BYU students’ COVID-19 action plan places second in national competition

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From left to right, Alex Brighton, Ianthus Barlow, Samantha Sorensen and Nate Applegate pose with their awards. The team took second place. (Photo courtesy of @NASPO via Facebook)

Four BYU undergraduate students won second place in the National Association of State Procurement Officials‘ inaugural case study competition.

Global supply chain management students Alex Brighton, Nate Applegate, Ianthus Barlow and Samantha Sorensen represented BYU and were given 24 hours to research and create their proposal. Each group’s proposal addressed procurement of personal protective equipment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brighton, Sorensen, Applegate and Barlow were selected to represent BYU because they had won an internal case competition during their junior core classes last year.

Applegate said at a case competition, companies or organizations present competitors with a problem. Participants then have a limited amount of time of 24 hours to formulate a proposal, create slides and present it to the judges.

“It’s kind of like a tournament, in a way, but for solving business problems,” Applegate said.

Barlow said case studies sometimes deal with current issues companies are facing, and other times deal with things that have already occurred.

“It’s a combination of issues that have either happened or currently exist in a company,” he said. “And also an opportunity to get free ideas from people.”

Northeastern University took first place and University of Wisconsin-Madison took third in this competition. In addition to taking second place overall, team member Sorensen won a special prize for Most Effective Speaker.

BYU placed second place in this competition. Sorensen said the team’s strategic, long-term approach lead to success. (Created in Canva by James Hoopes)

Sorensen said she has fostered her public speaking skills by watching her teammates and picking up on things they do well. She also said she learned by watching her parents give professional presentations — her mother is an attorney and her father is a business executive.

“I think being a people person helps too. And then just really knowing your content,” Sorensen said. “I read our sides probably 40 times before we present.”

Sorensen said the team spent a full day working on their proposal, starting at 10:30 a.m. and working for 24 hours, with about an hour and a half of sleep each before presenting.

Each competing team presents to a room of judges, according to Sorensen. The winning presentation moves on to the next round, until the finals, where all the groups that are left standing present to the company or organization that provided the case study.

“We wanted to create a long-term solution that could work beyond COVID because pandemics are not a one-time occurrence,” Sorensen said.

The team said they did this by adjusting procurement office’s internal processes to help them find quality suppliers with reliable products in a more seamless way. Sorensen elaborated on this, highlighting that many government offices had a hasty response to COVID-19 and were not able to get high-quality, reliable resources to citizens. She said this scrabble for procurement was often a symptom of the need to move quickly. Nevertheless, she said the BYU team’s proposal is a continuing, quality-oriented solution — aided by the benefit of hindsight.

“We won on a very strategic base. That helped us succeed because we went for a long-term approach,” she said.

NASPO staff and state directors judged this event. NASPO is a non-profit association comprised of directors of central purchasing offices in U.S. states and territories and directors oversee the purchase of goods and services on behalf of government agencies.

Sorensen said the team has participated in national case study competitions before, most recently at the University of Minnesota last spring, where they took third. While all global supply chain majors are required to do at least one case study, she said some students really lean into them.

“We like the competitions where there’s stuff on the line,” said Applegate. “We’re driven by competition.”

Barlow said he is grateful for the teamwork skills he has learned. That, he said, and the friendships he has made with his teammates gives him a “leg up” on not only the competition, but also within the program.

For Applegate, going out of state and representing BYU is rewarding in and of itself, he said. “It’s a really good opportunity to spread the light that we have, whether it’s networking or showing what we’re about at BYU,” Applegate said.

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