Loyola University Chicago

Quinlan School of Business

Students shine in research competition

Students shine in research competition

Jose Luis Rodriguez, who graduated in May, won first place in GfK’s annual NextGen Competition, which is open to undergraduate college students across North America. A team of four Loyola students finished second.

By Ana Plefka  |  Student reporter

Five Loyola students recently took home the top two prizes in a marketing research competition—and with it, an all-expense paid trip to New York City to learn from some of the industry’s biggest players.

Jose Luis Rodriguez, who graduated in May, won first place in GfK’s annual NextGen Competition, which is open to undergraduate college students across North America. A team of four Loyola students finished second.

GfK, one of the world’s largest market research firms, has hosted the competition for the past four years. Students work individually or in teams to conduct market research and write a paper highlighting their findings. For the first time ever the top two finishers were invited to the company’s North American headquarters in New York; ordinarily, only the first-place winner receives an invite. 

Quinlan School of Business senior lecturer Stacy Neier Beran, PhD, introduced the competition to her engaged learning Marketing Research (MARK 311) classes in 2013. Beran uses the competition as an outlet for students who want to expand their research skills beyond the classroom.

“I really want students who want the extra experience, who want the immersion in this process to supplement their coursework,” Beran said. “They were driven to understand how a classroom concept does fit into a real-world, non-academic setting.”

Winning research

First-place finisher Rodriguez, a mathematics and computer science major, didn’t know much about market research—let alone GfK’s competition—before entering Beran’s class.

“I was just really interested in learning more about market research,” said Rodriguez, who also received $1,000 for his winning entry. “I really wasn’t sure what to expect.”

For his research proposal, which was sponsored by Loyola’s Center for Experiential Learning, Rodriguez surveyed smart phone owners about how they use their devices and created profiles based on patterns he found in the data. Some example profiles include “reads The New York Times” or “watches MTV.” The overarching goal of Rodriguez’s research was to discover how different user groups depend on their smart phones.

The competition has motivated Rodriguez to keep pursuing research and analytics. He is now working as a data analyst at Quinlan’s Financial Services and Business Analytics Lab, which will move with the business school into the new Schreiber Center this year.

Beran wasn’t the only Quinlan instructor to help Rodriguez. Clinical lecturer Fady Harfoush, PhD, also made suggestions, Rodriguez said.

“He was crucial in helping me shape my ideas,” he said. “He’s a great mentor.”

The second-place team’s research delved into how to incorporate digital marketing in the fast-casual restaurant industry. Emma Anderson, Hannah Toohey, Samantha Simone, and Jennifer Wzorek held focus groups, administered surveys, and studied social media trends for their research proposal.

Anderson, a 2015 Quinlan graduate, said one of the most interesting insights her team uncovered was how women are more selective than men in engaging with brands on social media.

“There was a huge disconnect between how genders interact with brands over social media,” she said.

New York City experience

All five students traveled to GfK’s North American headquarters in New York to present their findings to company executives in May. During their trip, they worked with new marketing software, attended seminars, and met company executives. GfK experts also critiqued the students’ proposals and gave them tips to improve future projects.

“They were able to ‘talk shop’ with seasoned industry professionals,” Beran said. “It was a cue that they have a place at the table, even as junior, entry-level students.”

By the time the winners boarded their flight back to Chicago, they had acquired some valuable industry insights. One such lesson came from David Krajicek, CEO of GfK Consumer Experiences North America, who has a degree in psychology and took an unconventional path into market research. 

“It’s interesting to see how, in this industry, you don’t necessarily have to come from a strict business or market research background,” runner-up Anderson said. “They are really just looking for people who can think. That’s the crux of this industry.”