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Cross-Disciplinary Competition Hones Students’ Professionalism, Problem-Solving Skills

November 1, 2021

This week, 33 students from across the College will participate in the annual PwC Challenge case competition hosted by PwC – an international audit, consulting, and tax service firm - an event that has typically only attracted business students in the past. But according to Erica Sysol, visiting assistant professor in the School of Business and the faculty member leading the charge for the 2021 competition, School faculty found a way to broaden the participant pool.

Students participate in the PwC Competition.

“This is the most diverse group of students that we’ve had participate. The School found value in expanding the audience to mirror how a typical business would be comprised of different areas of expertise. This year, having involvement from a diverse range of disciplines should only enhance the opportunity for students to work in a real-world setting with people of different experiences and perspectives,” she said.

One way that happened was thanks to Dr. Omar Watts, who embedded the competition into his data analytics course as part of the Honors Program course offerings. Sysol said that design helped to diversify the participants and their programs of study.

Sophomore media management major Anthony DiRubbo has enjoyed the experience and all he has learned.

“It has definitely been very fun, I have never tackled a problem like this,” he said. “Throughout the class I have learned a lot about improving my writing delivery using the pyramid principle. I enjoy working with my friends so I am excited to continue to work with them.”

As part of the competition, students examine a fictitious set of business-related materials, including email correspondence and financial information, and put their problem-solving skills to the test. The goal is to increase students’ overall professionalism, hone their communication and presentation skills, and provide them with a résumé-building experience that will differentiate them from their peers.

This year’s virtual competition is focused on a company’s debate on whether it should switch to a direct-to-consumer business model. The teams work together to analyze the information and then create a proposal with their recommendation and present to a panel of PwC judges. Competing teams are supported throughout the process by a faculty mentor, upper class student mentor, and PwC mentor, some of whom are Fisher alumni.

“Students that have participated in prior years described this as a transformative experience that helped them better understand how to analyze problems, work in a group environment, and present in a professional setting. This competition gives students an opportunity to really feel as though they are stepping into the role as a PwC consultant,” said Sysol.

Marissa Brennan, a sophomore studying mathematics and statistics, said that the competition has provided her with a real-life scenario that has sharpened both her communication skills and her level of professionalism.

“This challenge has definitely made us stretch our brains to make us think in new ways and ways we are not used to.  Since PwC is a business and they are asking for a solution to a business problem, I have learned a lot about the way people in businesses have to think when solving problems. This experience has definitely improved my communication skills through having to talk to group members, people that work at PwC, Fisher faculty, and peer mentors,” she said.

Accounting and corporate finance major Elle McEneany credits the preparatory work for honing her PowerPoint presentation skills as well as her broadened resourcefulness, citing her use of Bloomberg and Yahoo Finance as examples of resources she has used to familiarize herself with financial statements of publicly traded companies. She encourages students from any major to harness these experiences if they have the chance to.

“If you are considering doing a competition like this, just do it! It does not really matter what you are majoring in or what you are good at; as long as you put in the effort, you will see results. These kinds of opportunities do not come very often, and they should be taken advantage of,” she said.

The seven teams include:

James Barnes, accounting and honors student
Marissa Brennan, math and statistics and honors student
Brianna Chiappone, nursing and honors student
Matthew Mathieson, finance and honors student
Jake Provenzano, education and English, honors student
PwC mentor: Anthony Kousmanidis ’20
Faculty mentor: Dr. Patricia Wollan
Student mentor: Matt Jeffries

Matthew Cieplicki, nursing and honors student
Declan Faery, cybersecurity and criminal justice, honors student
Gracie Jacob, accounting and honors student
Gabrielle Papale, economics and honors students
PwC mentor: Kevin Colafranceschi ’18, ’19 (MBA)
Faculty mentor: Professor Chris Liucci
Student mentor: Jack Mott

Michael Currier, chemistry and pharmacy, honors student
Jonathan Luther, accounting and honors student
Joseph Marsh, economics and honors student
Benjamin Petell, finance and honors student
Delayne Young, nursing and honors student
PwC mentor: Zachary Messerschmidt
Faculty mentor: Dr. Mohamed Mekhaimer
Student mentor: Noah Campanelli

Anthony DiRubbo, media management and honors student
Matthew Gentile, statistics and economics, honors student
Elle McEneany, accounting and honors student
Collin Ruth, marketing and honors student
PwC mentor: Matthew Colicchia
Faculty mentor: Dr. Omar Watts ’00
Student mentor: Elizabeth Izydorczak

Luke Buckley, accounting and honors student
Sabrina George, biology and honors student
Liv McGee-Smith, marketing
Ryan Nagel, accounting and finance
Dylan Stoller, accounting
PwC mentor: Mike Delladio
Faculty mentor: Professor Derek Vanderlinde
Student mentor: Kumar Ghimrey

Adrianna Carfagna, accounting and finance, honors student
Erik Flores, finance
Antonia Kerr, management
Allison Lennebacker, accounting
Thomas Moran, accounting
PwC mentor: Anthony Kousmanidis ’20
Faculty mentor: Dr. Sukruth Suresh
Student mentor: Lauren Robbins

MacKenzie Alexander, accounting
Forest Beauchamp, finance
Angelea Collins, management
Cole Fuller, accounting
Emily Smalley, accounting
PwC mentor: Kevin Colafranceschi ’18, ’19 (MBA)
Faculty mentor: Professor Erica Sysol ’09
Student mentor: Jack Mott

Teams are set to present their proposals on Friday, Nov. 5. The winning team will receive a $250 gift card prize.