Learning Applied Outside the Classroom

Sometimes in business school, certain concepts can seem a little bit abstract. Opportunities for practical applications of business knowledge are important to avoid that “oh my gosh, why doesn’t this work out in real life?” feeling. Internships aside, the business-case competition is the king of all these experiences.

Ann Dang, fellow classmates and their big checks.

As a senior looking back at my time at Penn, some of the most challenging and most rewarding activities were these business-case competitions. Most recently, I was able to attend the Wake Forest Marketing Case Competition, where teams of four undergraduates from the nation’s best business schools competed in an insane 36-hour contest. We were tasked with finding a way for a leading U.S. bank to target millennials and leverage technological innovations.

After a long day of travel, we were handed the case question at 9 p.m. We worked late brainstorming but eventually decided not to try to pull an all-nighter. We knew we had a problem when every idea began to sound like a good idea. We woke early the next morning and got right back to work. All the teams were extremely secretive, and our various covert tactics were not gaining us any useful intel. We fought off delirium as we worked late into the second night. Then, like in the last leg of a marathon, adrenaline kicked in for the presentation the next morning. The weight lifted off our shoulders as we strutted out of the room like Rocky Balboa, giving each other high-fives and giggling like schoolchildren.

At Wake Forest, we were followed by camera crews, photographers and reporters. It was like they were paparazzi. I felt like a celebrity … except for the fact that I looked far less glamorous after only three hours of sleep a night and spending 30 of 36 hours in the same 10-foot-by-10-foot room gorging myself on free chips and soda. The results of that ordeal can now be found online, much to my embarrassment and to the delight of my incredibly nosy family. (If you are also feeling nosy, check it out at http://www.marketingsummitlive.com.)

Before the competition, we had done many case practices, sometimes spending up to 20 hours per week preparing for the event. This is why it was so sweet that we were able to place first at Wake Forest (the Wharton MBA team placed third). We got a trophy, plaques and a check for $10,000. The check was the best part, because, well, when else in life will you ever get a big check? The best part was taking it through the airport, where everyone wanted to take a picture with the check, even security. Big checks make people look like big dealsmoral of the story.

(Editor’s note: This post first appeared on the Undergraduate Program’s Student Voices blog on March 30, 2012.)

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