UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two Penn State Smeal College of Business students and a student from Penn State Berks collaborated to win the 2023 Business with Integrity Case Competition.
Elizabeth Gallo, an accounting major, and Huda Khan, a finance major, joined with mechanical engineering major Sabhia Kermali to form Valley Consulting Team. Each member of the winning team was awarded $750.
“I think it’s great when students from across the Commonwealth Campuses are involved in competitions like these," Kermali said. "As the only engineering student and the only student from a Commonwealth Campus during the final stages, I think that other students beyond Smeal should seize opportunities like these to diversify their experience beyond core classes.
The competition, which focuses on analyzing complex business scenarios, required participants to analyze the business decisions made by Axon, particularly its plan to install Taser drones in public schools to address school shootings. Participants were tasked with providing recommendations that balanced the need for financial growth with ethical practices and positive public opinion.
“Our presentation recommended that Axon bolster and adjust a similar, less-radical drone project they’ve already been successful with, to provide the security and internal visibility needed without directly contributing to conflict," Kermali said. In addition, we presented a series of external and internal operational changes to better public opinion and create a safer company culture.”
Sponsored by Kohl’s, the Smeal College of Business, Penn State’s Engineering Leadership Development program and the Rock Ethics Institute, the competition featured 139 registered students spread across 19 different teams.
From those original participants, nine semi-finalist teams were chosen. On the same day, three finalist teams were selected and announced at the Impact Smeal Day Reception. These three teams presented the following day during an Impact Smeal Day session, where alumni witnessed their presentations to a panel of judges, including members of the Tarriff Center Advisory Board, the Smeal Board of Visitors, John and Karen Arnold Dean Charles H. Whiteman, Smeal alumni and a representative from the Penn State College of Engineering.
Valley Consulting’s prior experience in similar competitions, coupled with its strong teamwork and chemistry, distinguished them from other competitors. Their ability to collaborate effectively across different majors further enhanced their success.
“Now when it comes to our majors working together, I think this is the best part of the whole process," Kahn said. "We all possess different skills and being able to teach and help each other with things we are trying to visualize is such an amazing thing."
Throughout the process, the team received guidance and mentorship from Erin O'Leary, alumni society board president-elect, founder and certified mergers and acquisition adviser for BayState Business Brokers. O'Leary's insights and advice played a crucial role in refining the team's presentation and boosting their confidence, team members said. Her conversational approach created a comfortable atmosphere for the team to work and grow in.
Khan said the competition proved to be a valuable learning experience for the Valley Consulting team. It reinforced the significance of business ethics and the far-reaching implications of every decision a company makes. By dissecting the actions and consequences of Axon, the team gained a deeper understanding of the importance of ethical decision-making for business leaders.
Participating in competitions like this provides a solid foundation for future careers in business ethics and social responsibility, according to the students.
“Cases like these when a business leader chooses to think with his emotions and not his head lead to a domino reaction of many things, and students being able to engage and learn this and experience it at such an early age, truly helps the students of today be the socially responsible leaders of tomorrow,” Khan said.
The Impact Smeal Day networking event associated with the competition also offered opportunities for the team to connect with professors, professionals and other students. Conversations with various individuals from diverse backgrounds enriched their understanding and provided meaningful insights. The support and interest shown by the attendees instilled a sense of accomplishment and belonging in the team, the students said.
I think it’s great when students from across the Commonwealth Campuses are involved in competitions like these. As the only engineering student and the only student from a Commonwealth Campus during the final stages, I think that other students beyond Smeal should seize opportunities like these to diversify their experience beyond core classes.
—Sabiha Kermali , Penn State Berks mechanical engineering student