Diversity remains an important topic that is rightfully top of mind for the country, and indeed, for the world in 2021. This year, the 10th edition of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business National Diversity Case Competition (NDCC) event seemed all the more crucial, and was held virtually in consideration of ongoing pandemic-related precautionary measures. The UVA team, from the Class of ’23—Steven Jiang, Rebecca Tilahun, Kaa-Lok Yap, and Kaylee Corvin—represented the McIntire School, all participants in McIntire’s Commerce Cohort program.
The NDCC brought together top diverse talent from colleges and universities from across the country on Jan. 15-16, during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, to compete. In addition to the case competition, the event featured workshops, insightful talks by business professionals, and student networking sessions with the event’s corporate partners.
This year’s competition focused on helping NDCC corporate partner 3M address racial and socioeconomic inequities in society, with student groups choosing one of the four fundamental needs aligning with the U.N.’s sustainability goals: affordable housing, urban safety, healthcare access, and access to education.
Though the group ultimately didn’t win, they were grateful to have been part of the educational and networking experiences NDCC provided.
“I loved working as an adviser to the McIntire diversity case team,” says Sydney Mathis (McIntire ’21). “I was so proud of all the students who participated—they did such a great job, and they were so professional. What I enjoyed most was teaching them things that I had already learned throughout my McIntire experience and watching the entire presentation come together during the competition.”
We asked members of the team how they went about preparing for the competition, what they presented, and what they learned from the various sessions connected to the event.
How did you and your team prepare for the competition in the time leading up to the weekend?
Steven Jiang: Leading up to competition weekend, the team and I worked very hard to put together our presentation and practice our lines. We made sure that each person was on track by meeting on an every-other-day basis and practicing our lines multiple times. We ran at least three to four practice rounds and critiqued each other’s parts to ensure the best quality and content possible. Our adviser, Sydney Mathis, also provided us with many tips on presentation skills, as well as ways to create a unique presentation, from her experiences at McIntire and in the Integrated Core Experience program.
How did your presentation attempt to meet the challenge of the competition? What did you propose?
Rebecca Tilahun: We chose to narrow homeownership disparities by using 3M’s Safety and Industrial Business Group products and resources, proposing a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to implement construction and renovation, as well as a social media marketing strategy to launch and manage our initiative, Hoos’ Home. We proposed Hoos’ Home to potentially be scalable nationwide by the year 2030. This way, we would be able to make a sizable social impact while increasing 3M’s brand awareness at the same time.
What did you enjoy most about this year’s case?
Kaa-Lok Yap: I think the best part of the whole competition was getting the opportunity to meet and talk with all the wonderful sponsors. While many of them weren’t well-known, it was extremely interesting hearing about how they came to the position they were in and how much they loved what they were doing. Likewise, having spent so much time with my team members, I have developed a stronger and more meaningful relationship with them. Overall, it was a great experience.
Rebecca Tilahun: I would say collaborating with my team and Sydney throughout the process. Since it was all of our first times tackling a case like this, it was fun to be able to learn together. Also, the relevancy of the case itself, given the times that we’re in, made the experience more impactful; I was quite eager to learn and research.
Steven Jiang: I enjoyed the practicality of the case this year. We chose homeownership, as we felt that it was most relevant in the Charlottesville community and feel that everyone should be afforded the opportunity to have a home regardless of background or socioeconomic status.
What about the other sessions outside of the main competition—did you take part in any of them?
Rebecca Tilahun: We attended two professional development sessions. The first was with Discover, about building a personal brand, and the second was a diversity, equity, and inclusion Q&A session with Altria, Bank of America, Crowe, Geico, and E&J Gallo. It was refreshing to hear how corporate America is starting to create this shift to prioritize more progressive values. A common theme that stuck out to me was how there can’t be sustainable growth within a company without the implementation of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Not only in demographic, but also in thought and perspective. There is a direct correlation between revenue growth and diversity, so it’s important to recruit, retain, and promote personnel from all types of backgrounds.
There was also a speed networking session where our group jumped from one Zoom room to another. I had never done a networking session that included so many professional representatives, so it was most definitely an educational experience. One piece of advice that stood out concerned asking questions: When beginning an internship or a full-time position, never be afraid to ask questions, as it demonstrates preparedness and eagerness to fully understand what is being presented.
Although the McIntire team didn’t win, what did you gain from the experience? What stays with you?
Kaa-Lok Yap: While we didn’t win, the various challenges we overcame as a team taught me how to be resilient in the face of a challenge and has taught me teamwork skills that I will continue to utilize in my daily performance.
Rebecca Tilahun: I’m grateful that I was able to participate in the competition with such an amazing team. I learned a lot about building a strong case presentation through Sydney’s guidance and the team’s collaboration. I was able to boost my interpersonal skills (i.e., communication, problem solving, teamwork, and presenting) with my team throughout the process. It was also insightful to watch other teams’ presentations during the day of the competition, seeing their different approaches, and discovering ways to improve our presentation.
One aspect that stays with me was being able to make connections with so many different companies. The experience not only enhanced my skills, but also widened my network, which is something more valuable than winning a title.
Steven Jiang: I learned a lot about teamwork and public speaking over Zoom. Public speaking has never been one of my strengths, and I always struggle to find the right words when talking to a large group of people. With the NDCC, our adviser, Sydney, gave me many tips on how I can sound energetic and passionate over Zoom. During our presentation, I felt I overcame that obstacle and led the team in the Q&A portion afterwards. Additionally, it was great working with other students from the McIntire Commerce Cohort 2023, as we all share a deep passion for business and diversity in our communities. It was a rewarding experience working with such a diverse and hardworking team.