Teams tackle project management competition


A team of project managers from Cornerstone University might find their college tuition is a bit more affordable.

The students were part of a competition last week sponsored by the West Michigan chapter of the Project Management Institute. Teams were tasked, ironically, with improving the affordability of higher education.

Cornerstone’s team was awarded first place and $5,000 for its winning business plan that addressed the cost of higher education in Michigan. Fifteen teams representing 11 schools participated. The event included an address from keynote speakers Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Amy Kraal, client services director and founder of HR Solutions Group.

Participating teams were Hillsdale College, Cornerstone University, Davenport University, Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, Finlandia University, ITT Technical Institute, University of Phoenix, Aquinas College, Ferris State University and Michigan Technological University.

This year’s competition challenged collegiate teams to identify a solution and formulate a project management business plan to improve higher education affordability for Michigan residents. The Project 2015’s business case indicated the state is ranked 45th among states in affordability, according to the College Board’s 2013 Trends in College Pricing report.

Jeff Kissinger, project manager for the event and senior project manager at Grand Rapids Community College, said the competition’s business situation is selected for its relevance to the students and level of priority for the state.

“We try to choose, over the last couple of years, things that are of a high importance on Gov. (Rick) Snyder’s agenda, and that one ranked really high,” said Kissinger. “We want to find a topic that interests the people who are working on it, and it seemed pretty logical that a student would want to figure out ways to make college more affordable.”

Brian Gleason, director of marketing for The Project and campus director at University of Phoenix, said the idea was to have a discussion about the current situation of college affordability in Michigan and then have the students write project plans to address the issue.

“This year we wanted to make it more applicable to the students, and one thing that has been seen in the news is the astronomical tuition rates and how they keep increasing everywhere. It puts a huge burden on our economy, a huge burden on our young people,” said Gleason.

“Being able to experience it firsthand and being very real for them, I think they were able to maybe even put a little more effort into solving this problem than if we had done a different scenario that was a little bit further removed from their life experience.”

The Institute for College Access and Success released a report, Student Debt and the Class of 2013, in November 2014 that indicated roughly 69 percent of college seniors who graduated from four-year public and private colleges in 2013 had a student loan debt averaging $28,400. Michigan was among the top 10 high-debt states, with roughly 63 percent of 2013 graduates burdened with an average debt of more than $29,900.

During the final competition, the 15 collegiate teams had 10 minutes to present their business plan to a panel of project management professionals and five minutes to respond to questions. Based on the scoring of the PMO panel, the top four teams went on to participate in the executive round and present to a panel of judges.

As a project management competition, the plans and final presentations are evaluated based on the 5th edition of the industry’s guide book known as the Project Management Body of Knowledge, which provides fundamentals, guidelines and characteristics for developing a project management plan.

The PMO panelists included representatives from Stryker, Steeclase, Meijer, Dematic, Aquinas College, Spectrum Health, Intelligrated, Hagerty Insurance, Haworth, Superior Project Services and Oracle.

Executive judges were Jeanne Englehart, ETC Business Consulting; Steven Ender, president of GRCC; Gary Granger, owner and president of Granger Group; Jim Manley, associate director of student engagement and outreach at the Eli Broad College of Business at MSU; and Carole Valade, editor and associate publisher at Gemini Publications.

“A lot of project management is assumptions of a project, exclusions, having all the right information, the scope of the project, the cost of the project, the budget, and how much time it is going to take,” said Gleason.

Cornerstone’s team included Rachel Hammond, assistant professor of business and project management at CU, who served as champion; Tom Powers and Kris Zoerman from Amway Corp., who served as PMP mentors; and five students: Madison Drew, James Hardman, Nathan Mahoney, Julia Martin and Brad Orr.

Michigan Tech’s second team was awarded $3,000 for finishing second; WMU’s first team received $2,000 for third place, and ITT Technical Institute’s first team earned $1,000 for fourth place.

The 2015 competition also included three awards for the teams that did not advance to the final round of competition. Hillsdale’s Team Liberty won Best Presentation and its Team Truth was awarded Most Improved team; FSU’s first team won Best Project Book, according to Kissinger. Each of the non-final four team members was awarded $100 cash.

Gleason said the business plans included increasing the lottery’s contributions, giving college-level credit for high school work and corporate reimbursement.

“They had some great ideas. There were ideas like employer-sponsored merit where companies would involve themselves in working with high schools and colleges to develop incentives to get students to take credits helping students to be in a better situation to enter college after high school,” said Gleason. “The winning team had a functioning website and functioning app involving a calculator so students could calculate their loan debt.”

The Project 2015 also included a reverse career fair in which human resource personnel, hiring managers and recruiters from more than West Michigan 20 companies had an opportunity to interview participating students for internships and potential full-time positions.

Based on the growing number of teams participating, increased sponsor involvement and judges, Gleason said it is a testament to the growing industry of project management.

“Some of those educational institutions are starting to develop curriculum around project management. It is a growing industry,” said Gleason. “The job outlook for project management is really strong in the future, and I think this competition really lends itself to filling those jobs, filling that need, and supplying a lot of horsepower to the Michigan economy.”

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