Tenaska, a leading energy company ranked by Forbes magazine among the largest privately held U.S. companies, partnered with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln to host the first-ever Tenaska Business Challenge at the College of Business, February 23-24. Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska took home the top awards at the new regional competition by finding interdisciplinary solutions to real-world business problems.
“The energy industry is complex and the business environment in which we work is rapidly changing. In addition to getting our company in front of some talented prospective employees, it’s important to Tenaska to support educational initiatives and activities that reinforce the critical thinking and problem-solving skills promoted in this challenge, which are essential for students, our industry and larger society to be successful,” said Chris Leitner, ’96, chief executive officer at Tenaska.
Eight student teams from Nebraska, Kansas State University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Iowa, University of Nebraska at Kearney and University of Nebraska at Omaha competed in the new challenge. After sharing the business problem, Tenaska executives coached the students and later served as judges when the teams presented realistic and innovative recommendations that met key performance indicators.
The top three teams received cash prizes and included:
- First Place: University of Iowa ($2,000)
- Second Place: Kansas State University ($1,500)
- Third Place: University of Nebraska–Lincoln (Team Huskers) ($1,000)
Three teams also received cash prizes for team skills and collaboration, and included:
- Best Presentation Style: University of Nebraska–Lincoln (Team Red) ($500). This award recognized the team who displayed strong public speaking skills, engaged the audience with their presence and communicated their ideas through well-crafted materials.
- Impromptu Problem Solvers: University of Nebraska–Lincoln (Team White) ($500). This award went to the team who demonstrated exceptional clarity, poise and completeness when answering the judges' questions.
- Outside of the Box Thinking: University of Nebraska at Omaha ($500). This award rewarded the team who embraced innovative and original thinking when developing their proposed solutions.
"I witnessed diversity of thought in the presentations, and the ways in which students of different backgrounds approached and contributed to their teams. Some were very visual, some communicative and others deeply analytical. The teams combined those aspects to bring forward cohesive plans,” said Justin Vala, '03, senior vice president of engineering and construction, who earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering at Nebraska and served as a judge for the competition. "We're thankful students invested in this and put in the work, as it was very challenging to solve this problem and yield results. I hope everyone takes something away from it that they can apply to their education and future careers."
The hands-on experience challenged participants to create and present a business strategy for a fictional technology sales and repair company on converting a fleet of vehicles from gas to electric fuel, capitalizing on the financial and social benefits. They also needed to create a marketing plan for new and existing clients showcasing the company’s commitment to sustainability.
“Each team did a fantastic job applying their real-life and academic knowledge in the competition,” said Kasey Linde, director of teaching, learning and accreditation. “We engaged them in a situation where they had to work with others to critically solve complex problems and use compelling presentation skills to express their ideas. These skills apply to any profession and help prepare students for their future careers.”
Prior to the regional Tenaska Business Challenge, a preliminary, campus-wide competition was also held at Nebraska. The three winning teams of Huskers that moved on to the regional competition included:
- Team Red: Chase Kavanaugh, junior accounting major from Lincoln, Nebraska; Nick Lauver, junior finance major from Papillion, Nebraska; Eduardo Sicilia, junior management major from Cancún, Mexico; Braden Starck, junior finance major from Glen Carbon, Illinois.
- Team White: Jamieson Battistella, senior psychology major from Victoria, Australia; McKenna Elliott, senior biological sciences major from Valentine, Nebraska; Sam Pribyl, junior economics and supply chain management major from Papillion, Nebraska; Patrick Wirball, senior biomedical engineering major from South Elgin, Illinois.
- Team Huskers: Jessica Chen, junior economics major from Lincoln; Radhika Damle, freshman actuarial science major from Rochester, Minnesota; Devin McGuire, senior computer science major from Omaha, Nebraska; Brendan Shanks, sophomore actuarial science major from Minneapolis, Kansas.
“We greatly appreciate Tenaska and all who helped make the first Tenaska Business Challenge a success and look forward to this annual competition in the future. Students in the Midwest gain experience solving business problems with interdisciplinary solutions to business leaders while they expand their networks,” said Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean and professor of finance.
Published: March 1, 2023