Inaugural Alumni Case Competition Draws Those Who Believe ‘Every Child Deserves a Shot’

Group photo of the Connect-Us Academy Graduation.
Group photo of the Connect-Us Academy Graduation. This non-profit engages in advocacy for teens and young adults in Bridgeport. (Contributed Photo)

With a full-time job, two young children, and a host of other responsibilities, alumna Namrata Mazumder ’15 MBA really didn’t need one more project on her plate.

But when she heard about an opportunity to brainstorm strategic ideas to support Connect-Us, a Bridgeport non-profit that expands opportunities for youth living in poverty, Mazumder was hooked.

“I thought this would be a great new experience and I wanted to give back to the community and make a difference,” said Mazumder, who has mentored teens through another organization.

“I believe in the mission of Connect-Us, bridging the gap between urban and suburban neighbors. I believe every child deserves a shot,” she said. “So this organization matched my beliefs and the ideas I support. I didn’t think of it as a competition so much as a chance to make a difference.”

The Inaugural Global Alumni Case Competition, sponsored by the School of Business’ Office of External and Alumni Engagement, was so successful that organizer Jillian Comolli said she hopes it will become an annual event, supporting a variety of non-profits.

‘You have a great story. How can you tell it better?’

Pam Lewis, founder and executive director of Connect-Us, said she was able to pull ideas from all nine presentations. Almost 40 alumni participated, representing a 50-year commencement span, from 1971 to 2021.

Connect-Us unites urban and suburban neighbors to offer after-school opportunities and career and personal development for Bridgeport teens. The pandemic made it harder for Connect-Us to engage with new corporate partners, and Lewis is looking for new ideas to build bridges with the business community in Fairfield County.

“It was fascinating to hear all of the pitches, and it has given us much to think about. One thing that struck me was the alumni said, ‘You have a great story. How can you tell it better?,'” Lewis said. For example, the organization’s performance-based approach to mentoring young adults is unique, and perhaps there is a better way to demonstrate the skills and training it offers to youth and to promote that on the website and through printed materials.

“The alumni teams were enthusiastic and excited. I was moved by the time and effort they put into creating such thoughtful pitches,” Lewis said. “We are looking forward to building on what we learned through this process, and we are grateful to have had this opportunity.”

For Lewis, the competition has created both personal and professional joy.

“It’s nice to have others tell you what great work you’ve done, and it makes you feel good,” she said. “It’s clear that the UConn community is filled with passionate and caring people, and I’m very appreciative of these ideas.”

Competition Tentatively Planned for a Second Year

Mazumder and her team, dubbed The Pioneers, took first place. Teammates were alumnus Kevin Fitzgerald ’18, ’21 MPA who works in economic development for the Town of Groton; and business alumnus Max Rasmussen ’17, a finance manager for a medical device company. Mazumder works in IT infrastructure project management for a large insurance company.

All had different perspectives, but a shared commitment to collaboration, Mazumder said. Their plan was to engage the students in developing connections with corporate leaders.

The three teammates—all strangers to each other before being paired by the university–received a gift card to UConn’s campus book store and an invitation to the School’s Hall of Fame ceremony in April.

Comolli said she was impressed by the quality of all the teams, including their professional presentations, the degree of care they put into the project, and their compassion for the non-profit, that extended beyond the competition. The case competition drew a broad group of alumni, including the CEO of a charity organization, the president of a lab, an attorney who earned an MBA and JD degrees, a retiree from the Midwest, newer alumni and people with backgrounds in accounting, finance, engineering and academia.

The project was supported by professor emerita Susan Spiggle and alumna Lizzie Perry ’20. Judges included alumnus Patrick Harris ’70; Joyce Eldh; Lewis, Deirdre Simmons ’17 MSHRM; UConn management professor Kevin Thompson and public policy adjunct faculty member Anne McIntyre-Lahner.

“I was so grateful for how committed everyone was, the alumni, judges, and mentors. All took time out of their busy lives to put together something that was really impressive,” Comolli said. “We hope to do this again next year because it presents a tremendous opportunity for non-profits to grow and for our alumni to be impactful for the state of Connecticut.”

Mazumder said she is glad she participated. “I was passionate about it; I actually dreamed about it,” she said. “Whether you win or not, what matters is being able to help.”