Winning the SHRM Case Competition

By: Alina Buzgar, News Editor

This is the story of the four brave T-Birds who, along with 200 other students from 14 undergraduate and graduate level institutions on the West Coast, prepared a response to an HR case in only two weeks, attended a three day conference and pitched their proposal, only to finally face the senior HR executives in the judging panel and (spoiler alert!) win the competition and the $2,500 price.

The Society For Human Resources Management (SHRM) Regional Case Competition is an event that intends to provide a realistic preview of the types of problems that students may eventually encounter in the workplace. The case scenarios focus on HR issues and require strategic thinking, ethical decision-making, and strong leadership and presentation skills. This year the case was about the role of HR in retaining employees when there is an organizational culture shift (internal change) and competition (external change). On March 14, the winning teams were announced at the end of the conference. The top three positions in the graduate division were: Thunderbird School of Global Management, Boise State University, and Angelo State University. For the undergrad division the top three were University of Phoenix, Brigham Young University, and a tie between San Diego State University and Colorado Mesa University. The winners and the standings are available here.

SHRM 15 3As active members of the SHRM Arizona State Chapter, Candice Sparkes, President of Thunderbird SHRM, and Neetika Verma, Vice President of Thunderbird SHRM, were approached by the college liaison, Jason Viken, with details about the competition. They, in turn, sent out information to club members to gauge interest in forming a team and participating in the competition. Finally, the winning Thunderbird team members were: Candice Sparkes (MBA ’15, Jamaica), ​Neetika Varma (MBA ’15, India), TingTing Zeng (MA ’15, China) and Michelle Monteiro (MBA ’15, U.S.).

Candice Sparkes shared with us the grueling preparations: “We completed various team meetings to discuss the case. We received the case on Monday, February 23 and had a week to complete a two page written executive summary and a PowerPoint presentation that could be no longer than 15 minutes when presented orally. We met that very first day and from that initial discussion we split up the topics and communicated via email and collaborated using Google docs. We had a lot of information and we completed additional research to add to our conclusion. It was a complete team effort and we all worked efficiently to get the task completed and submitted on time.”

Neetika Varma agrees: “The challenge we faced was definitely time. With team members having different schedules it was difficult to coordinate and practice. But we decided intelligently on which things needed to be done as a group and which ones we could do individually. This helped the team tremendously.”

Michelle Monteiro adds: “We practiced ahead of time. It helped that our case was due to them two weeks prior to the actual competition so we had time for practicing. The judges really wanted to trip us up on the second day, but we handled it beautifully. Our team dynamic was really smooth when we answered questions.”

“We were the most diverse team at the event. Even though we were all women we were a true Thunderbird Team: Candice (Jamaica), Neetika (India), TingTing (China) and Michelle (U.S.). There was not a lot going on at the conference but we did have the opportunity to see many boxers that were staying at the same hotel! The speakers were very enthusiastic one even preformed magic tricks to get the audience engaged,” said Candice

Tingting Zeng chimed in: “The fact that we are such a diversified team with combined knowledge and expertise from both HR and business perspectives played to our advantage, we were professional, mature and represented Thunderbird very well when we were delivering the presentation. I am very fortunate to work with very capable teammates for this competition. Each of us is a good team player and we keep encouraging each other to the victory. I am comfortable with the topic on retention, which is within my professional experience since I have worked as a talent manager for the past years. However, English is my second language and I am struggling to put my ideas together, I have to lock myself in the hotel room alone for rehearsal again and again till I can talk without thinking.”

courtesy of Candice Sparkes
courtesy of Candice Sparkes

We also asked the team to share with us some of what they learned along this journey. “I learned more about innovative HR options to solve problems,” says Monteiro. “Confidence and passion are more important than language skills for presentation.  The fact that English is not my native language didn’t hurt me at all.  Actually, the judges listened more attentively (because of my accent) and kept nodding and smiling for my confidence and passion, which came from my understanding of case and my past working experience. What I learned is: know yourself, know your team, and know your material,” says Zeng.

“The learning I have from this experience: I have developed an ability of assembling and disassembling from teams quickly and the time span of the team reaching it’s best performance has drastically reduced; and it is important to quickly analyze the strengths of your team members. Someone might be great at writing, someone else at presenting. Some of the team members might work well under pressure and some might be a great facilitator.  If we can harness these strengths then there are greater chances of success,” says Varma. “Make sure that you rehearse and get sleep. The life of a graduate student is hard and competing in a case competition during finals was hard. But we did it and after we made the final cut and we were well rested we were able to deliver. I also learned that all members needed to be on the same page. We had opportunities to where we could have improved communication but overall we worked great together,” says Sparkes.

SHRM 15 2
Courtesy of Candice Sparkes

The team would like to thank Angelique Tatum and Dodie Busch from the CMC for watching the presentation and offering valuable constructive feedback and hope that the Thunderbird SHRM club will see broader recognition on the campus after this win.

If you would like to know more about Thunderbird SHRM you can contact Candice at or follow Thunderbird SHRM on Facebook.


About SHRM: Founded in 1948, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest HR membership organization devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 275,000 members in over 160 countries, the Society is the leading provider of resources to serve the needs of HR professionals and advance the professional practice of human resource management. SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China, India and United Arab Emirates.  

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