility improvements would likely prove cost-effective and practical, as Singhal says their idea relied on “products 3M is already producing, such as using their water purification system for internal use.”
Habib says that in addition to creating strategic actions to support EJ efforts, they also incorporated the needs of shareholders “to create a holistic proposal.”
Difficulties Bested, High Notes Hit
Perhaps of all that the weekend offered the UVA team members, Gentile cherished the opportunity to present to executives of 3M most.
“Hearing feedback directly from the company was an experience I will never forget,” he says. “At times, it was challenging to find the motivation to work on the proposal over winter break. After a long and stressful semester, I wasn’t ecstatic about spending hours on Zoom prepping for the competition. Thankfully, I had Najib, Hannah, and Jaya to keep me motivated.”
Presenting was an exciting experience for Singhal as well. “Making it to the final round of the competition meant that we would present in front of a panel of judges from 3M, other company sponsors, as well as over 100 students. Presenting to a large audience was extremely rewarding, especially after doing Zoom public speaking for the last couple of years. While it was nerve-wracking at first, my team and I gave a great presentation, responded well to questions, and excelled under pressure.”
She notes that connecting face-to-face with other competing schools and company sponsors was gratifying and valuable. “One of my favorite events that took place at the competition was the speed-networking event, where we rotated through nine companies and had the opportunity to ask questions, network, share a bit of our personalities and interests, and hear others share their goals,” Singhal says.
Ventura shared her enthusiasm: “What I enjoyed most about participating in this year’s competition was the opportunity to network with our corporate sponsors and have real conversations surrounding the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at the companies they work for,” she says.
Lingering Lessons and Great Impressions
The UVA team came away from the weekend’s event with a great deal of new knowledge and a host of experiences that they plan to build upon as they continue their studies.
Ventura says that she saw firsthand how the corporate world is becoming increasingly invested in DEI initiatives. Because the corporate sponsors were such engaged participants who provided valuable insights on the subject, “their willingness to take time out of their days and invest into this competition really stuck with me,” she says. “I greatly appreciate it.”
Singhal had a similar experience speaking with company sponsors: “I learned how companies are creating a positive social impact, and the stories I heard will stick with me throughout my education and in my career,” she says, adding that the event brought her and her teammates, who didn’t know each other well, closer together.
“I had an amazing experience at the National Diversity Case Competition,” says Gentile. “Presenting to executives at 3M will be an experience I will never forget. Most importantly, I learned that the role of business in society is transforming. 3M, along with many other companies, is working to right their wrongs of the past while building strong relationships with all stakeholders.” He says that being involved showed the renewed interest of customers and shareholders ready to collaborate with companies to create a positive impact through multiple channels ranging from products, employment opportunities, and community outreach. “The competition highlighted that businesses hold the answers to our most pressing issues,” he says.
For Habib, the competition reinforced the idea that his involvement was predicated on the work of others, and his part is similarly part of a virtuous cycle. “Even though I am able to attend events such as this due to those who came before me—and the path they paved—I am also paving a way for those who come after me,” he says. “With my participation in this event, I open the door to more diversity-focused events for people who look like me. It is extremely humbling, and that will always stick with me.”