'One Hit Wonders' take top honors at Kohl's-sponsored case competition

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – More than 60 Penn State students competed in the annual Smeal Case Competition, held March 21-23 at the Atherton Hotel in State College, Pa. The Smeal College of Business competition is sponsored each year by Kohl’s, which provides a $5,000 reward to the winning team.

Announced at the awards dinner on Saturday, March 23, the winning team was the "One Hit Wonders" and included finance majors Chris Marthers, Anurag Kumar and Noor Nahavandi; and Ryan Saba, a student in the integrated master of accounting program.

The three-day competition began with a tour of Kohl’s retail store in State College, Pa., during which students learned about the company’s strategy and how stores are structured and organized.

“This weekend is a wonderful picture of how the private sector can work together with the University to launch the next generation of students."

-- Jeff Sharp, associate dean of undergraduate education

“The store tour was our Kohl’s industry 101,” said Nahavandi. “And we integrated something into our presentation from every area of the store that we saw.”

After the tour, the teams and their advisers, select Smeal faculty, and several Kohl’s executives gathered at the Atherton Hotel—where students were sequestered during the competition—for a kickoff dinner.

“I think it’s really exciting to get a chance to network with Kohl’s executives,” said ‘I Smeal a Victory’ team member Zachary Fleming, a Supply Chain and Information Systems major. “It’s also nice to get a chance to talk with other students. We see these kids all the time but don’t always get a chance to talk to them.”

Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Jeff Sharp welcomed guests to the dinner, and spoke about the unique opportunity provided by the competition and its sponsorship by Kohl’s.

“This weekend is a wonderful picture of how the private sector can work together with the University to launch the next generation of students,” said Sharp.

“In the classroom, you learn the tools, but case competitions give us practice using the tools. Every case competition I do, I learn something new, whether it’s about teamwork, leadership, or the industry.”

-- Noor Nahavandi, sophomore finance major

Students picked up the cases on Friday morning and spent the next 24 hours hard at work preparing for the first round of presentations. The teams were tasked with developing a mobile solution to enhance Kohl’s customers’ in-store experience.

“We wanted to provide something that gives the shopper a more personalized experience,” said Saba. “We proposed features like personal suggestions based on purchasing history and a ‘Help Me’ button that would notify store associates.”

After the first round of presentations on Saturday morning, four teams were chosen to present in the final round.

The competition was intense, said members of the winning team, but the "One Hit Wonders" presentation ultimately came out on top.

“We really took an analytical look at things, like how our plan fit into their strategy. We also really focused on our idea’s benefit to Kohl’s,” said Saba. “We also did well in the question and answer sessions. The judges had a lot of logistical questions, and I think we had really good answers.”

Charles Whiteman, John and Becky Surma Dean of Smeal and one of the judges in the final round, spoke at the awards dinner about how case competitions like this add educational value to students who participate.

Nahavandi agreed: “In the classroom, you learn the tools, but case competitions give us practice using the tools. Every case competition I do, I learn something new, whether it’s about teamwork, leadership or the industry.”

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Last Updated September 10, 2013