Michelle Che and Tiffany Ushijima had never met before entering the California Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Case Competition. But the two students in USC’s online Master of Science in Human Resource Management program quickly meshed their talents to win first place.
“We had a week to read over the case and prepare,” says Ushijima, who, in addition to her studies, is an associate university recruiter for the clean energy company Kairos Power.
The competition was held during the statewide SHRM Student Summit at California State University Long Beach. During the daylong event, teams of up to six students competed in oral and written presentations to demonstrate how they would address a specific human resource challenge.
This year’s contest revolved around an especially timely issue. “Our case was about a bank whose strategic advantage was in-person relationships,” says Che, who works in human resources for the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “But COVID-19 had forced them to shift a lot of their operations online, making it hard to maintain that competitive edge.” She and Ushijima were charged with developing recommendations for how their hypothetical client could best move forward as lockdowns and restrictions were lifted.
While USC’s MS in Human Resource Management is provided remotely, Ushijima says it ideally prepared the teammates for their first-place prize. “With our backgrounds and what we’ve been learning, it was easy to jump in and see the connections to build solutions,” she notes. Ushijima brought her organizational design expertise to the enterprise, while Che built the communications plan.
“The program has a focus on developing critical thinking skills, so we were able to use the culmination of knowledge from different classes to apply to the case,” Che says. She adds that the degree’s scope meant their case “mirrored a lot of assignments we had already studied.”
Ushijima says that, like USC’s MSHRM program, the competition enhances skills in working with others, as well as in communication and public speaking. “It also builds understanding of how your visuals and narrative come across, because the story that you build is really important.”
After their presentation, Che and Ushijima answered questions and received detailed feedback from the judges.
Even though the student teams were competing against each other, Che notes that the atmosphere felt collegial and not combative. “It was more like a learning conference,” she says. “There were keynote speakers and networking opportunities.”
“When most people think about case competitions, it’s undergraduate or MBA programs that come to mind,” Ushijima says. “But there’s great value in doing them as a master’s in HR student — even when you’re already working in your career.”
The online MS in Human Resource Management is offered through USC Bovard College, which supports current and aspiring professionals during key academic and career changes. Designed to fit students’ schedules and needs, courses are provided in both part-time and full-time formats. At 24 units, the program can be completed in just 12 months for full-time students. No GRE is required.
Che and Ushijima are both set to graduate from the program in May 2023.
Visit www.bovardcollege.usc.edu/HR to learn more about the program.