They began as strangers with little in common.
The Central Michigan University students represented different countries of origin: Saudi Arabia, India and China. They had different career aspirations: university professor, software architect and restaurant owner among them. What they shared in common was being information systems graduate students.
And less than one year after their first meeting, they celebrated their second-place win in the ERPsim International business competition as a family.
Overcoming cultural barriers
"We're an international team," said Yinghui Lu, who received a CMU degree in communication before entering the master's degree program for information systems.
"There are a lot of differences between us. We're all from different countries, different backgrounds and different cultures. We had to learn a lot about each other in order to work together. Now, we're like family."
CMU students Bayan Masoudi, Swetha Samson Parisapogu, Naveen Uppu, Yinghui Lu and Luyi Huang were the only U.S. team to compete in the final bracket of international competition.
Her ERPsim International Competition teammate Naveen Uppu, a student in information systems and the MBA program, said the team began meeting together a few times a week for a few hours a day to work with the SAP-based game. By spring, they were meeting daily for up to five hours at a time.
The time spent poring over data and running drills paid off: The team took top prize at CMU's invitational event and then went on to beat out hundreds of other school teams — the only U.S. team to make it into the final four.
A résumé building adventure
Along the way, the teammates were building the skills employers want most.
SAP is an industry leader in enterprise resource planning software that integrates an organization's accounting, purchasing, production, human resources and other business functions. CMU and other universities use SAP to teach business processes.
In order to compete, each student had to master SAP software, building valuable technical skills. Their mock business — a cereal company — faced unexpected challenges in every cycle, forcing them to quickly address and resolve a variety of problems.
Bayan Masoudi said the simulations also led the team to focus on communication and build trust quickly.
"Everything about the business is integrated. If I am doing something wrong, it affects my teammates. I had to learn how to work in two ways: doing my own work and listening for cues from them."
Gathered around laptops in Grawn Hall, the team progressed through dozens of rounds, eventually defeating the 2017 champions from Indonesia before losing to a Chinese team in the last round.
Lu said she felt great standing next to the team's trophy but is focused more on the intangible prizes that came from the competition.
"I have so much more confidence. When I face new challenges, I know I can succeed," she said.