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KNOXVILLE—A University of Tennessee, Knoxville, team has won a Southeast regional business plan competition sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management.

The UT team of graduate human resource management students—Jeffrey Arnold of Middlesboro, Kentucky; Paresh Patel of London, England; Kate Reiger of Maryville; Sarah Higgins of Knoxville; and Qi Fu of Beijing, China—competed against fifty students from fifteen universities. They were coached by Debbie Mackey, director of the UT Human Resource Management master’s degree program.

The team won $3,000 and a chance to compete in the national Society of Human Resource Management Student Conference in June.

“We are very proud of our exceptional team,” Mackey said. “Jeffrey, Paresh, Kate, Sarah, and Qi Fu were well-prepared, professional, and extraordinarily articulate, and the achievement was overwhelmingly theirs.”

The students will graduate from the Master’s in Human Resource Management program in 2013.

Each team was given a complex human resources problem that could address a variety of areas, including employee and labor relations, workforce planning, compensation and benefits, or strategic management.

“This competition revealed the prestige and competitive advantage that the UT Human Resource Management program gives students to succeed and excel,” Mackey said. “The knowledge gained in my classes greatly assisted our team in winning.”

The team had four hours to prepare a fifteen-minute PowerPoint presentation and a two-page document that was presented to a panel of human resources professionals from across the Southeast. Each team was evaluated 60 percent on its oral presentation and answering the judges’ questions and 40 percent on its written paper. The top two team finalists also presented to everyone attending the conference.

“This is the first time that a graduate team from UT has participated, and it was exciting to win first place,” Mackey said. “Our students expertly applied their classroom skills to the challenge.”

Funding for the trip was provided by the Tennessee Valley Human Resource Association, the local professional division of the Society for Human Resource Management, and the Tennessee State Society for Human Resource organization.


Cindy Raines (865-974-4359,

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,