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Students Duel in the Desert, Create Estate Plans

A student group from Drury University in Springfield, Mo., took home the gold as universities from around the country came together recently to compete in the University of Arizona’s 4th annual Duel in the Desert, a national personal financial case study competition which is the only one of its kind in the nation. Drury’s Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) team had battled 23 other student squads for three days in Tucson, Ariz. Their challenge was to create an estate plan for a fictional family. However, sleepless nights was the theme of the weekend, some competitors said.

“No one has slept…every team we talk to is up 24 hours,” said Eric Holwell, a marketing senior from Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colo.

The national competition involved teams who had been winners in earlier regional competitions and the teams who hosted the regionals. A total of 92 students competed in early March for prize money and a national championship.

The teams arrived at the Marriott Hotel in Arizona on March 2nd and received their assignments at 9 p.m. All teams received the same assignment, to plan the estate of the fictional “Monroe Family,” working up wills and figuring out which members of the family would be responsible for the assets. The teams created living wills, medical power of attorney contracts, and potential alternate solutions to make the process painless and efficient.

“The purpose we are here for is to help the Monroe’s create a seamless transition of their estate,” said Nathan Shaff, an accounting junior from the University of Utah, in his team’s presentation.

From 7:45 a.m. to mid-afternoon on March 4th, all of the teams presented their work and four finalist teams were chosen to present to the whole group of judges. The 40 judges were a mix of financial analysts, presidents and vice presidents of corporations including Chase, Take Charge America, and other financial firms, professors and accounting executives.

The teams had no indication of what the assignment would be and the planning aspect of the competition took some teams by surprise.

“(There was) a lot of worrying, we didn’t know what the case would be…we got as much ready as we could…but when you get down to the middle of it, it’s a war,” said Todd Zinck, a consumer behavior and social responsibilities senior from Metro State.

Because of the complicated nature of the assignment, most teams said they didn’t sleep much, if at all, during the weekend.  They worked non-stop preparing Power Point presentations and handouts for their individual presentations.

“We’ve probably gotten four or five hours of sleep total this weekend,” said Chris Gilstrap, an accounting and philosophy sophomore at Drury.

The first place team, Drury University took home $4,000.  Evangel College took second place and $3,000, Colorado State came in third with $2,000 and fourth place was the University of Utah, who won $1,000. All competing teams received trophies and $500, said Whitney Martin, a University of Arizona race track industry program senior and SIFE member.

The head judge Peter Rose, a retired professor emeritus in finance at Texas A&M University, said the teams were impressive, especially for the challenge they faced.

“They all did well, this was the most technical and detailed case in the history of the competition,” Rose said. “A lot (of the competitors) are not finance majors.   Given they came in with zero basis in the area of estate planning, they did very well.”

The successful Drury team was awarded first prize after being showered with red and blue balloons, beating out the neighboring Evangel College.

“I was really excited to have defeated Evangel, since it is two blocks from our university,” Gilstrap said. “We were happiest to represent Drury University and not necessarily just ourselves.”

The teams said they were glad to have visited Tucson and appreciated the help of the University of Arizona team in getting copies made and taking care of all the small stuff that went into their presentations. By the end of the day when the winners were announced, everyone was glad it was finally decided.

“I’m excited we won,” said Drew Kifer, business sophomore at Drury. “But now, I am looking forward to a nap, and you can quote me on that!”


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