Pictured are members of the Sigma Consulting team that won this year's Carol A. Ammon Case Competition (front row, from left) Shitong Cao, Tyler Szarko, Christopher Giacomucci and Chenfeng Lai with (back row, from left) judges Christina Pirello and Jean Warren, paper author Andrea Everard and Lerner College Dean Bruce Weber.

Case for a cause

Winners of annual Carol A. Ammon Case Competition announced

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10:26 a.m., March 27, 2014--After weeks of case research, a visit to the Food Bank of Delaware, a demanding morning of preliminary round presentations and afternoon presentations involving final analysis by field experts, Shitong Cao, Christopher Giacomucci, Chenfeng Lai and Tyler Szarko of the team Sigma Consulting emerged as this year’s winners of the Carol A. Ammon Case Competition in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.

They were one of a record number of participating teams and students in the annual event, which this year featured a case designed to challenge students to develop viable plans to address the issues around connecting low-income households with fresh and healthy food options direct from farmers.

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The case was based in part on segments of “Enabling Access to Healthy Alternatives for Low-Income Families: The Role of Mobile Technology,” a paper by Andrea Everard, associate professor in the Department of Accounting and MIS, and coordinated by Everard and Amy Estey Becker, MBA program manager.

Placing second was the team Kaminski Konsulting, with members Gil Kaminski, Steve Huff, Mike Gross and Stacey Hunter Withers, and in third place was Snapshot, with members Nicole Bustamante, Andrew Tilton, James Williams and Nan Jiang. The three top teams received plaques and cash awards at a reception Friday, March 21, which concluded the event. 

All teams presented in the morning to a panel of judges of MBA alumni and friends, who selected three teams to present to final round judges State Sen. Bethany A. Hall-Long; Deaconess Jean Warren, executive director of Lutheran Community Services Inc.; and Christina Pirello, chef and founder of the Christina Pirello Health Education Initiative in Philadelphia.

Team Sigma Consulting gave a strong presentation, which opened with an ask for $85,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and focused on raising awareness of the governmental Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that provides low-income families with funds on an electronic debit transfer (EBT) card.

“EBT cardholders are currently at less than 5 percent,” said Cao, who also pointed out that in 2013, 17 percent of the Delaware population relied on food stamps and of the 26 total farmers markets in the state, only a select handful were involved in the EBT program. “We want to establish an orientation program for SNAP recipients and for farmers markets to raise awareness of the program, and to promote the acceptance of EBT cards at those markets.”

The team said they would also expand upon the extant “Delaware Fresh” mobile application to specify markets where EBT cards are accepted, and suggested social media as an alternate outreach method. The team said they would measure success by tracking the number of markets accepting cards and the increase in the number of SNAP participants.

“At the end of the day, we see a number of benefits,” said Giacomucci. “Social benefits include higher productivity, improved quality of life, increased life expectancy, and lower medical care and institutional care costs, while estimated annual economic benefits of healthy eating are at about $114.5 billion.”

The judges kept the team on their toes during the question-and-answer session. Hall-Long, who is also a professor in UD’s School of Nursing, inquired about the students’ choice to go first to the USDA, while Warren, who has 10 years of experience addressing basic needs of people in the city of Wilmington and across the state, suggested SNAP recipients might not have the means or the interest in accessing social media.

“We felt it would be reasonable to ask the USDA because as a government agency, they take an interest in social issues, have a connection to the Department of Agriculture, which would probably play a role, and they can offer funding,” said Lai.

Added Szarko, “We looked at social media as an easier, cheaper way to get the word out, but we would still use a majority of the funding for direct mailings in terms of promoting the program.”

Pirello, who is also the Emmy Award-winning host of the television series Christina Cooks, was interested in the team’s idea for a mobile food truck. “Can you talk more about the mobile trucks, how they would work and how you think volunteers would be involved?” she asked.

“It’s estimated that volunteers give about 20,000 hours to farmers markets and we see the mobile trucks as an extension of preexisting markets,” said Cao. “Volunteers would be an essential piece of promoting the program.”

Bruce Weber, dean of the Lerner College, commended the students for their analysis of management issues and recommendations for delivering fresh produce to low-income families and noted the final round judges brought an innovative educational experience to the case this year.

“At the end of the presentations, Sen. Hall-Long announced that she would be making arrangements for Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee to meet with the competitors to hear their ideas about bringing fresh food and produce to low income communities,” said Weber. “I thank her and the other judges for their involvement in the competition. It was also clear the participants appreciated the exposure and feedback on their management ideas from leading authorities in the field.”

Food drive

The event was also a success in the food donations collected for the Food Bank of Delaware. Individuals brought forth 649 pounds during the drive that ran from March 17-24.

Article by Kathryn Meier

Photos by Duane Perry

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