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May 10, 2024 Accountancy Business Administration Finance Student

Gies students shine in 2024 Business Sustainability Case Competition

Three winning teams were selected and awarded with cash prizes in the inaugural Business Sustainability Case Competition hosted by the Center for Professional Responsibility in Business and Society (CPRBS). The competition focused on mapping the sustainability activities at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and competing teams from all over campus created data visualizations showcasing the university’s achievements in the sustainability area.

The team at Sustainable FR – Isabella Chew (ACCY+DS), Abbas Mirza (Computer Science/Economics), Julie Wang (International/Global Studies), Ekaterina Ftikas (International/Global Studies), and Olivia O’Leary (Policy) – took home top honors for their ability to create a course search system. Sustainable FR collected data on courses offered at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for the current school year.  Using Microsoft Excel in conjunction with Tableau, the team created visualizations showing the growth of courses that focus on one or more of the UN’s 17 Sustainability Goals.  Beyond just visualizations, Sustainable FR created an interactive program that allows students to filter and focus courses that pertain to specific goals.

“Going into college, one of my goals was to combine my environmental interest with my professional development, and this case competition provided the perfect opportunity,” said Chew, a first-year Gies student pursuing an accountancy + data science major. “I was delighted to see how Gies College of Business encourages its students to partake in sustainability efforts, emphasizing the importance of professional responsibility. My team can proudly say that we learned a great deal about data visualization and the progress of the UN Sustainable Development Goals at UIUC.”

Jay Lee (MSTM), the competition’s only solo participant, secured second place with Illini Database. Lee, who is earning his Master of Science in Business Analytics degree at Gies, focused on research conducted by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign faculty and visualized how much of that research was related to the UN’s 17 Sustainability Goals. Data was collected from Illinois Experts' API, which included 2,856 researchers and 219,019 research articles. Using large language models and various machine learning techniques such as vector embedding and random forest, all articles are labeled with none, one, or multiple UN goals related to it. Lee also used dynamic dashboard, which visualizes changes and compares in how often each goal was researched over the last 66 years.

“Participating in the sustainability case competition was enlightening and rewarding,” Lee said. “I expected to showcase my data science skills, but I also learned about our school's sustainability efforts. I enjoyed the challenge of using complex technology to address real-world problems. This experience was beneficial as it pushed my technical skills and allowed me to contribute to sustainability goals.”

The third-place winner was Illini Impact, a team consisting of five Gies students in the Master of Science in Technology Management program. Renuka AnnachhatreIndranil MukteYash OltikarAditya Patil, and Prisha Sharma visualized the breakdown of sustainability-related courses offered by the university into one of the UN’s 17 Sustainability Goals. The group gathered data from course titles and descriptions found on the university’s websites and, using Tableau, compared the number of courses across colleges offered in each goal.

"Right from the initial days of figuring out what problems we plan to address to presenting our findings to our esteemed judges on the final day, we took it upon ourselves to overcome obstacles, understand each group members’ strengths and leverage our collective skills which lead us in securing a proud 3rd place," said Mukte. "We would like to thank Gies and CPRBS for their unwavering support and organizing this case competition for us!”

“While all the finalists presented engaging and interesting visualizations of the University’s commitment to sustainability, these three teams stood out for their focus not only on what has been done, but also their ability to generate a creative solution that is useful for faculty, students, and university leadership,” said Fei Du, associate professor of accountancy and associate director for CPRBS. “These bright students will help enhance the awareness of sustainability efforts across campus.”

“By participating in this competition, students have embodied one of the Center’s primary goals – offering hands-on opportunities where students can grow as we aim to develop responsible decision-makers of tomorrow,” added Du. "It has been an honor to witness the incredible talent and dedication displayed by all six finalist teams. They have left me more educated and energized about our future leaders. The energy, insight, and effort were inspiring.”

Judges for the competition included Abrita Chakravarty, adjunct instructor at the Grainger College of Engineering; Gretchen Winter, adjunct professor at Gies Business and the College of Law; and Warren Lavey, adjunct professor in the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences.

CPRBS, in collaboration with Executive Associate Dean and Professor Mark Peecher, is preparing the inaugural Gies sustainability report. The report is inspired by a data visualization created by Peecher and PhD student Rachel Lyman, which maps Gies faculty research to the 17 UN sustainability goals (updated in April 2024). The College's efforts will focus on integrating this sustainability activity mapping to survey the overall landscape, thereby fully illustrating Gies' contributions to the 17 UN sustainability goals and showcasing the College's excellent work in the ESG/CSR space.

The Center of Professional Responsibility in Business and Society leads the discussion about society's expectations for a professional's responsibility at both the individual and organizational level. CPRBS supports the creation and sharing of academic research and educational materials that demonstrate the value of conducting business professionally so as to serve and protect the broader public interest.