As a Vice President of one of the largest student clubs in BCIT, I am a big believer in the value of connecting with other people. Communications is about writing, but more inherently it is about connecting – bringing students together, bringing the club together, bringing our various stakeholders together. Just by reading this article, you are connecting with the experiences that are being shared.
In business parlance this is called networking: the forming of connections with other people. Networking is generally used in the context of career-searching and professional development, but my personal belief is that forming genuine connections are both fun and rewarding in and of itself; learning about other people can be a very enriching experience.
One of those experiences is the BCIT High School Case Competition. Organized through BCIT, this event brings together students from high schools all across Burnaby and Vancouver to compete against each other in marketing case studies. On the day of the competition, student teams will present a case study prepared in advance, followed by a second impromptu case study. This “surprise” case is presented to students on the day of the competition, with only about three hours allotted for students to prepare and present their solutions.
The results of both case studies are assessed by a panel of judges; the top three teams for each case study will receive a prize. This competition is great for honing the teamwork, critical thinking and presentation skills that are so important in business, along with the ability to analyze a set of facts and work under pressure.
The other element of this Case Competition is the mentors. Before the actual day of the competition, there are two mentorship sessions that take place at the respective team’s high school. Mentors will coach the students on their analytical, critical thinking and presentation skills to prepare them for the actual competition.
Mentorship is another major component of this event. Each high school is assigned 2 to 3 student mentors: the mentors are mainly marketing students from BCIT and run two scheduled mentorship sessions to help prepare the student team from their respective high school for the case competition.
Three BCITMA executive board members participated as mentors in the High School Case competition. Yours truly was assigned to Windermere Secondary in Vancouver, along with Enactus (another student club in BCIT) VP Tavia McQuay. Here are some of our experiences.
Mentorship Session – Day 1
Today was the first day that I would meet the students from Windermere. The feeling was quite like going into a job interview or attending a class for the first time. You are excited, but also a bit anxious.
Why? Keep in mind that I have no idea who these students are. I have never even heard of Windermere Secondary before. It didn’t help that back when I was in high school, I had only one business class in my entire time there, and certainly nothing about marketing or case studies. It also didn’t help that the level of work expected of these students was quite high – research, measurable goals and presentations with no cue cards. To give you some context, students in my grade 10 high school class were still presenting by reading off a piece of paper.
Actually, so did some other students from post-secondary. But that’s a story for another time.
What actually happened was that the students were already taking marketing, business administration and accounting classes; they have done case studies before, meaning we did not have to teach them everything from the beginning. In fact, they have probably spent more time learning business then me. BCIT introduced me to the case study method, and I had only started doing this last year.
But I had to at least pretend to be mentor-ly, and they didn’t need to know that. If you have not guessed by now, a big part of business, marketing and life in general is pretending like you know what you are doing.
The first day was essentially an introductory day. We introduced ourselves and went into the structure of a case study. Afterwards we introduced them to a practice case study that they would prepare for the next mentorship session. All the students were split into three teams for the case study, and a mentor was assigned to each team.
On my end, I was essentially being teacher for a day:
“Raise your hand if you know the answer to…”
“Okay everyone, let’s separate into three groups…”
“Let’s have a ten-minute break before we continue with….”
And so on. You finally start to understand how your teachers felt when they were trying to teach you back in high school. Or even at BCIT.
Mentorship Session – Day 2
With introductions completed, the second mentorship session was more focused on the actual “mentoring” part. This was when the students would present their practice case studies for evaluation; we would provide feedback and coach them on their research, analytical and presentation skills.
Before the presentations began, I asked some of the groups how their preparations were going. One student said that it was “going to be a surprise” and to “keep in mind that we were busy”.
Well, this was certainly going to be interesting.
The purpose of the practice case study is for Tavia and me to establish a benchmark for these students. We wanted to find out what the students are already good at doing and what needs to be worked on; as mentors, we wanted them to feel like they have improved by the end of the competition.
And the presentations themselves were actually very good. There were a few things that me and Tavia had to comment on, but the quality of work was very promising. By comparison, the case studies we prepared for our first-term marketing class at BCIT were full of holes and probably made our instructor freak out.
(If you’re reading this, I’m sorry you had to endure those case studies from my class Anne-Marie. Especially when one team said the solution for the company is to sell the company).
Afterwards, we provided the students with their second case study. This one was not for practice: it would be presented to a panel of judges at BCIT on competition day.
High School Case Competition at BCIT – Day 3
Today is the day! It would take some effort to build the enthusiasm though, as the event started bright and early at 8am. Moreover, my student team had been staying up into the wee hours last night. Apparently they had graduation photos the previous day and stayed up till 3am to finish the case study.
All-nighters, cramming and the blinking eyes of a student desperately trying to stay awake in the morning; as Tavia said, they were looking more like BCIT students already.
First up was the case studies that the students prepared in the second mentorship session. The student teams from each high school presented their solutions to the audience; the judges reviewed all the presentations and the top 3 ranked teams were recognized and given a prize.
It can be a nerve-wracking experience. Consider that the presentations were not made in a room, but in a lecture hall meant to accommodate around 200 students. Windermere Secondary had prepared a very professional PowerPoint and gave a solid presentation in front of everyone – the hard work (done at 3 in the morning) definitely shows.
Next came the unveiling of the third case study. Unlike the previous two case studies, even the mentors did not know what the case would be about in advance; the students would have about 2.5 hours to research, come up with a solution and present it to the judges.
The case itself was on the Great Shoreline Cleanup run by the Vancouver Aquarium. Participation rates in the Cleanup were falling, especially among younger people; the Vancouver Aquarium was struggling to get people interested in the Cleanup, especially during non-holidays and the cold winter season. Furthermore, the Shoreline Cleanup was facing an identity problem. Most people perceived a “shoreline” to be a beach or coastline, when in fact it was everything which led to a body of water. This included rivers, lakes and even storm drains.
Thus the task for each student team was to come up with an action plan on how to make more people participate in the Great Shoreline Cleanup. Each team was then directed to their individual classrooms to prepare.
Next came a period of controlled chaos. Ideas, suggestions and debate flew around the room; the consensus was to focus on young schoolchildren in elementary schools, but there were differing approaches on how to do this.
Throughout all this, Tavia and me watched over the students and provided suggestions throughout the planning process. As mentors, we are here for the entire competition and stay with our student team as they prepare their case study (the instructors do not). Nonetheless we generally do not provide ideas or do any of the work: our task is to provide guidance and let the students come up with their own solution.
Which is actually more difficult then it sounds. My personal opinion was to avoid focusing on social media. I knew that all the other high school teams would be focusing on how to promote the Shoreline Cleanup on social media (and they did). To stand out, we needed to be different and provide a comprehensive and simple solution that was not just about improving the Vancouver Aquarium’s social media presence.
But it was not my presentation, at least not directly. I could only provide suggestions and let the students come up with their final solution. Perhaps that is also how many teachers feel: provide students with the right tools and hope they are able to use them effectively, without intervening too much.
Thus it was really rewarding to see what the students finally came up with: a tiered ranking system. Each elementary school would be assigned a rank – bronze, silver, gold and platinum – depending on how proactive they were with participating in the Great Shoreline Cleanup. The ranking would be attached to the school name and reflect how environmentally friendly that school is.
By implementing visible, easy to understand rankings, this would encourage friendly competition between schools on who could get the highest rank. This system was also based on the OceanWise program, already being used by the Vancouver Aquarium to recognize companies that provide sustainable seafood. Just like OceanWise, this would be a credible recognition of how sustainable a particular school is.
With the idea finalized, next came the preparation of the slides. It was at this point that I kind of wish my BCIT team was this efficient – because we are usually not. The case sections were split up between the 12 students and each person worked on a different part; since the slides were on Google Drive, everyone was editing their sections simultaneously. The final presentation had charts, graphics, and even a mock website homepage complete with headings and an animated background. All of this was completed within 2 hours.
In the end my high school case team from Windermere delivered a high energy presentation to the audience and waited anxiously for the results. As mentors, we have seen first-hand how much effort everyone put into the case study; no matter what the result was, we were proud of their accomplishment and proud to share this experience with them
Which was true. But as we were watching all the other presentations and waiting for the results, I personally thought we had a good shot at winning.
Which is exactly what happened.
The case team from Windermere Secondary won first place for the Vancouver Aquarium case study, along with an additional award for having the best presentation.
There was shock. There was surprise. There was elation. And there were tears. I think all of us wanted to win, but somehow did not believe it would actually happen. Getting first place in the competition was a big boost of confidence to everyone. And I speak for both Tavia and myself when I say we could not be more proud of our team and what they have accomplished.
But that’s only part of the result from this competition. Competitions end and victories will eventually fade – what remains is the shared experiences created from these past three days. From strangers at the beginning of the first mentorship session to fast friends at the end of the competition, what is perhaps even more valuable and long-lasting than the winner’s trophy is the connections we have built with each other.
And those connections have not ended either. I continue to keep in contact with the students, offering advice and helping them with their post-secondary applications.
Special mention also needs to be given to my mentorship partner Tavia McQuay for being there throughout this entire experience. Whether it was after a hard day of classes or bright and early in the morning, Tavia was always there to help and offer encouragement. She is a Vice President of Enactus at BCIT, another student club supports future entrepreneurs by helping students to plan and create their own community projects. Like the MA, Enactus believes in professional development. You can find out more about what they are doing here.
In closing, I would like to mention that just being a BCIT student and a Vice President of the BCITMA has provided me with a lot of experiences. Some are fun. Some are challenging. Some experiences develop you professionally, while others make you question your sanity (“why did I volunteer for this again?”).
And some of them give you a warm and fuzzy feeling afterwards, because you realize that in some small way you have changed other people’s lives for the better. Being a mentor for these bright young students is definitely one of those experiences.
Thanks for reading, and good luck everyone!