Centennial Center Launches Stephen L. Cohen ’67 Leadership Case Competition – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Centennial Center Launches Stephen L. Cohen ’67 Leadership Case Competition

A new case competition at HWS is a new avenue to encourage student leadership development.

With guidance from Amy Forbes, director of the Centennial Center for Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, four students from the HWS Leads certificate program competed in the International Leadership Association Case Competition, last fall.

Though the students didn’t win, Forbes was struck by the learning experience that she observed as students worked together on a leadership dilemma that included a real-world problem. With support from former HWS Trustee Stephen L. Cohen ’67 and assistance from Jessie Bartels ’21 and July Winters ’23, she’s since established a leadership case competition on campus.

“I see the Center as a strong differentiator for attracting students to the Colleges as few of our peer schools have such a well-structured extra-curricular element focused on student leadership,” says Cohen. “The Leadership Case Competition is just another avenue for students to avail themselves of leadership training that can be readily applied both during and after their time at the Colleges.”

On Nov. 2, the Centennial Center launched the first annual Stephen L. Cohen ’67 Leadership Case Competition which focused on a local crisis affecting Seneca lake and the surrounding towns – with participants analyzing and addressing the issue through three competitive rounds. The evaluation criteria used by the selection committee were based on the values of the Centennial Center and the legacy of its sponsor – Cohen, including an emphasis on critical thinking, ethical decision-making, perspective-taking, application of leadership theory, problem solving and effective communication.

Two finalist teams (Sreyan Kanungo ’23 and Andrew Lynch ’23; Avi Rajkarnikar ’23 and Whittaker Sieve ’22) and two individual participants (Ethan Lyons ’22 and Niima Sellah ’23) gathered in the Seneca Room to give an eight-minute presentation outlining their leadership strategy for the Seneca Lake challenge.  

Their presentation was then evaluated by a panel of judges each with credibility within the leadership field. In addition to Cohen, the judges included Jim Cecere ’91, a local leader as owner of Finger Lakes Goods and the new wine bar Vinifera; Dan DeNose ’10, founder of “Leaders of the 21st Century,” a global-aspiring nonprofit whose mission is to provide leadership and professional development for high school students in urban communities; Professor of Sociology Jack Harris P’02, P’06, a long-time instructor of courses that often include leadership theory; and Provost and Dean of Faculty Sarah Kirk, an academic leader, particularly in the STEM field areas.

After a highly competitive final round, Kanungo and Sieve were crowned the champions and received $2,500 while Sellah was given the runner’s up award of $1,000.

“No question, our students were well-prepared for the competition. Their entries and responses simply reinforced my belief in the quality education they are receiving at the Colleges,” says Cohen. “What I particularly found enlightening, though, was their superb application of the leadership theories and practices they have studied to the resolution of the case they were asked to address. There were no easy or cookie-cutter solutions to what was an extremely complex challenge they had to address. All of them provided exceptionally well-constructed and clearly thought through responses.” 

Forbes is also pleased with the outcome of the competition’s first year. “The Leadership Case Competition is uniquely different than The Pitch contest and it is most definitely intellectually rigorous. We’re really excited to add this leadership development opportunity to our slate of events each year and couldn’t be more grateful that Steve Cohen saw its potential.”

Students should look for next year’s case study early in the fall 2022 semester. “The Leadership Case Competition allows them to both broaden and deepen their education in extremely meaningful and consequential ways,” says Cohen. “If a student wants to gain this real-world experience, then I urge them to participate in the competition. While, of course, it would be nice to “win,” the most important outcome is in the journey they will take during this process which undoubtedly will be an invaluable personal and professional learning opportunity.”