The winning team with their 1st place prize: (left to right) Ajilan Okman, Melanie Benyadi, and Pooja Patel.


Students Don’t Take Corporate Challenge Lying Down

April 20, 2018

Pictured: The winning team with their 1st place prize: (left to right) Ajlan Okman, Melanie Benyadi, and Pooja Patel.

When students competing in Corporate Challenge discovered this year’s case study was with Courtyard by Marriott, they went right to the source. The teams not only visited the hotel’s location in Basking Ridge, N.J, but some of them also spent the night. Among those who did overnight research was the winning team of Melanie Benyadi, Ajlan Okman, and Pooja Patel, advised by Diamando Afxentiou, Ph.D..

Benyadi loves a challenge. “I had been on the NYIT tennis team while completing my bachelor's degree in communications, and I missed competing,” she says. “So within the year of being back in school, I was looking for opportunities to participate in as many challenges as I could find.” As a member of Corporate Challenge, Benyadi did just that.

NYIT School of Management has hosted Corporate Challenge since 2010. The event invites an industry partner to propose a set of challenges for student teams to respond to. The result is that students gain real-world, hands-on experience dealing with clients, and sponsors get fresh ideas for their companies. For the past three years, Assistant Professor of Management Amr Swid, Ph.D., has headed up the competition. He continues to build on its success, and it has grown into an annual flagship event that this year welcomed twenty-four teams of approximately four students each.

In addition to bringing on more students over the years, Swid has also worked to engage larger companies as partners. “I believed students would learn more from larger multi-national corporations,” says Swid. “In the current business environment, we deal more with global, multi-cultural companies. I wanted the students to have more experience working with real challenges from these kinds of organizations.”

This year’s sponsor, Courtyard by Marriott, matched all of Swid’s requirements. Students were asked to solve significant challenges that face today’s hotel industry, including helping the hotel achieve sustainability goals, improve guest satisfaction scores, and attract customers over the next five years.

“Examining these questions and proposing solutions to specific problems brought a rich experience to the students,” says Swid, who organized the event with Associate Professor Purushottam Meena, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Birasnav Muthuraj, Ph.D. Other faculty members in the School of Management volunteered as advisors and competition judges.

The process began with an initial kick-off meeting, during which Katarzyna Fernandez, assistant general manager for Courtyard Basking Ridge, met with the students and answered questions about the project brief. The students were also provided with background information on the hotel, including information about guest satisfaction. The teams then had six weeks to work on their proposals, with guidance from faculty advisors and occasional “office hours” with their client. A semi-final knocked out all but five teams, which advanced to the finals held a few weeks later.

“It was extremely hard to pick the winning team, because the presentations and research were on a really high level,” says Fernandez, who judged the final competition along with faculty members. “My number one criteria for choosing the winning team was the practical aspect—I want to walk back to my hotel today and say to my boss, ‘I want to see if we can implement this.’”

The winning team proposed several practical solutions which stood out, including adding card-activated light switches to each room in order to save electricity, hosting social events at the hotel around holidays and local festivals, and increasing food and beverage sales by partnering with UberEats.

In addition to bragging rights, the winning teams received scholarship prizes, and all students gained important experience and skills. “In a regular class project, we focus mostly on the class subject. During a company-based project like this, you need to focus on every aspect of the company—marketing, management, process, accounting, finance, engineering, etc,” says Benyadi.

Swid feels this kind of experiential education is crucial. “Not all students are able to participate in internships for numerous reasons,” he says. “Activities like the Corporate Challenge give them an opportunity to build their CVs and gain skills that an internship or study-abroad program would afford them, without the travel or financial hardship.”

Read more about Corporate Challenge.

First Place Team:

Faculty advisor:
Diamando Afxentiou, Ph.D., professor of economics


  • Melanie Benyadi
  • Ajlan Okman
  • Pooja Patel

Second Place Team:

Faculty advisor:
John LaPerla, adjunct professor of management information systems, management, and human resources studies


  • Harshwardhan Sekhawat
  • Harsh Shah
  • Klaudia Romaniuk
  • Jiachi Wang

Third Place Team:

Faculty advisor:
Kevin O’Sullivan, D.Sc., associate professor of management


  • Sonali Kapoor
  • Aamir Bankapur
  • Kripleen Kaur

Fourth Place Team:

Faculty advisor:
Eleanor Schwartz, adjunct instructor of marketing


  • Lena Dimmer
  • Ann-Kathrin Zilles
  • Maxton Cook
  • Jean Daniel Kehyayan
  • Francisco Caldas