Chatham Views

Kathryn Polaski ’17 wins business simulation competition

kp-IMG_2063Don’t be fooled by the relative youth of Chatham’s B.A. in Management Information Systems (pdf) program. They’re churning out winners already.

Take Kathryn Polaski ’17.  In 2015, Polaski was alerted by her advisor, Professor and Business Programs Director Rachel Chung, to the Forté College to Business Leadership Conference hosted by PNC at the end of October. Founded in 2001, the Forté Foundation aims to increase the participation of women in undergraduate and graduate business programs and encourage them to work in the business community. Polaski applied to the conference and was accepted, the only Chatham student to attend.

Open to 100 women undergraduate students from around the country, the conference combines a morning of presentations and networking with an afternoon computer simulation business competition. Students were grouped into “companies”, assigned roles, and made all the decisions associated with running a business, right from their table.

“Our product was cars,” says Polaski, who notes that the product didn’t matter much. “We had to choose whether to be a generic, midrange, or luxury brand. That determined the price range we set, which determined the quality of raw materials we were going to put into our product.”

Polaski was given the role of Head of Sales, Staff, and Technology. “I decided where we’d put our offices, how many people we’d employ, and how much we’d pay them,” she says. Every decision was met with real-time data on a panel on the side of the screen, including revenue, but also other indicators such as employee satisfaction.  When that started to decline, Polaski decided to increase wages. “We talked decisions over together,” she says. “It was definitely a teamwork thing.”

“At certain points it was a rush,” she continues, “because periods would end and we’d have to stop. We’d see where we were at, and where we needed to improve. When the next period started, we might open an office, close an office, or market in a different region.”

“More than anything, I was surprised at how much I knew. We learned a lot from each other. We probably learned as much from each other as we did from everyone else who spoke to us that day.”

Judges were able to see each team’s data, and circulated among the teams to offer suggestions. At one point in the afternoon, they announced the three leading teams (based on profitability and efficiency), each of which was then tasked with putting together a PowerPoint presentation. “We put together an overview—what sort of business decisions we made, number of offices, number of employees, gross domestic product,” says Polaski.

Polaski’s team won the competition.

Team members were awarded informal mentorships with PNC executives. “We had phone calls with them, and we could send them our resumes for feedback,” says Polaski. “It was great to have that access.” As it happens, Polaski secured a technology internship with PNC for summer 2017, but thinks it’s coincidental. “They saw that I won the Forté competition, but I don’t think they realized the PNC connection,” she laughs.

She is applying to Chatham’s MBA program and to Carnegie Mellon University’s Masters in Information Systems Management program, but also considering taking some time to work before starting graduate school.  The technology internship at PNC has a great track record of leading to jobs after graduation, she says. “There’s a full-year rotational program so that you can test out all these different areas of technology and figure out where you want to be.”

Polaski is a member of the Chatham Marketing Association, in the Music Club (she’s also pursuing a minor in music), and a co-organizer for tech meet-up group ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) Pittsburgh. She also played basketball during her first year

“Chatham is such a great place to learn how to be a leader and learn from people who are higher up from you. That is a lot of what has helped me in real life situations.”

Advice for a student thinking about participating in the Forté College to Business Leadership Conference? “Don’t go into it thinking you know less than everyone else—everyone’s probably in the same boat as you,” Polaski says. “Listen to what everyone has to say. There’s time to ask questions- make sure you do that. Don’t be afraid to say something during the simulation if you think it should be something else. That’s important.”

Update, 12/17:  Polaski writes: “I recently accepted a position with PNC in their Technology & Innovation department. My job title is ‘Technology Development Program Associate.’

The program lasts 12 months, during the first six of which, associates rotate through three positions:  Business Systems Analyst, Application Developer, and Infrastructure Analyst.

During months 6-12, associates will be placed in one position to gain a deeper understanding of the role. Upon completion of the program, associates are placed into one of the listed positions, based on preference, performance, and business need.”

The MIS major prepares students to become critical thinkers and innovative designers of contemporary information systems in organizational settings. They learn to recognize opportunities to improve business processes or areas, communicate with stakeholders to elicit requirements for the best solution, and effectively implement and manage information systems projects. Learn more about undergraduate business programs at Chatham University.

This story was first reported on Chatham’s Department of Business and Entrepreneurship’s blog