Penn State New Ken business students prepare for 24-hour competition

Liz Hayes
| Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 1:26 a.m.

Four Penn State New Kensington business students should be go-to companions for shopping trips to Kohl's department store by the end of the semester.

Amy Kudranski of Plum, Chelsea Leake of Saxonburg, Angelica Matta of New Kensington and Sam Simon of Leechburg will be among the select few students competing next month in the 2014 Smeal Case Competition.

Organized through Penn State's Smeal College of Business, the competition presents 16 teams with a “case,” or business-related challenge, that likely will be related to Kohl's, the event sponsor.

Rujirutana Mandhachitara, associate professor of business at Penn State New Kensington, said students often are asked to suggest methods of expanding the store's customer base, better reaching a target market or incorporating social media in their marketing.

Once given their challenge on March 28, each four-member team will have 24 hours to research the question, put together their suggestions and develop a 20-minute presentation they'll deliver to Kohl's executives and Smeal faculty.

They'll have access to the Internet and their textbooks, but no help from advisers. “It's going to be very challenging,” Mandhachitara said.

The winners will receive a $5,000 scholarship to be divided amongst the team.

Mandhachitara said nearly 50 teams applied to participate, but only 16 are chosen. Twelve of those teams are from Smeal College, leaving only four slots open to the Commonwealth campuses like Penn State New Kensington.

She said this is the first group from the Upper Burrell campus to participate.

The Penn State New Kensington students said they're anticipating the challenge.

“It should be a good experience,” said Simon, a junior in business marketing and management.

Leake, a sophomore accounting major, said she's familiar with the store and is looking forward to the chance to offer suggestions.

Matta and Kudranski, both senior business marketing and management majors, said they're excited to go to University Park and experience some of the networking opportunities there.

To prepare, they've been visiting area Kohl's stores, interviewing customers, reading up on market reports and meeting weekly to strategize.

This week, Mandhachitara gave them a sample case to prepare. It was about J.C. Penney rather than Kohl's, but the students said the two stores are competitors, and they found helpful information about Kohl's during their research.

On Thursday, they presented their findings on the pros and cons of J.C. Penney's everyday low pricing value campaign under former CEO Ron Johnson.

Mandhachitara and several other members of PSNK faculty filled in as judges, offering the students suggestions to improve their presentation.

Although a good sample, the students said it should be a different experience when they have the 24-hour deadline during the real competition.

“I like the ideas of the 24-hour time crunch,” said Matta, noting they typically have much more preparation time for their college projects. “It's a whole new challenge.”

“It's exciting, to be under pressure,” Leake said.

“I'm quite confident in the ability of my students and that they can handle this,” Mandhachitara said.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or

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