Business students place at top in HR competition

6/5/2009 - By: John Trent

Not only did two teams from the University of Nevada, Reno’s College of Business perform admirably in the Society for Human Resource Management Pacific West Student Competition, they left an impression that not many of the competition’s participants will soon forget.

During the April competition in Boise, Idaho, the University’s two teams showed good mastery of the “Jeopardy!”-like format, placing third and sixth place overall. Perhaps just as notably, the two teams were voted the most collegial and ethical team and were awarded the “Collegiality” award for 2009.

Yvonne Stedham, a professor of Management in the College of Business, said the two teams prepared diligently for the event, with practices for the competition beginning in January and including 2 ½-hour classes almost every Saturday morning. The HR Games preparation is part of a course taught by Stedham and College of Business instructor Linda Barrenchea, Management 491/691.

Considering that Nevada’s teams were competing against nine teams from universities where there is a Human Resources degree concentration — the College of Business offers only limited classes in this area — the overall placing of both teams was noteworthy and worth celebrating, Stedham said.

“There has been only one other time when we had been in the top three, in 2005,” Stedham said. “This year’s teams were fantastic.”

Particularly in the area of leaving a lasting impression.

At one point, one of the weekend’s featured speakers — who, ironically, was speaking about having passion for what you do — singled out the Nevada student contingent during his remarks.

“He said, ‘You guys have so much fun with what you do,’” Stedham said.

To perhaps reinforce the point, Nevada’s students gleefully joined in when asked to be part of a conga line,
with 1959 Isley Brothers’ tune “Shout!” playing in the background.

“We were leading the conga line, in front of 120 other people, and everyone else had stopped and was looking at us,” Stedham recalled with a smile. “For me, it was a perfect moment, and really illustrated what our two teams were all about.”

Stedham said the moment brought tears to her eyes: “It really showed that you don’t have to be arrogant or severely competitive in order to do well. The ladies on both teams are just such great students, and such nice people. It was such a pleasure working with all of them.”

The University’s student teams consisted of Shelly Lacey, Marion Dillon and Emily Nunez on one team (“UNR Silver”) and Amber Wadginski, Lindsey Jaworski and Alex Adair on the other (“UNR Blue”). The “Silver” team took third; “Blue” was sixth.

According to Lacey, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in Management (she is also employed by Business Center North Human Resources as a Program Officer at the University), the competition was one of the highlights of her time as a student.

“I think this had to be the highlight of my education,” she said. “It’s difficult to believe that I could learn so much in such a short period and have the time of my life doing so. It’s an experience I highly recommend to any students interested in the HR field.”

Lacey said the intense preparation was offset by the fact that Stedham and her teaching colleague, Barrenchea, were skillful teachers who cared a great deal about the team members.

“In the beginning, it was tough to give up a Saturday with my family, but the fun we had made up for that,” Lacey said. “What started out as six individuals who didn’t know each other well turned out to be a group of friends by the end. I couldn’t have asked for better teammates.

“Dr. Stedham’s dedication to her students is apparent by the time she spent with us for this class. She cares so much about the success of her students that it makes you work harder in her class. The same is true for Linda Barrenchea. Linda and Yvonne worked together in order to prepare us for the competition. We sincerely appreciated the time they spent with us.”

The students, Lacey said, even surprised themselves with their strong showings.

“I was shocked, to say the least,” she said. “Even with all the time we spent studying in class and at home, I don’t believe any us we were really prepared for the competition. After all, some of the schools we were competing against have full-blown HR curriculums while our program only requires three classes in HR.

Students from other universities may spend an entire semester on a subject that we only touch in our HR classes.

“I would rate our performance as excellent, which is a reflection of Dr. Stedham and Linda Barrenchea … I think (the competition) made us realize we shouldn’t underestimate our abilities and trust our first instincts.”

Stedham, who has been on the University faculty for 21 years and has taken teams to the competition for the past seven years, said the benefits of such trial-by-fire gatherings cannot be underestimated. From categories such as “Training and Development” to “Management Principles” to “Labor Relations” to “Collective Bargaining” to “Employee Relations,” all six Nevada students conveyed a diverse and expert knowledge base during the competition.

“You can really see their confidence build during the process,” Stedham said. “The competition helps them in their professional development and prepares them for the professional certification and provides them an opportunity to network with their peers.”

Keeping true to form of the “fun” nature of this year’s group, it should be noted that beyond “Blue” and “Silver” the two teams actually had two other nicknames. Since all six students were female, Stedham said the two teams were known throughout the semester as the “Mom’s Team” (members with children) and the “Non-Mom’s Team” (members without children).

“One group was women who were about age 30 to 42, and they all had children, and the other team was all younger women,” Stedham said. She added, with a maternal smile, “Both teams did well … and all of us had a blast.”

Financial support for the team was made available by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) Nevada State Council. SHRM includes a global membership of more than 250,000 with members in 120 countries.


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