Soaring to New DEI Heights Together

By Brittany Do

On Friday, March 4th, the air had a buzzing, energetic feel in Paccar Hall as there were over 220 students, nearly 50 judges, and almost 40 volunteers throughout the building. Every quarter, graduating seniors are given the opportunity to act as consultants when they take MGMT 430, Strategic Management, a capstone class that culminates with a case competition. The students work in teams of four to six and are asked to review a case, conduct relevant research, brainstorm solutions, analyze alternatives, and provide a recommendation to a panel of judges. This final project requires teamwork, collaboration, analytical thinking, public speaking, and countless hours of work to provide a company with a real world solution. 

Teams were asked to develop a creative solution that allows the company to solve important and relevant strategic issues. This quarter, the Foster School of Business partnered with Alaska Airlines on a first ever DEI-specific case written by Jasper Kinnay and advised by Rick McPherson to develop a solution for their key question: How can Alaska Airlines be positioned as an employer that attracts, retains, and advances a diverse employee population? Students needed to also address the shortage in airline pilots and aircraft mechanics in their solution. 

“It made me more confident in proposing ideas that are outside the box and in my ability to bring forth a strong creative strategy to solve a complex problem. It felt rewarding to apply the skills I’ve learned over the past four years to a relevant, real-world situation.” – Lianna Kajani

Each team has twelve minutes to present their solution, alternatives, implementation timeline, risks and mitigations, and financial analysis. After the team concludes, the panel of judges has eight minutes to ask the team questions to expand on their recommendation and better understand how they reached that conclusion. Finally, the judges provide the team with feedback for five minutes. 

All 45 teams presented in the preliminary round of presentations and had an opportunity to network with the judges during the lunch break. Then, 10 teams moved forward to the final round and presented one last time. Foster Dean Frank Hodge spoke during the awards ceremony while the judges announced the two winning teams. 

The two teams that took flight to the top of the competition were Team A3: Julie Fergus, Lianna Kajani, Chandler Kovacevich, Sophie Muza, and Smrithi Sudip and Team B1: Andrew Baek, Madeline Gim, Andrew Kim, Grace Lee, and Jonathan Suh

Team A3

Team B1 with Dean Hodge

Team A3’s solution was a three-prong solution that developed a second chance program for people with criminal records, provided more family support through child care stipends for working mothers, and increased personal and financial investments in local communities. As for Team B1, their solution was also a three-prong approach that included an annual diversity case competition for high schoolers, created internal mobility for flight attendants, and emphasized local rehabilitation outreach. 

Overall, all teams performed extraordinarily well, and this capstone class has left an impact on the graduating students. 

“From ideation and research, to presenting our recommendation to executives at Alaska Airlines, it was an unforgettable and exhilarating experience overall! I walk away from this opportunity feeling much more confident in presenting to executives while learning what it means to work together with a team to come up with ideas that are outside of the box! Thank you Foster staff, volunteers, and Alaska Airlines for providing this opportunity for students like myself to learn and grow in this area of professionalism, and thank you team B1 for making this first place finish a reality! Go Dawgs!” – Andrew Kim

“This quarter, I think we got lucky to be assigned a case that is so relevant in the corporate landscape and something that my team and I felt personally passionate about. The competition encouraged us to be creative and bold in our strategies while challenging us to consider stakeholder interests, public interest and how to balance the details of the big picture.” – Smrithi Sudip

“This Case Competition in particular was a great encapsulation of everything I’ve learned at Foster over the past 4 years, and it was even more special to collaborate with a team that I value, appreciate, and respect. It’s shown me the power of collaboration–that everyone has something tangible to offer, and that we are so much more capable together than we are alone. Foster has repeatedly highlighted this during my time here, but I fully intend to carry this experience and all of its lessons with me at my next place of work.” – Grace Lee

“I thought the Capstone Competition helped me realize how important it is to have confidence in your ideas. In our first group meeting to prepare for the case competition, we all said that our goal was to win the case competition and we put those words into action. I am very thankful for my fantastic team and the dedication they all had for figuring out a solution. This case made me grow as a professional because it gave me confidence in my work ethic and ideas, so I will never go for anything less than gold.” – Chandler Kovacevich

“The Strategy Development Case Competition represents a culmination of my learning throughout the Foster courses in a more tangible application-based setting. The case charge itself challenged me to view strategy in a context beyond the traditional bounds of profitability and competitive advantage – it challenged me to consider diversity as a defining aspect of ‘successful business.’ I found myself drawing upon the foundational skills I developed in the core Foster classes while simultaneously pushing the limits of what I perceived to be possible when developing recommendations. Rather than learning specific business topics in isolation, this case competition encouraged me to consider all topics in concert, as knowledge of one subject truly informed the other. The presentation format allowed for greater creativity as we considered not only the solution itself but the delivery of the solution through enhanced visual representation and effective communication. Presenting for a Seattle-based company such as Alaska Airlines further reinforced the relevance of the most pressing issues today. The Q&A with company executives left me both inspired and challenged in the pursuit for feasible yet forward-looking solutions. Finally, just getting to work with my fellow teammates (through all of the long nights and productivity sprints) towards such a highly-anticipated event was an unforgettable experience. The process made me excited for what is to come post-graduation as we continue to witness what is possible through collaboration and diversity.” – Madeline Gim