[Sponsored Article] In addition to imparting knowledge, a good university education connects students to the real world by supporting their personal growth and preparing them for the job market. At the Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK), the Lee Shau Kee School of Business and Administration has a Student Services Team dedicated for this purpose. Since its formation in 2015, the team has been supporting students across five divisions: competitions, study tours, careers and internships, an elite student training scheme known as the A-Team Student Development Programme, and scholarships and awards. While “A-Team” students are required to take part in at least one competition per year, the School encourages all students to learn through competition participation, and arranges for teaching staff to coach all entrants indiscriminately. Dedicated teachers-turned-coaches The efforts of the Business faculty have by now reaped rewards, with their protégés winning major awards year after year. Last September, Student Services Coordinator Dr Irene Siaw Siw-chu was heartened by the news that an “A-Team” member studying International Business won the Best Presentation Award as well as the Merit Award of the Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries Corporate Governance Paper Competition 2019. Explaining the role of faculty members in competitions as such, Dr Siaw explains, “We take turns to train students for seven to eight major competitions organized by professional bodies every year, and many more minor ones, all on a voluntary basis.” Back in April 2017, Dr Siaw and her colleagues in the Inter-University Regional Competition Coaching Team, Dr Jimmy Chan Hing-tai and Lana Tang Kam-shu, guided a pair of students through the Association of International Accountants Business Sustainability and Risk Management Case Analysis Competition to a first runner-up finish. They were impressed by the students’ performance vis-à-vis their strong competitors. “The first and third places of the competition went to teams from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. We’re so proud of our students,” says Dr Siaw. For the team, the competition was a learning process for both the teachers and the students. Dr Chan says, “It was only our second attempt at this competition, and business sustainability isn’t exactly our field of expertise. In the first year, we resorted to research. In fact we went as far as to consult industry players.” In that first trial, their protégés won the Outstanding Team Award but did not make it into the top three, affected by a crash of the specialist software they had used to design their presentation slides. That lesson learnt, the coaching team advised subsequent contestants to change the presentation approach. As one of the students had experience with drama, they suggested doing a role-play and came up with a futuristic plot in which the characters took stock of the company’s history. “To help students win,” Dr Chan adds, “we must not impose our ideas on them.” Instead, teachers and students put their heads together and work out the best solutions as a team. And in the ethos of passing on experience, senior-year students who have participated in similar competitions are invited to talk to juniors, artistically gifted students to comment on the presentation slides, and master’s students to give feedback as an audience. As coaches, the team also provide counselling to ensure that their protégés are psychologically prepared. Dr Siaw recounts how one of the runner-up students broke into tears from stress as the competition drew close: “We had a long chat to sort things out. Once she had gathered herself, she gave her best performance ever.” The prize included internships at international consulting firms, and the two winners performed so well that they were eventually offered part-time positions. “I’m so happy to see students who might not have initially stood out blossom and grow,” says Tang. Rather than spotting obvious gifts, the talent scouts set their eyes on students’ potential. It gives them great joy to unearth hidden talents. Single-hearted student team crowned champions A half-year later, in November 2017, another student team achieved a remarkable milestone on their personal development journey. Under the tutelage of a larger coaching team, four students from the accounting, corporate governance, global business and marketing streams bagged the championship spot at the Hong Kong Institute of Certificate Public Accountants (HKICPA) Qualification Programme Case Analysis Competition, beating other teams from UGC-funded universities and self-financing institutions. Competitors were asked to provide solutions for a toy retailer in the face of economic transitions. Team leader Manuel Reynier Salinas found the financial analysis most challenging. “We’re still in Year 2. We knew the accounting basics, but were unfamiliar with the details of the financial structure.” Thanks to their coaches’ advice, they managed to present the figures in the simplest way. The rest of the written report was completed to a high standard based on extensive research on related business reports and the team’s own complementary knowledge. The final round was a race against time. “It was hard to select what to include in the ten-minute presentation,” Abigail Hilario Casino recalls. “Our first draft turned out to be far too long and we were running out of time. Our teachers suggested cutting it down into a role-play framework.” By then, it was only five days from contest day. Fung Lok-ching says, “We knew that if we missed our partners’ lines, the whole thing could fall apart.” They worked around the clock, rehearsing and editing the script simultaneously, up until the small hours of the final night. On the day, they took advantage of every minute available to perfect their performance. “When it was finally the students’ turn, they took me completely by surprise,” says Dr Siaw, who was in the audience. “Overnight, they had got rid of all the cue cards, and they acted with such ease!” In front of the judges, the contestants mastered their nerves, and Meesri Suthinan was named Best Presenter for her confident performance. “I was actually very nervous, but I believed in the character I was given and put myself in her shoes. I was a manager and I had to be confident or I would lose my job. I also practised in front of the mirror.” The winners are indebted to six faculty members from various disciplines: in addition to Dr Siaw and Dr Jimmy Chan, Ms Jeevika Goyal, Dr Justin Law, Dr Kevin Li and Mr Christopher Tsui advised the contestants. “We’re really grateful for their support. In the final few days, they picked up our calls past midnight!” exclaims Lok-ching. The teachers go to great lengths because they believe participating in competitions broadens students’ horizons. And the winning team do not disappoint, demonstrating sophisticated interpersonal skills essential in the workplace and in day-to-day communication: “When there were differences we would respect each other and try to accommodate. We would also joke around to maintain a fun environment,” they explain. They went on to complete their internships at Big Four accounting firms — a prize of the championship — which they see as the first step on their career path.