Personal Perspective Helps COB Team Place 4th in National Diversity Contest

Foursome Proves Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

From left to right: Shamsudeen A. Adediji, Michelle Dolezal, Marilyn Allen and Dhaval Bhakta

by EMMA GABBERT, CSU Public Relations Assistant

When posed with a challenge to serve the underserved, four Minnesota State University, Mankato College of Business students tapped into their personal experience to create a program that could change the lives of Native American youth.

The “Dream Team” created a proposal to help Native American tribes create hemp homes, use drones to monitor the buffalo herd and decrease the pollution and debris in the Big Sioux River, located in South Dakota, which has been classified as “the 13th dirtiest in the nation.”

In the process, the underdog “Dream Team” proved themselves as they captured fourth place out of 42 schools entering the nationwide contest.

College of Business students Shamsudeen A. Adediji, Marilyn Allen, Dhaval Bhakta and Michelle Dolezal represented Minnesota State University, Mankato at the 2020 National Diversity Case Competition hosted by the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

Bringing Minnesota State University, Mankato to the finals once again, the diverse team surpassed big-name schools such as UC-Berkley and the University of Notre Dame.

The annual contest hosted over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend brings together underrepresented minority business students from across the nation. Along with networking with corporate sponsors, teams of undergraduate students work to creatively solve a real-world diversity-related problem.

The 2020 National Diversity Case Competition challenge sought to develop a community or neighborhood strategy for engaging underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.

The STEM challenge was issued by one of the event’s corporate sponsors, 3M Corporation, based in Minnesota.

Shortly before winter break, each team member was recruited by the Dean of the College of Business, Brenda Flannery, to represent the University. Dolezal said Flannery tapped into her professional passion.

‘Dean Flannery asked me ‘What’s the most important thing you value in the business field?’ And I said, ‘Diversity’.’

Michelle Dolezal, Sophomore Marketing Student

After considering projects among low-income Twin Cities schools, Allen suggested that the team should focus on the Native American population.

Born and raised on the Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation in southeastern South Dakota, Allen went through hardships and obstacles that 98% of the U.S. population will never experience.

Allen’s youthful experiences provided a unique edge in the competition.

‘I’m an American Indigenous Studies major, and most of the other people I talked to were in the business field. But, I think my passion for Native American representation got us into the finals.’

Marilyn Allen, Member of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe

Each member of the Minnesota State Mankato team grew up in a culturally-diverse environment. With personal experience as their guide, the four students came together as one team, driven by a powerful desire for diversity integration.

‘We learned that all of our cultures had more similarities than differences.’

Shamsudeen A. Adediji, Senior Honors Student in the College of Business

With only two advisors from the College of Business – other schools had as many as five – the “Dream Team” put in overtime to complete the project.

Although the team didn’t have official jobs for the project, Allen said everyone had individual specialized skills that led them to the finals.

‘Shamsudeen was our leader, Dhaval brought positive energy, Michelle made creative content, and I had first-hand experience of the problems we needed to solve.’

Marilyn Allen, Member of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe

Results of their National Diversity Case Competition will be presented in Ostrander Auditorium later this semester.

When asked about their goals for next year, the team had a collective goal.

‘We’re honored to have made it to the finals this year, but in 2021, we want to make it to the top.’

Dhaval Bhakta, Junior Honors Sales and Marketing Student


Video by Michelle Dolezal

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