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Students Share Their Experiences Learning, Leading, and Connecting at the Largest Leadership Crisis Challenge


Nearly 300 students joined forces to take on the Sanger Leadership Crisis Challenge on Jan. 26-27.

LCC saw its biggest turnout ever

The Leadership Crisis Challenge is an annual program put on by the Sanger Leadership Center that challenges students to step into the role of C-suite executives to handle a simulated crisis. This year, for the first time, graduate and undergraduate students competed on the same day. Many students from Ross and other schools across campus participated. It was the largest turnout in the history of the program, with 297 student attendees, and graduate and undergraduate teams from various schools across campus, including engineering, public policy, law, medicine, dentistry, and more.  

This year's challenge

This year, participants stepped into the role of C-suite executives of an autonomous vehicle company in the midst of a crisis. In the scenario presented by the Sanger Leadership Center, autonomous vehicle technology gone awry caused a crash. Students had to manage media backlash, address stakeholder concerns, and decide how to best handle risks to the company’s reputation, government relationships, and even lives.

The exercise took place over the course of two days. Similar to a real-life crisis, the situation was designed to be ever-changing, with social media updates, emails, and calls constantly informing competitors of new developments.

After working into the evening piecing together information and formulating a plan, teams had to present their strategies to a board of directors, which was made up of U-M alumni and faculty as well as leaders from General Motors, the program’s sponsor. Nearly 60 alumni came back to campus for the Crisis Challenge, including executives from McDonald’s, Wells Fargo, Ford, Estee Lauder, Deloitte, Blackstone, and more.

After the board room experience, four finalist teams advanced to the final round press conference. During the press conference, five U-M Knight Wallace Fellow journalists from news outlets such as The Financial Times and Minnesota Public Radio asked questions that had students improvising and practicing their executive presence skills.  

Student experience

The Leadership Crisis Challenge has remained a popular program year after year among students looking to hone their leadership skills. It’s an opportunity for students to put what they’ve learned in the classroom into practice and gain some real leadership experience.

“I didn’t know what to expect from the Crisis Challenge, but I’m so glad I left my comfort zone and stepped up,” said Alexis Black, MBA ’23. “Our team instantly bonded and identified our strengths and weaknesses. I’ve never experienced such a rewarding learning and bonding experience in such a short period of time. I’m still reflecting on our lessons and areas for more growth.”

The winners

Since undergraduate and graduate students competed in the Crisis Challenge together this year, two winning teams were selected --- one team of graduate students and one team of undergraduates. 

The winning undergraduate team of four Michigan Ross BBA students and two Literature, Science, and the Arts students, Driven to Succeed, took home a $3,000 prize for their work and presentation during the Crisis Challenge. 

Members of the winning team were: Liv Schaefer, BA ’24; Ethan Lee, BBA ’24; Sid Jagtap, BBA ’24; Akhil Puli, BBA ’25; Ricardo Peres Da Silva, BBA ’25; and Caitlin Tam, BA ’25.

“I did the program in 2022 and 2023,” Peres Da Silva said. “It was a wonderful experience both years and throughout this experience I really developed my ability to respond to situations quickly, respond to crises, and speak in very impromptu public situations.”

The winning graduate team of six Michigan Ross MBA students and one Medical School student, MomentUM, also took home the $3,000 prize for their work and presentation in the graduate level competition.

Members of the winning team were: Heather Berg, MBA ’23; Lilia Christner, MD/MPH ’23; Nilayan Das Gupta, MBA ’24; Hayley Sakwa MBA/MPP ’24; Dushyant Khanduja, MBA ’24; Abhilash Parvatina, MBA ’23; and Aanchal Gupta, MBA ’23.

“I am so thankful that this program is available to the entire university,” said Christner. “Participating in the Crisis Challenge opened my eyes to the executive business world and how decisions are made. As a result of this program, I look forward to pursuing more business and leadership opportunities in the future.”