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How transparent should employers be about the data they gather while monitoring employee activity?

This was the ethical dilemma facing undergraduate students who participated in the Ethics Alive Through Creative Communication Competition, hosted by the VCU School of Business.

Over a period of two weeks, seven teams of two to three students developed, rehearsed, and delivered an ethical business case study presentation with the help of professional coaches. Altria sponsored the event that included $12,500 in prize money.

A seven-person panel of human resources and compliance experts, many VCU alumni, as well as several faculty members judged the two rounds of competition.

Judge Kathryn Dailey (B.S.‘16/B), found her passion for compliance as a VCU student interning in the WestRock legal department. After graduation, she joined CapTech Consulting where she now serves as a senior compliance specialist.

“Ethics and compliance are big pieces of business that can sometimes be overlooked from a field of study. Competitions like this bring more awareness to careers like mine, and teach students the best way to work through real-world ethical problems,” Dailey said. “The practice and constructive feedback students receive during this competition is something they will benefit from for the rest of their lives.”

“It’s essential to dedicate time to investing in yourself”

The winning team of Samantha Alto and Mackenzie Lenahan, already knows this to be true.

In 2019, as freshmen, both young women competed as part of a four-person team that placed third. Never could they have imagined the COVID-19 pandemic that ultimately required them to compete virtually on another three-person team to win the 2021 event. Now seniors, the confident duo happily accepted their second set of first-place ribbons and another $5,000 reward from School of Business Interim Dean Doug Pugh.

“Coming back repeatedly helped us improve tremendously,” said Alto, who expects to graduate in May with a double major in political science and international business management with and a minor in economics.

Alto credited her team’s win to Studio BE – VCU’s Business Essentials help unit that offers writing and presentation consultations.

“I’ve definitely learned how important it is for this competition to focus and put a lot of time into your presentation,” agreed Lenahan, an economics major who is pursuing a minor in nonprofit management. “The more time you put in, the more it pays off. 

Inspiring student “takes advantage of every opportunity”

This year, the second-place team of Jaden Lipscomb and Sofia Moghadaszadeh-Ahrabi walked away nearly as much reward money as the first-place team, having earned $3,500 for second place and an additional $1,000 for the “Competitor’s Choice” award. 

Lipscomb’s mother, Kwashona Fleming, one of the few spectators permitted to attend, devoted her entire day to watching her daughter compete. “As a parent, you try to show them the right path and, from a young age, she’s always taken it,” Fleming declared. “When she got to VCU, she said, ‘This is where I need to be’ and she’s taken advantage of every opportunity, like this one. My goal has always been to help her be better than I was, and I’m so proud that she’s achieving that.”

“Everyone was either a winner or a learner”

Each competitor had good reason to be proud. But perhaps no one exemplified the true spirit or intent of the event more than Kenza Hassani, a VCU sophomore currently studying Information Systems.

Hassani listened intently as Aaron Anderson, associate chair of the VCU Department of Theatre, prepared teams for their final round of competition. She nodded enthusiastically when he urged them, in the absence of a live audience, to support their fellow competitors.

Throughout the competition, Hassani sat front and center, taking in every word, and almost willing her competitors – especially the few struggling to overcome nerves – to do their very best. Following the awards ceremony, Hassani’s team was disappointed at their failure to place. Yet Hassani quickly reframed the situation.

“I learned so much this year – about ethics, about teamwork, about what I can do to improve,” she said. “I met so many different personalities, faculty members and coaches. I can tell you right now that I’m going to come back every year. There’s no winning or losing today. Everyone here was either a winner or a learner.”

2022 Winners

1st Place ($5,000) – Samantha Alto, Mackenzie Lenahan

2nd Place ($3,500) – Jaden Lipscomb, Sofia Moghadaszadeh-Ahrabi

3rd Place ($2,000) – Caleb Bishop, Mehak Chopra

Best Outline ($1,000) – Ian LeGallo-Malone, Yinghua Lei

Competitors Choice ($1,000) – Jaden Lipscomb, Sofia Moghadaszadeh-Ahrabi


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