2016 Case Competition Winners

Chapman's Winning Student Case Competition Team at the Opening Night Poster PresentationDeep Learning at ILA's Student Case Competition

By Jill Schreider 

Jill Schreider PhotoJill Schreider is a marketing and communications intern at the International Leadership Association. She is a junior communications major at the University of Maryland College Park and looks forward to a future working in public relations. 

Each year at the ILA global conference, students from universities around the world participate in the Student Case Competition. At this year’s November 2016 conference in Atlanta, teams from Chapman University and Gonzaga University were victorious. The graduate students from Chapman and the undergraduate team from Gonzaga dedicated a lot of time to this competition and their hard work paid off. Gonzaga’s win also represents a two-year winning streak for the school!

Organized by ILA’s Leadership Education Member Interest Group (LEMIG), the purpose of the annual Student Case Competition is to provide undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to compete and showcase their knowledge about leadership through the analysis of a contemporary socio-political-economic problem on the global or national level. Each team is responsible for developing recommendations of possible solutions for the issues in the case, in addition to creating a brief, poster, and final presentation to present to the judges. Each member of the winning undergraduate and graduate teams receives a complimentary 1-year membership in ILA and each team receives a $1,000 cash prize to divide among the members. Winning teams are recognized at the closing plenary of the conference in front of all of the attendees. In 2016, for the first time, students were able to identify their own issue rather than researching the same case as the other teams.

The Gonzaga undergraduate team chose to focus on the issues surrounding ethical policing and the racial and class divisions that impact the system in the United States. Students explored solutions based on effective leadership approaches, primarily centered on Robert Greenleaf’s idea of servant leadership, an appropriate role model this year given that he was honored (posthumously) with ILA’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the Atlanta conference. According to the abstract created by Gonzaga’s students, they believe a solution "lies rooted in effective community policing that focuses on relationship building and intentional training. This will consequentially seek to diminish barriers of power between marginalized communities and police officers." The team was comprised of students Tyler Hamke, Maggie Douglas, William Stephan, and Gladys Suarez with adviser Josh Armstrong.

Students Beatriz Valencia, Miznah Alomair, and Scott DeLong made up Chapman’s graduate team, accompanied by their adviser, Whitney McIntyre Miller. The case they chose to examine was "Challenging Recidivism: Leadership Frameworks to Facilitate Transformative Social Change." The team argued that "adaptive leadership and eco-leadership are effective and inclusive frameworks that help leaders address and challenge recidivism, provide feasible solutions, and offer leadership opportunities that facilitate positive and transformative social change." Conceptualizing and addressing recidivism as "an adaptive challenge, a socially unjust phenomenon that affects us all," allowed the students to "speak to the unspeakable and highlight the contradictions between the espoused and shared values of equity and the reality of the prison system." Having 2016 keynote speaker Ronald Heifetz, the preeminent thinker on adaptive leadership, in the audience when they won was surely a highlight for this team.

Teamwork & Perseverance

Beatriz Valencia  Photo Teamwork is something that the students agree is essential for success in the competition. “It is not an individual goal, it is a collective accomplishment regardless if you win it or not,” points out Beatriz Valencia, who is working on her PhD in Leadership Studies at Chapman. Students understand the necessity of being flexible, while practicing effective listening and communication skills. But, group work is not always easy, and Valencia says she learned a valuable lesson during the competition. “Each of us had disturbances within and outside of the case competition, but when it mattered, we pulled it together and gave it all that we had.... We left the differences and trusted each other when it mattered and the result was outstanding.”

Whitney McIntyre Miller Photo According to Whitney McIntyre Miller, Chapman’s students remained committed to the competition, demonstrating excitement throughout the process. She has been an advisor for teams in the case competition for three years now and shared, “It is a great opportunity for students to get connected with ILA and begin to network and meet fellow scholars and practitioners. I am proud of the way that students dig into the cases and really put their course work and learning into their write-ups, posters, and presentations.”

Networking & Learning

Miznah Alomair Photo Students were thrilled to participate in the conference as case competitors, while also having the opportunity to hear remarkable keynote speakers and leadership scholars from around the world. Miznah Alomair, a Chapman University graduate who is currently working toward a PhD in Education with an emphasis on Leadership Studies, reflected that her most memorable moment in the conference was "attending phenomenal concurrent sessions about women in leadership and attending a great pre-conference workshop, [Experience is the Teacher – Become an Inclusive Leader by Experiencing Traditions, Story-Telling, Rituals, Community Building Practices, and Leadership Principles of Diverse and Indigenous Communities], facilitated by Juana Bordas." Alomair found the conference to be extremely relevant to her dissertation study as she "pursues a research interest in the areas of peace leadership, women and leadership, college student leadership, and global leadership."

Josh Armstrong Photo The undergraduates from Gonzaga also appreciated the opportunity to network with other conference attendees, which is exactly what Armstrong hoped his team would gain from the experience. In fact, his biggest piece of advice to future students who participate in the case competitions is: "Make connections with attendees from around the world and engage them in conversations about leadership and learning."

Willliam Stephan Photo William Stephan, who is pursuing a degree in Communication Studies and Spanish, took advantage of being surrounded by remarkable leaders. When describing his most memorable moment, he wrote, "being able to meet and speak with a variety of people from around the world." Stephan especially enjoyed the Interactive Roundtable Discussions session. Individuals or teams facilitated small group discussions at 49 tables during the session. After 20 minutes a bell rings and participants have the opportunity to move to another roundtable or remain where they are to continue the conversation. "Each table had its own, unique topic and it was truly inspiring to see all the people who work tirelessly in their local communities to improve the world around us," Stephan raved.

For this winning team of undergraduates, the conference was a chance to reward their hard work, but also an opportunity to enhance their leadership learning through days filled with discussions, speakers, and presentations. The students enjoyed getting out of the classroom engaging with leaders and leadership professionals "in the real world" and discussing their case with others who are passionate about leadership.

Are You Ready to Compete at ILA Brussels This October?

Maggie Douglas Photo If you are thinking of forming or supporting a team for this year’s competition in Brussels, Maggie Douglas from Gonzaga University sagely recommends that you, "Choose a team that pushes you out of your comfort zone in thought and in interaction. Go out and meet others, talk about what makes you passionate, and listen to their advice."

It’s not too early to start forming teams for this year’s case competition and planning your trip to Brussels. Detailed information on how to sign up for the competition or how to volunteer to be a judge will be available in the coming months. Watch ILA’s global conference website, www.ila-net.org/conferences for further information.


The success of the annual Student Case Competition depends on ILA member volunteers, donors, and participants.


Thank you to the Leadership Education Member Interest Group for organizing!


Thank you to the volunteer judges!


Thank you to all of the student teams and advisers for participating and their universities for supporting their participation!


Thank you to the following ILA members whose monetary donations support this program: 

 Fatemah Albuloshi, PhD Student in Leadership Studies, University of Exeter

Aldo Boitano, Executive Director, Executive Development

John Bryan, eProcesses Consulting

Paula Cordeiro, Dammeyer Professor of Global Leadership and Education, Department of Leadership Studies, University of San Diego

Cecile Garmon, Professor, Center for Leadership Excellence, Western Kentucky University

Sarah Orr, Owner Smith Orr & Associates & Director of Strategic Partnerships, Fundación Escuela Nueva Volvamos a la Gente

Denzil Suite: Vice President for Student Life, University of Washington






Winning Undergraduate Team After Their WinUndergradate Winners from Gonzaga During the Opening Night Poster Session












Top Photo: Conference attendee discusses the Chapman University team's poster with (L-R) Miznah Alomair, Beatriz Valencia, and Scott DeLong

Bottom Photo (L): Undergraduate team from Gonzaga University after their win. (L-R) Tyler Hamke, William Stephan, Gladys Suarez, Maggie Douglas, and adviser Josh Armstrong 

Bottom Photo (R): Conference attendees discuss the Gonzaga University team's poster with (L-R) Tyler Hamke, Gladys Suarez, Maggie Douglas, and William Stephan