New Kensington business students earned first invitation to Smeal competition

For the first time in campus history, a team of business students from Penn State New Kensington competed in the Smeal Case Competition, an undergraduate competition.

Senior marketing/management majors Angelica Matta, of New Kensington, Pa., and Amy Kudranski, of Plum Borough, Pa.; junior marketing/management major Samantha Simon, of Leechburg, Pa.; and sophomore accounting major Chelsea Leake, of Butler, Pa.; represented the campus in March at the fourth annual event at Penn State University Park.

“This was an excellent opportunity for our business students to test their knowledge, build their confidence and challenge their holistic capacity,” said Rujirutana "Dr. A" Mandhachitara, associate professor of business administration and adviser to the team. “The competition allows them to meet with other business students in the Penn State system and the executives from a large corporation. It is a good network-building opportunity for them as well.”

The case study challenges students' knowledge, problem-solving abilities and teamwork skills to solve realistic business problems in a 24-hour format. Sixteen teams were selected to devise solutions for business cases that required marketing, management and financial analysis.

“The twenty-four hour format was challenging,” said Matta, a product of St. Joseph’s High School. “It was exciting to work under the pressure of the time constraint.”

Matta is a veteran of student business competitions. Last semester, she was a member of the three-person team that was invited to PwC's

"Challenge Case Competition," a national collegiate business tournament. The event gives students the opportunity to work through some of the same issues that challenge business and government leaders.

For the Smeal competition, the New Kensington campus team, called the Inovatie Group, picked up its case study at 8 a.m. March 28 and presented its solution at 8 a.m. the next day. The team could not consult with non-team members, including Mandhachitara, during preparation of the case analysis. Presentations were evaluated by a panel of judges from Kohl’s.

“Our group was challenged with the given case, but I felt pretty confident about this competition because Dr. A prepared our group quite well,” said Krudkowski, a graduate of Plum High School. “It was an honor to get recommended for this competition because I never had the opportunity to compete against students at Smeal.”

Inovatie’s case concerned questions about omni-channel retailing and in-store foot trafficking. Omni-channel retailing utilizes various shopping venues, such as mobile devices, computers, direct mail and catalogs, to track customers across all venues. Marketing is made more efficient with merchandise and promotions offered to specific customers. Inovatie addressed the financial problem, laid out various strategies, provided action plans for each strategy, estimated the cost of implementation and forecast the outcomes, such as sales increase.

“It was very competitive, intense, and took a lot of effort,” said Simon, who attended Lenape Technical School. “I expected to be put under intense pressure and challenged, and I was. It was a great opportunity to get hands-on experience in the business world.”

Although the New Kensington team did not make the "Final Four” after the preliminary round of judging, Mandhachitara cited their creative and feasible recommendations as strong points in their presentations. She plans next semester to prepare business students for the rigors of the competition earlier in their required business courses.

“I can say that our team’s recommendations were not different from those finalists, but the recommendations needed to be better structured,” said Mandhachitara, who holds a doctorate in marketing from Thammasat University in Thailand, her native country. “After watching the final presentations, I need to challenge my students more and prepare them to work on complex business problems and ask tough questions, even in the 300-level courses."

The New Kensington team was one of four non-University Park campus team to compete in the Smeal challenge. The competition is restricted to 12 teams from the Smeal College and four teams from the Commonwealth Campuses. A total of 47 teams applied in November for one of the 16 slots. The Steering Committee selected the teams based on team members’ resumes, job experience, academics, leadership skills, other case competition experience and organization involvement. Besides New Kesington, the Penn State campuses of Altoona, Greater Allegheny and Lehigh Valley were represented at the case study.

The event was sponsored by Smeal Business School and Kohl’s. The winning team received the Smeal Case Cup as well as a $5,000 scholarship from Kohl’s that was divided among the four team members. Penn State New Kensington offers a bachelor's degree in business and an associate degree in business administration.

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Last Updated April 16, 2014