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SIOP Premieres New Student Consulting Challenge

Jennifer Diamond Acosta, Allstate

The SIOP Program Committee recently hosted a virtual student consulting challenge that saw graduate students from across the country compete to solve a real-world business problem. This new student challenge is one of two competitions that SIOP ran this year in advance of its annual conference; the other is the Machine Learning Competition, which began in 2018 and returned this year after a 2-year hiatus.

The inaugural SIOP Consulting Challenge Case Competition was held March 30 to April 4, 2023. Over the 5-day event, 12 teams, each comprising four students from four different universities, responded to a hypothetical call for proposals from UKG. UKG is an HR software firm headquartered in Boston. The teams presented their proposals to a panel of judges comprised of consultants and UKG leaders. Special thanks to Samantha Kalsow (pictured at left) from UKG for hosting the event and to Dan Sachau and Madison Smiley from Minnesota State University, who coordinated the competition.

The SIOP Student Consulting Challenge was open to master’s and doctoral students in I-O psychology programs. The aim of the challenge was to provide students with the opportunity to refine their consulting skills and grow their professional networks. This year’s cohosting company, UKG, a provider of HR, payroll, and workforce management solutions, posed as a client company.  Samantha Kalsow, a senior manager in People Analytics at UKG, created the focal case study in collaboration with organizers from the SIOP Program Committee, Dan Sachau and Madison Smiley. Kalsow found value in UKG’s involvement in the challenge, sharing that “while being a great learning opportunity for students to face a real business question and work with people from all across the country, the consulting challenge also benefitted UKG in having students provide new perspectives and the latest research on the topic.”

Forty-eight students participated (the maximum allowed for 2023) from over 30 universities.  Participants were divided into teams, each consisting of four members from different universities.  During a kickoff session, they were given the case study, which focused on redesigning the company’s performance management practice to encompass a skills-led approach.  The teams were then tasked with creating a 15-page written proposal to describe their innovative and practical solutions. 

After 4 intense days of work, the students presented their solutions to the judges, who were SIOP members in consulting roles from eight prominent consulting firms. Lindsey Freier, a student at Bowling Green State University and member of the second-place team, shared that her team proposed a two-part solution as an extension of the client’s existing program. “First, we added a development and implementation goal for a specific skill to their performance management process. Second, we suggested a pilot of a team-based skill development process,” said Frier.

The judges were impressed by the quality and creativity of the proposals, as well as the presentation skills of the students.  The winning team, comprising Chidera Agbo (University of Maryland, College Park), Charitta Askew (The Chicago School), Brittney Calhoun (University of Tennessee, Chattanooga), and Yichen Tang (Georgia Institute of Technology), received a cash prize of $2,000.  A $1,000 cash prize was given to the second-place team, which included Lindsay Freier (Bowling Green State University), Stephanie Granger (University of Tennessee, Chattanooga), Ella Groner (Minnesota State University, Mankato) and Janika Koelblin (Meredith College). The members of these top two teams participated in a panel session as part of the annual conference to share their experiences and solutions.  During this session, Dan Sachau presented the group with trophies to honor their hard work and success.

Participants of the student consulting challenge found the experience to be a unique offering and a valuable educational experience.  “I thought it was a great opportunity to work with students from other schools and learn more about consulting. We don’t have an actual class on consulting, so I thought this would give me the chance to not only gain more skills but also use them,” shared Janika Koelbin.  Lindsey Freier commented, “I learned a lot about what it's like to work in an ad-hoc team and the challenges and small victories that go along with it. I got to see firsthand the importance of communicating, setting appropriate deadlines, being flexible, and supportive, all of which were intensified by the condensed timeline.”  Ella Groner found the student challenge valuable as a preview of practitioner careers. “It is an opportunity to take what we are learning in our coursework and apply it directly to an organizational problem. The challenge provides just a snippet of what we will be doing every day after graduation,” Groner shared.

The event was seen as a huge success by the members of the Program Committee, who were pleased to see so much interest in the event, which hit full capacity within 2 weeks of opening registration and had strong attendance at its conference session. UKG was pleased with the outcome as well. “All the student teams did a wonderful job pulling together their proposals and presentations over such a short time. I was impressed with the quality, thoughtfulness, and hard work that went into the challenge. Thank you to all the student teams and the Program Committee for such a great experience!” shared Kalsow. The SIOP Program Committee plans for the challenge to become an annual event, providing students with a regular opportunity to showcase their skills and connect with industry professionals.

First-Place Team: Received $2000 and trophy.  From L-R: Chidera Agbo, University of Maryland, College Park; Charitta Askew, The Chicago School; Brittney Calhoun, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga; and Yichen Tang, Georgia Institute of Technology.        

Editor's note: I just have to give a little shout out to my former student, Charitta! She is an alum of Austin Peay State U's MSIO program and we couldn't be more proud of her and this accomplishment as she completes her doc program!

Second-Place Team: Received $1000. From L-R: Lindsay Freier, Bowling Green State University; Stephanie Granger, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga; Ella Groner, Minnesota State University; and Janika Koelblin, Meredith College.

Judges: Sarena Bhatia, Kincentric; Michel A. Buffet, Korn Ferry; Craig Dawson, Modern Hire; Andrea Deege, Korn Ferry Institute; Brittany Head, Perceptyx; Daniel King, Hogan Assessments; Jaclyn Martin Kowal, PDRI; Amy McKee, HumRRO; Jeff Schneider, Korn Ferry; Briana Squires, Kincentric

UKG: Host, Sam Kalsow, Melissa Shore, Trisha Zustra, and Kate Conley

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