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First-year students Phillip Brennan, Milind Kopikare, Raghuveera Chalasani and Jaime Griesgraber represented the Kellogg School Oct 23 and 24 at the Education Innovation Case Competition.


Solving a summer-school conundrum

A Kellogg case competition seeks to scale a successful summer education program for underserved youth

By Amy Trang

11/5/2009 - Education entrepreneur Earl Phalen found himself at a crossroads this year.

Over the summer, Phalen launched Summer Advantage USA in Indianapolis, an academic learning and enrichment program for nearly 800 underserved students. The first year was successful, with students demonstrating measurable gains in the classroom. But Phalen wasn’t sure how to transfer the success of Summer Advantage nationally without compromising the program’s quality.

To find a solution, he turned to MBA students nationwide to devise a growth plan for Summer Advantage through a case competition. On Oct. 23 and 24, the Kellogg School hosted the event — the Education Innovation Case Competition — at its downtown Chicago campus.

The organizers included the Social Enterprise at Kellogg (SEEK) program and Education Industry Club, along with Mind Trust, where Phalen is an Education Entrepreneur Fellow. The Indianapolis-based nonprofit seeks to dramatically improve public education for undeserved students.

A team of four Kellogg students competed against eight other teams, including those from Stanford, Duke and Yale, in the two-day event. Each team developed unique strategies to expand Summer Advantage’s reach, offering ideas that ranged from franchising to partnering with nonprofits to scale the program.

“Every single group gave my team a better idea to use in service for children,” Phalen said. “All the teams had phenomenal input.”

The Kellogg team introduced a plan whereby Summer Advantage would partner with high-performing urban schools and enlist regional directors to bring in schools and teachers. The team was comprised of first-year students Phillip Brennan, Raghuveera Chalasani, Jaime Griesgraber and Milind Kopikare.

The group represented a variety of professional backgrounds, from private equity to nonprofit — which helped to bring a diversity of perspectives to the case.

“I learned a lot from my fellow teammates,” said Kopikare, an engineer. “It was interesting to see where they are coming from in their contributions and ideas.”

The students agreed that the competition allowed them to see the potential and need for MBAs in the education industry.

“The key takeaway from this event is that there are a lot of opportunities for nonprofit and for-profit players in the education sector,” Chalasani said. “And b-schools are the perfect venue to put together those intelligent solutions.”

The Kellogg School team finished second; the winning team, from the Chicago Booth School of Business, received a prize of $2,000.

Phalen said he enjoyed seeing the diversity of the plans from all the teams and encouraged the participants to use their business degrees to better the education sector. The competition’s judges included education leaders and Kellogg School professors.

Piper Evans ’10, co-chair of the Education Industry Club, said the organizers sought to showcase the entrepreneurial opportunities in education reform.

“We wanted the teams who came here to be inspired,” Evans said. “I hope that it makes education interesting to people who weren’t thinking about it before and (inspires) people who are already in education to continue to stay with it.”