Bringing Out the BEST
New campus contest brings business and English students together to find solutions
In the real world people with different skills work on problems together to find a solution, not to earn a grade.
Providing that kind of authentic experience is among the goals of a contest that connects students from the Wisconsin School of Business and the UW–Madison Department of English. Business and English Students Together (BEST), which took place in March 2017, brings undergraduate students together to use their diverse skills and collaborate to solve a real-world problem.
“It gets them out of their realm and challenges them to translate their disciplinary knowledge to another,” says Chris Dakes, director of educational innovations and learning design at the Wisconsin School of Business. “Often we think if you get marketing, accounting, and finance together that’s cross-disciplinary, and it is if we limit our thinking to business. When we bring someone from business and English together, we really cross disciplinary bounds and deepen our learning and skills.”
This year was the second for the contest. The funding and idea for it came from Alan Chesler (B.S. ’85, M.S. ’87), a WSB real estate alumnus who is co-founder of Ehrenberg Chesler Investment Bankers in San Antonio, Texas. Chesler credits the communications skills he learned as an undergraduate majoring in English and economics with helping his success in the business world and he wanted to help prepare WSB students in that way, too.
Assistant Dean for Academic Innovations, Wisconsin School of Business
“There are stereotypes that English students are good communicators and business students know the business end, and sometimes the students hold those stereotypes themselves,” says Suzanne Dove, assistant dean for academic innovations at WSB. “A lot of this is about helping students develop their identities—their multiple identities. Part of what makes an individual successful is their ability to read their organization or read their team’s dynamics and see which of their selves they need to bring forth.”
This year’s challenge was inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, which was part of the Go Big Read campus reading initiative. The BEST Challenge assignment was to create a plan to raise awareness of homelessness in the Madison community.
The winners, Evan Warwick (BBA ’18) and Chris Houben (B.A. ’17) dived into the challenge with gusto. They knew each other through campus activities but hadn’t worked together academically. They had, however, both read Evicted and were excited by the challenge presented to them.
Warwick and Houben created Remainder Round-Up, a program where students can round up the cost of their purchases at local retailers and donate the difference to a local mental health services provider. After taking a week to hone their idea, they spoke with 13 community leaders, seven retailers, and campus organizations and created a roll-out plan for next fall.
Warwick took inspiration from a marketing class on consumer behavior to learn how to connect with students and plan the logistics. Houben learned what story needs to be told by speaking with community leaders.
“We wanted to make what we do for this contest tangible enough so we could actually implement it, which we plan to do,” Warwick says. “That really motivated us to go above and beyond the competition and to not just come up with a proposal.”
Each BEST team must include at least one business and one English student. Teams have three weeks to come up with an idea to present to the other contestants and a judging panel. The winning team is awarded $2,000.
Participants also write a two-page paper in which they reflect on their experience and the author of the best paper is awarded $200. The winner of the best paper award, Kaitlyn Bringe (B.A. ’18) wrote about how she and her teammate, Caitlin Kampschroer (BBA ’19), fell into the expected roles of their majors, only to find out they could offer more.
“When we worked on the project together, we each could contribute to every part,” she wrote. “It seems I’m not so bad at analyzing data … and my teammate can dole out snappy headlines and eloquent slides faster than I ever could.”
That discovery is the value of working with unfamiliar colleagues, says Sunny Chan, career and internship coordinator for the UW–Madison Department of English.
“It’s different than a group project in a class,” Chan says. “They’re told, ‘Here’s the problem, figure out a way to solve it, and present your best idea.’ That’s much more like the real world.”