Carnegie Mellon University

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February 08, 2021

Competing for Racial Justice: Tepper MBA Students Participate in Inaugural John R. Lewis Case Competition

In response to the national reckoning in 2020 over racial inequities and deaths of George Floyd and others, students at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School led the creation of a case competition honoring the late John R. Lewis (1940-2020), the civil rights icon and U.S. Representative from Georgia’s 5th district.

The John Lewis Case Competition is a virtual student-run case competition that connects corporations and students interested in business in an effort to create innovative and actionable racial justice initiatives for those corporations.

Taking place on Jan. 21, the semi-final round of the inaugural John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition came down to just 24 teams out of 100 submissions from 52 prestigious universities. Though the Tepper School students did not come away with a share of the $20,000 purse, they did nurture invaluable perspectives that will last a lifetime.

The Tepper School team was comprised of Part-Time MBA students Ricardo Alvarez, Dev Chandra, Sofia Eliseeva, Shelby Livengood, and Ruben Tavakalov – the only team of part-time students to make it to the semi-finals.

The Inspiration and Judging

Inspiration for the competition came from MBA students at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, who wanted to positively influence social justice following the nation’s outcry in 2020. The final judging was held the week of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday and first place went to USC Marshall School of Business. The team chose Step Up for Students and Black Girls Code to receive half of their winnings.

The Task

The Tepper School team worked together to develop and facilitate focus groups to answer this case competition prompt:

  • How can a company best use its various resources to address issues of racial justice in one or more of three areas: wealth/income disparities, health outcome disparities, and educational/skills attainment gaps?

They conducted research, analyzed survey data, created working models, and developed overall themes before they pitched a solution to their client, Southern Company, a large energy company based in Atlanta.

“It challenged my own biases and forced me to think deeply about the headwinds others face.”

Shelby Livengood
Part-time MBA student

New Perspectives

While an undergrad at Johns Hopkins University, team member Chandra had the opportunity to work directly with inner-city students affected by racial inequality at the Baltimore Robotics Institute – a non-profit he started. The case competition allowed him to build on his understanding of this complex issue.

Eliseeva gained a better understanding of, “just how prevalent discrimination is in our society, and how it shapes entire generations, not just one or two experiences.”

“It challenged my own biases and forced me to think deeply about the headwinds others face,” said Livengood, who committed to making racial justice part of her personal and professional goals.

Tavakalov noted, “I had an immensely rewarding experience of leading a group of talented students into this competition.” He said the finale gave stage to, “a group of some of the best and most competitive students passionate about diversity and interested in consulting corporations on core diversity, equity, inclusion, and racial equality strategies.”

Alvarez summed up the team’s sentiments. “I mainly hope people continue advocating and learning about racial justice and what it takes to improve on eliminating discrimination and bias in the workplace.”