College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Fresh and Innovative Approach to the Illinois MBA


Judges Rob Valli, Anthony Sarnecki (MBA '06) and Katie Blum (MBA '10) question finalists during the Illinois MBA Scholarship Case Competition on February 4, 2011

Ten aspiring MBA students recently took on the challenge of competing in the University of Illinois' first-ever MBA Scholarship Case Competition. Three students walked away with scholarship offers in hand, but all of them left with some important experience under their belts--experience in critical thinking, structured problem solving, and effective communication.

Felipe Penna, Adam Ragheb, and Chris Angelica were named the top finishers, with Penna winning a two-year full-tuition and fees scholarship, Ragheb a one-year scholarship, and Angelica a $10,000 scholarship.

"It was a great learning experience," says Angelica, an information technology professional who is pursuing an MBA with the goal of embarking on a career in IT consulting. "From doing the research to developing a framework for my ideas to practicing my presentation skills, preparing for the competition was a challenging intellectual exercise. And then actually making my presentation, thinking on my feet when questioned, and getting such helpful feedback from the judges made it a very positive and beneficial experience."

Brian Precious, director of admissions, recruiting, and alumni relations for the MBA Program at ILLINOIS, says that was exactly what he hoped the competition experience would provide. "It takes a lot of courage to present in front of accomplished business professionals, especially before you have even begun an MBA program. But this is just what these students will be doing in business school--reading, analyzing, presenting, and defending. By presenting them with this opportunity, they not only had a chance to compete for a scholarship, but they also challenged themselves in a professional setting and met those who could be their future classmates, professors, and fellow alumni."

Ragheb, a Ph.D. student in aerospace engineering who plans to earn dual degrees, agrees with Precious that the case competition was a challenge. "As an engineer, I know my strengths lie in analyzing numbers, so I was comfortable building my presentation on that," he says. "I also prepared by researching the product idea and its potential market and by examining videos from case competitions."

Ragheb has already established a fairly defined career path, hoping to work for Boeing, and believes his Ph.D. will open doors to that goal and "an MBA from ILLINOIS will provide the high-quality business credentials necessary to be successful."

Richard Mondragon, MBA '08, and a volunteer judge for the case competition, says if his own experience is any indication, Ragheb and other competitors who enter the program will find that an MBA from ILLINOIS provides those credentials and a lot more.

"Not only did my experience provide the educational foundation and skill set I needed, there were additional benefits I hadn't counted on," says Mondragon, vice president of international business development, emerging markets, for Cooper Industries. "There's a structure to the program that keeps it focused on day-to-day relevance. An activity like this case competition is an example of that. It raises the bar for what we can expect from students, and it raises the bar for what they can expect from their ILLINOIS experience."

Larry DeBrock, dean of the College of Business, echoes those sentiments. "At ILLINOIS, we believe in experiential learning," he told the competitors, the current MBA students, and the alumni who attended the case competition. "We want you to have every opportunity to hone the skills required to lead in business today. This scholarship case competition is a fresh and innovative approach to showcasing what the ILLINOIS experience is all about. Everything that you put into the program pays dividends."

For the three winners, it paid--literally. But as Mondragon says, "There were no losers in this competition. All the students win by gaining valuable experience. The program wins by setting high expectations, and alumni win by having the opportunity to interact with and impact the future of the program."

UIUC College of Business