Colorado State Business Students Earn Top Honors at National Hispanic Business Case Competition

A single mother inspired by her toddler daughter and a former police officer who discovered accounting might lead to an FBI career were among students from Colorado State University’s College of Business who made a big showing last month at a national competition in Texas, taking first runner-up honors.

Supported by Associate Professor Margarita Lenk in the Accounting department, students Victor Amaya, Leanne Eberle, Pablo Machado and Jessica Zavala won the award at the national KPMG/ALPFA (Association for Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting) business case competition, placing second to DePaul University. Brandon Ford was a fifth team member who was unable to attend the competition.

Students spend several months in advance of the competition on an assigned corporate case, identifying accounting and tax issues, seeking advice of industry professionals and organizing their findings to present to the company’s board of directors at the competition.

"To be awarded first runner-up at the national level our first time there is an amazing feat," said Amaya, who left the military to pursue degrees in accounting at the urging of a mentor. "An award at the national level showed us that hard work, preparation and going that extra mile really pays off."

In April, the students competed in and won the Southwest Regional business case competition hosted by KPMG and ALPFA in Dallas. The competition made them eligible to compete at the national competition in Fort Worth, Texas.

"Our students worked really hard and did an excellent job," Lenk said. "We were consistently told at the competition that we had a fine set of well-rounded professionals."

After the regional competition this year, KPMG and ALPFA asked Lenk to write down her team’s process so that company officials could distribute them as "best practices" to all teams competing around the country, Lenk said. KPMG employees Kathy Garcia and Jeremiah Contreras, a Colorado State graduate, assisted Lenk as coaches.

Several of Lenk’s students already have jobs waiting at major accounting firms when they graduate, including Machado, who was a police officer in Tucson, Ariz., and has expressed interest in the FBI. While at Colorado State, he’s had internships at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sample and Bailey CPA and the internal auditing department at Colorado State. He is working on his master’s degree in accounting.

"This award shows not only what I am capable of, but what my strengths and weaknesses are – I’m still working over my fear of talking in front of a group of people," Machado said. "I’m excited to have been a part of this amazing team."

About 40 universities participated in the April regional competitions, but only eight teams advanced to the national competition in August. Other schools in the competition included the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Southern California, Pace University, Georgia State University and Southern Methodist University.  

While in Dallas, students also participated in a community service project with their competitors: They painted the walls of a "home style" prison for women and their newborn infants while learning about the federal funding process for the facility.

"I worked with a remarkable group of people throughout the course of the competition, and I made incredible friends and colleagues," said Zavala, who is a single parent with a 2-year-old daughter. She will graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting, a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a Certificate of International Business.

"This award is very important to me because it has opened so many doors, not only for me, but also for the future of Colorado State and Latino students," Zavala said. "Being a part of this competition, and of my team, truly changed my life."

With the win in Fort Worth, the Colorado State team automatically qualified for next year’s national competition in Orlando, Fla.