WCSU students win national MBA case competition
Study for creation of national AARP leadership volunteer institute earns top prize

DANBURY, CONN. — Four students in the Master of Business Administration program at Western Connecticut State University have earned the top prize in a nationwide competition to design a new leadership volunteer institute for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

WCSU students Rachid Chtioui, Kathleen Lindenmayer, Thomas Loughman and Stacey Miller prevailed against MBA student teams from Golden Gate University, the University of California at Northridge, and the University of Texas at Dallas to receive the award in the AARP/IW Group MBA Case Competition announced on April 25. The WCSU Ancell School of Business will receive a prize of $10,000 in recognition of the winning case study for a leadership volunteer institute, which the students will present this summer to AARP senior management at the organization’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C. Arrangements for the competition were coordinated and sponsored by Bill Imada, chairman and CEO of IW Group, an advertising and public relations firm specializing in the growing Asian-American market in the United States.

The award marked the capstone of an intensive project that required research on AARP’s mission and organization, design of a national leadership volunteer institute consistent with AARP’s priorities, and analysis of instructional and financial requirements to propose a high-impact and cost-effective program. The students collaborated closely with their faculty adviser and school liaison for the project, Associate Professor of Marketing Dr. Karen Koza, and with Ancell School of Business Dean Dr. Allen Morton.

“I am particularly proud of our students and commend them for their ability to design, research and cost out a nationwide training institute for AARP in a period of approximately six weeks,” Morton observed. “Karen Koza deserves praise for guiding our students through this difficult and time-consuming task, and for creating an outstanding learning opportunity for our students.”

The four members of the team brought a wealth of diversity in professional experience to the AARP case study. Chtioui serves as a financial systems corporate manager at Pepsico and has more than 16 years’ experience in information technology applications in business and finance. Lindenmayer, a captain in the U.S. Navy, retired in 2010 after 26 years’ active service, primarily as an intelligence officer who held a wide range of assignments at the Pentagon, naval centers in the United States, and the U.S. European and African Commands. Loughman currently is president and trustee of the Barden Foundation, and for 28 years held various executive positions including controller and chief financial officer for corporate divisions of the Schaeffler Group. Miller provided support services to consumer products firms during an eight-year tenure at the Nielsen Company and currently serves as on-site client manager at Heineken USA.

The AARP assignment posed an especially challenging task to design the organization’s first leadership volunteer training program at the national level, providing a model for nonprofit organizations that seek to broaden their influence on public policy through training of effective volunteer advocates in business, education and society.

“They wanted this leadership volunteer institute to help AARP put forward its social agenda priorities: livable communities, health care, and financial security,” Morton observed. AARP’s vision is to create “the go-to volunteer institute for nonprofit leadership throughout the country, a center for innovation to pursue new ways of teaching and building leadership skills.”

Koza noted the institute’s goal is to recruit “high-impact volunteers,” individuals who already have achieved professional success in academic, corporate and nonprofit executive positions and who share AARP’s social issue concerns. The organization seeks to strengthen its advocacy by bridging the generational divide, she added, recognizing that “common themes such as health care, financial security and livable communities resonate among the generations and raise social issues that are of concern to them all.”

After receiving the case instructions from AARP on Feb. 16, the WCSU team embarked on an intensive marathon of research, instructional design, cost analyses and report preparation to meet a tight March 27 deadline for submission of the executive summary and presentation setting out their recommendations. Frequent exchange of information and ideas among the four students and their faculty mentors was critical to successful completion of the task.

The students concluded their case study assignment with a formal oral presentation delivered live from the WCSU University Computing video-conference facilities at Old Main. Since the competition rules allowed each of the four participating universities to field a team of up to six students, AARP staff in Washington expressed surprise at the start of the presentation to see only four presenters on screen, Koza recalled. But the students quickly proved they could compete with larger teams, Morton added: “They were so focused that they anticipated the questions, had their answers ready, and constantly tied back their proposals to AARP’s mission and social priorities.”

All four competing MBA teams presented their case studies under pseudonyms — “Team Energizers” for WCSU — so that the identity of the university would not influence the selection of the winning proposal. The blind competition yielded another surprise for AARP executives when they realized upon conclusion of the judging that all of the proposals had been prepared at public universities, and the winning study came from the smallest of the four MBA programs in the contest. “’Team Energizers’ energized us,” AARP judges told the WCSU team.

“They were amazed at the level of professional knowledge and skills that our students brought to the project,” Koza said. “They had never thought of working with a state university as a consultant before, and they said this project opened their eyes to the fact that they can get some amazing work from a state university like ours.” Morton concurred that the project demonstrated the value for AARP and other organizations and companies in “tapping into the collective experience of state universities” for business studies. “I would put this team up against MBA students anywhere,” he said.

The nontraditional backgrounds of the four students who engaged in the AARP case study provide a fair reflection of the similarly “diverse backgrounds and personal and professional experiences of our MBA students,” Koza observed. Such diversity also proved an important advantage to bring to bear in reaching the award-winning proposal for the “Ethel Percy Andrus Leadership Volunteer Institute for Social Change,” which the team named for the founder of the organization that became the AARP.

“This project brought forth every type of learning within a few short weeks, and each member of the team contributed an important piece to the puzzle,” Morton said. “Learning knows no boundaries: From an educator’s point of view, this was an amazing and beautiful experience.”

For more information, contact Koza at (203) 837-9036 or kozak@wcsu.edu, or the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.

Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.


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