UW-Eau Claire takes first at the IT Case Competition

Travelers Insurances gave students the opportunity to improve their problem-solving skills in a real world setting

More stories from Sydney Purpora


The UW-Eau Claire group won first at the 2016 Travelers IT Case. (submitted)

The UW-Eau Claire Information Systems team won the 2016 Travelers Information Technology Case Competition on Friday at the Travelers Insurance Headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Travelers IT Leadership Development Program hosted the competition as part of what their website calls “an accelerated four to five-year rotational program emphasizing leadership development for college graduates looking to pursue a career in information technology.”

Travelers Insurance first hosted the competition in 2009 and Eau Claire has been invited every year since its start. Thomas Hilton, an information systems (IS) professor and faculty coach for the competition, said he started coaching in 2012 and has enjoyed his five years with the program.

After submitting their applications, Hilton said he selected four students to attend the competition based on the Travelers Insurance program’s criteria.

Members of the group included David Poynter, a sophomore IS student; Whitney Nyholm, a junior IS student; Nicholas Gustafson, a junior IS student and Leen Wadi, a senior IS and accounting student.

Eau Claire competed against three other IS teams Friday: Concordia College-Moorehead; University of Northwestern-St. Paul and University of Minnesota.

Although Eau Claire has participated in this event seven times, this is the first time they took home a win. The top three placing teams received cash prizes.

“I was terrifically proud of them,” Hilton said. “When they got up on that stage, I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or what but they were so good. It was so cool to watch them. It took my breath away.”

Once the group members were finalized, they were given a problem to solve in the two and a half weeks prior to the competition, leaving them time to prepare. Then during the competition, the group presented their solution to the problem and were judged on a list of criteria.

Poynter said the team worked together very well during the planning stages and combined each of their strong suits throughout the whole process.

“It was super fun to have a team or group project that every team member actually cared about,” Poynter said with a laugh. “Each team member brought a different aspect to our solution and how we presented it. All of us were able to learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

This year’s problem challenged the students to transfer information to Travelers Catastrophe vans — custom-built RVs functioning as fully operational mobile claim offices. They were asked to construct a solution for the scenario while considering the company’s financial, human and technological resources.

Wadi said the presentation went smoothly and the group was eager to present the solution they developed.

“You could tell by looking at the other teams that they were really nervous,” he said, “but we were just really excited because we were proud of what we got done and what we had to show.”

For the rest of the day, Hilton said the group was given the opportunity to get to know the company and gain more real world experience. Travelers Insurance held mock interviews, gave tours, delivered a career path presentation and provided more information about the internships they offered to the students.

Gustafson said what he found most impactful about the competition was the ability to present in a more professional setting to people who are in the industry and are more knowledgeable about the field.

In addition, Nyholm said the experience was impactful because it improved her skill in joint work.

“A lot of IT project in the workforce are very group involved and in a more collaborative environment,” Nyholm said. “So I think this really helped develop those group work skills.”

Finally, Poynter said the competition assured him he made the right choice with IS and he recommends these experiences to others.

“It was very satisfying. These are the kind of thing that people need to jump on and pursue,” Poynter said. “It it a lot of fun, it looks good on a resume and it’s what makes the difference between just doing school and getting a good GPA, and really preparing for the workforce.”