The winners of this year’s OtterBox Ethics Challenge brought one thing to the competition none of the other teams could match: their experience as a second-place team in last year’s competition.
As the team’s name suggests, the four College of Business students in Ethical Rams 2.0 regrouped after their runner-up finish in the inaugural contest and hoped to leverage their experience to go all the way. It was a winning strategy. For their efforts, each member of the team – Callie Blase, Lauren Gross, Sarah Greichen and Sarah Siayap – won a year of in-state undergraduate tuition provided by Otter Products. All members of the second- and third-place teams received $1,000 and $500 awards from the Fort Collins-based company.
The team’s position as finalists in two competitions represents a significant amount of extracurricular time spent untangling ethical problems. Meeting on an almost daily basis over the course of the contest, the students were immersed in ethical decision-making for a month, including working with a professional mentor from OtterBox as they developed their presentation for the final round. Unlike its first attempt in the competition, the group knew exactly the level of effort necessary to be competitive.
“This year, we knew how much time it was going to take. That kind of caught us by surprise last year,” marketing major Blase explained. “We met almost every day to just like have a meeting or at least be working on some aspect of the case.”
From Competition to Nonprofit
That investment of time led to more than tuition assistance: The team members have started to weave ethical decision-making skills into their day-to-day lives. Greichen, a junior real estate and finance major, has even integrated the Challenge’s lessons into the operations of Score a Friend, the nonprofit she founded seven years ago.
“Something that’s often not talked about in the nonprofit sector is ethics and guidelines and codes of conduct that you can implement in your operational practices,” she said. “For me, learning about this was really interesting because I brought it back to our organization. We’ve implemented the code of ethics more as well as being transparent with all of the people that we serve.”
Transforming students’ thinking is the goal for the competition. The brainchild of Management professor Dr. Lumina Albert and Otter Products CEO Jim Parke, the OtterBox Ethics Challenge celebrates the College and the company’s shared value for corporate ethics. The competition is meant to challenge students as much as supplement their coursework. Kicking off Oct. 18, the challenge’s first round presented a case that focused on employee relations inside and outside the workplace. Forty teams of four students competed in the first round, presenting a written case analysis to industry professionals.
Ten finalist teams advanced to the next round. They were paired with mentors from Otter Products and presented with a second challenge focusing on mismanagement of a municipal housing authority’s contracting and relationships with vendors. As finalists prepared to present their case to the judges, a crisis case was introduced, forcing students to pivot and adjust their strategy to unfolding events. The highly pressurized timeline and complex dilemmas of each challenge were created to mirror the oftentimes messy circumstances that surround real-world ethical choices.
“The concept of ethics is fundamental to the way Otter does business, and it is very exciting to be able to pass that passion on to the students at CSU,” Jim Parke, Otter Products CEO said. “Our goal is to impact the lives of students and to give them the skills they need to be advocates for ethics and integrity throughout their careers and lives.”
Albert agreed. “Developing ethical decision-making skills and prioritizing the right values are probably the most important things students will learn in their college education experience,” she said. “The OtterBox Ethics Challenge gives students the tremendous opportunity and training to reflect on and respond to dilemmas and crises in an ethical way. This is hugely beneficial to our students.
“Also, the mentorship and guidance our students receive from their Otter mentors throughout the challenge is an incredible and transformational experience,” she continued. “We are grateful to Jim Parke, the Richardsons and OtterBox for their generosity and investment in our students.”
Calibrating an Ethical Compass
After making it to the winner’s podium two consecutive years, Ethical Rams 2.0 gleaned an immense amount of experience in ethical decision-making. The competitions did more than merely support the concepts taught in their Legal and Ethical Issues in Business course: They helped the women reflect on and discover the nuances of their own ethical compass.
“[The OtterBox Ethics Competitions] just made it that much more real and made it that much more important for me to understand or at least be on the lookout for ethical challenges, and to nail down kind of your personal ethical values,” Blase said. “These are the things can happen and probably will happen at some point. So what are you going to do about it? And what kind of ethical standards are you going to put in place for yourself?”
The Ethical Rams 2.0 have certainly answered those questions thanks to the OtterBox Ethics Challenge.