For community college students, case competition puts real-world spin on textbook learning

Being able to apply the business principles learned in school to the real world is a critical skill for any growing business professional.

The students presenting Friday at the fourth annual New Jersey Community College Case Competition presented by M&T Bank at Rutgers Business School in Newark were no exception.

ROI-NJ caught up with Team 1, six students from Middlesex County College, following their presentation on a small chocolate company.

Alex Wolmart/ROI-NJ
The Middlesex County College team, from left: Tirrell Johnson, Ivan Vallejo, Dhwani Shukla, Laiba Khan, Diego Villeda and Jorge Cruz.

“I want to get actual hands-on experience and see how it is. I want to be put in situations like this, where you get a taste of reality,” said Tirrell Johnson, one of the student presenters from Middlesex County College, when asked what he wanted out of a business education. “School is one thing, but seeing what it’s actually like sitting down at the table is another.”

Textbooks are good and have great examples, said Diego Villeda, another student presenter, but the classroom is not the same as being in the real world. Life comes at you in different ways, he said.

“When we graduate, we need to have the capability of preforming in real-world situations,” said Ivan Vallejo, another student presenter. “When we apply for a job to work for a corporate company, we need to be able to go (into the interview) with confidence knowing we can get the job done.”

And that confidence was something they all felt more of walking out of the presentation room, as the first team of the day, with their heads held high.

“This competition definitely helped me build confidence,” said Vallejo. “It gave me the assurance that, really, anyone can do this. I was very nervous going in there, but it made me feel confident (in my ability) to go anywhere and present in front of anyone.”

Johnson said it’s opportunities and experiences like this that truly build professional development and growth. Thinking on your feet, for Johnson, is one of those key building blocks.

Rutgers University
Tom Comiskey of M&T Bank and other judges at the competition.

“Building character is key when you’re trying to sell to people and be a businessman,” he said. “I didn’t realize how productive thinking on your feet was until I came here. And it’s effective, in any type of environment.”


And, before today, many of the students participating in the competition had never presented in front of business executives.

“I’ve never spoke in front of a banker or a businessman, and I never thought it would happen in only my second year of college,” Jorge Cruz, another student presenter from Middlesex, told ROI-NJ. “But they’re people, just like us, and this is the kind of thing we’re going to be facing from now on.”

When they think about the next step, the growth of their professional skills is what these students look forward to most about going to business school.

“I really want to capitalize on my leadership skills, because I feel like meeting new people, talking to them and being able to sell yourself really is the way the world is now, no matter how good you are with numbers,” Johnson said.

Rutgers University
The team from County College of Morris makes its presentation.

Teams from six county colleges across the state participated in the competition. Other tudents that participated hailed from Bergen Community College, County College of Morris, Hudson County Community College, Mercer County Community College and Sussex County Community College.

Teams were required to analyze a business problem and present ways of solving it using their accumulated knowledge. A Rutgers assistant professor of professional practice in management and global business, Joseph Markert, writes the cases.

At the end of the day, Mercer County Community College was named the winner of the competition, with Sussex County Community College placing second and County College of Morris finishing third. The top three teams received cash prizes and $1,000 toward tuition to Rutgers Business School if the students are accepted and choose to attend.

The competition is meant to showcase students’ skills and business knowledge while receiving real-world critiques from M&T Bank executives.