A Cal Poly Pomona student-led annual competition was almost canceled due to shelter-in-place mandates that prevented large groups from gathering.
Jessica Wren, chair of MISSA’s 24th Information Technology (IT) Competition, converted the event into a virtual platform in which participants collaborated online and gave presentations to judges through Zoom.
“We were considering canceling, but luckily the nature of the competition allowed us to host it virtually,” Wren (’20, computer information systems) said. “With about a month before the competition, all participant-facing aspects were digitized, but we did have to scrap a lot of the logistical groundwork we already laid.”
Students in MISSA, the Management Information Systems Student Association, explore information technology careers, network with industry professionals, and strengthen technical skills used in the industry. This year’s IT competition hosted 19 teams from various universities, including Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State San Bernardino, CSUF, CSUN, UCI and USC, to provide solutions to business and city case studies in one of five categories: data analytics, IT security, web application development, digital forensics and IT strategy.
Wren and her leadership team transitioned the typically eight-hour event into a shorter, online format and students had two weeks before the event to analyze the case study, collaborate online and create a presentation to judges.
“Presenting online is different than in person, so it gave students a glimpse of what they might be experiencing at their jobs in the near future,” Wren said. “I think this pandemic has opened a lot of eyes on how business can be done and going forward, a lot of functions will be done remotely.”
Wren will take her experiences with her as she starts her new position as part of a technology risk team at Ernst and Young. Struggling in her coding classes during her first year at Cal Poly Pomona, she never imagined she would work at one of the top accounting and advisory firms in the world.
She was inspired to persist by her mother, who studied computer science at Cal State LA after moving to the United States from China when she was 17. Wren felt that she could also overcome her challenges knowing her mom adjusted to a new culture and language while studying a technical major and paying for college herself.
“I had a lot of frustrating nights, especially during my first year, but my mom encouraged me through my more technical classes and told me to stick through it,” Wren said. “She said that because of this, I would learn so much and my experience would only make me stronger.”
Wren gained confidence and passion in her studies when she grew her network through MISSA and professional fraternity, AKPsi. She applied her classroom concepts through interning with City National Bank’s information security department in downtown LA for two years. She discovered what she wanted in her early career through many discussions with peers debating factors such as accepting a lower salary for a high-profile company and moving out of the state or city for work opportunities.
“Ultimately, I wanted to be with the people I love and personally it wasn’t worth it to sacrifice three or four years of my life across the country for a job I was not passionate about,” Wren said. “Sheltering in place reminded me to value my family even more.”
Wren said that her experience organizing the IT Competition taught her the importance of continuity planning, how to identify processes that are affected by changes and to quickly adjust to changes. In addition to the student participants learning on how to adapt to changes, they were able to receive critiques and feedback from industry professionals to strengthen their career skills.
“We have to transition to the real world and how it would be like,” Grace Kang (’20, computer information systems) said. “I learned that everything is business centered and when you present or introduce a report, you have to show why you should be chosen to create a project, receive funds or produce a solution.”
Kang was on a data analytics team of five students, including her team lead Travis McGary (’20, computer information systems). A panel from Pittsburg wanted to update their system on how to collect road repair requests. Kang’s team provided a new system in which users can report road damages. The system provides an organized dashboard that displays a map showing where accidents and potholes are. The dashboard would gather the data and make it easily accessible to staff in order to repair the damage.
“Being able to take data and transform it into something we can use to predict trends is really cool,” McGary said. “You’re taking patterns to see how the world reacts to them and apply the patterns in real world situations and using that to make informed decisions.”
McGary brought the team together and received the Pittsburg case a week before spring break. They collaborated online through Zoom meetings and practiced their presentation and had specific cues to know when to move on from one slide to the next.
“I made sure everyone had input,” McGary said. “Since I was the lead, I wanted to make sure that I heard from everyone because if I don’t hear from everyone, I’m not going to find the best solution.”
Their hard work paid off – they were one of four Cal Poly Pomona teams that placed first in their categories. First place winners are awarded $750; second place $500; and third place $350. In addition to the monetary rewards, students networked with the judges for potential job and internship opportunities and receive direct feedback on how to improve their professional skills.
“It was important to be a part of something at Cal Poly Pomona,” Kang said. “It changes your experience and it’s important for every student to be a part of what the school is providing.”