Each year in Professor Clark Hansen’s Writing 340 class, Hansen poses a question to his students.
Last semester, Hansen gave his 40-odd students the option of working on a semester-long case study he usually assigns or the chance to complete a more difficult case study that held the promise of winning a $1 million prize. The class is part of the writing requirement for the Marshall School of Business, and hundreds of students take the course any given semester.
In the Fall 2015 semester, three students took Hansen up on his offer, putting their hats in the ring to compete in the Hult Prize Foundation’s case competition that is taking place in five world cities. Next month, those three students will be flying to Shanghai, China to pitch their sustainable city idea. They are one of 50 teams selected to attend the regional finals for the Hult case competition.
The three-student team is made up of Ricardo Galvez, a senior majoring in international relations and global business, Matyou Kohanbash, a senior majoring in policy, planning and development and Phuong Nguyen, a senior majoring in policy, planning and development.
“Because it was a required class, I went along with what I had to do,” Nguyen said. “But when given the opportunity to do more, it was like a real chance to make a difference in people’s lives.”
The question posed to the team was: “How can you build a business that will double the income of 10 million people and address urban crowding?”
Since 2009, the Hult Prize Foundation has been posing global crisis questions to university students. Last year, another USC group was selected to attend the regional finals, according to a Jan. 22, 2015 Daily Trojan article. This year, the winning team will be presented their prize by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Case competitions are usually associated with business students. Yet, what makes this year’s team from USC unique is that none of the team members are in Marshall. In addition, all of the team members are first-generation college students from immigrant families. Galvez’ family is from Mexico, and he is the first generation from his family born in the U.S. Kohanbash arrived to America with his family from Iran. Nguyen emigrated from Vietnam when she was four.
The three team members said their origins have allowed them to approach the question through a diverse lens. The team said they wanted to go to Shanghai to pitch their idea because it was culturally different from the areas the three of them were from.
“Our diverse backgrounds really allowed us to have a broad outlook on poverty and suffering in the world,” Nguyen said. “I think that’s why the three of us gravitated toward this project because we want to make a difference on the world in a broad way.”
Their idea is still under wraps and will not be revealed until they pitch it in front of the panel of judges in Shanghai. Yet, the team said this process has revealed many of their personal strengths previously unknown to them. Before getting the news that he and his team had made it to the next round, Galvez said he felt overwhelmed by the talent present in the USC student body and wondered how he would differentiate himself.
“This is my opportunity for me to reassure myself to not ever underestimate myself because you never know what could happen as long as you go the extra mile,” Galvez said.
Kohanbash echoed Galvez’ sentiments.
“You feel like you’re representing your friends and all your past,” Kohanbash said. “You get a chance to prove yourself, your work ethic and your idea as something more than just an idea.”
The team leaves for the case competition on March 8. The two-day competition begins on March 11.