Miami Leadership Challenge Tests Executive Skills Through Experiential Crisis Response Simulation

Miami Leadership Challenge Tests Executive Skills Through Experiential Crisis Response Simulation

By Robert Wagenseil

Miami Leadership Challenge Tests Executive Skills Through Experiential Crisis Response Simulation

By Robert Wagenseil
As a testament to its commitment to developing principled leaders, Miami Herbert Business School presented its second annual Miami Leadership Challenge. Nearly 100 graduate business students put their leadership skills to the test during the two-day business and media crisis scenario. This immersive leadership development experience propels students to discover and leverage their strengths and identify areas for improvement.

The Miami Leadership Challenge is presented by The Johnson A. Edosomwan Leadership Institute, an international, interdisciplinary center of excellence that strives to elevate established and aspiring executives, managers and other professionals into high-performance leaders.

The Challenge: Develop a disaster response plan on behalf of a university that has been ravaged by a hurricane -- while the catastrophic event unfolds.

After receiving the crisis scenario, teams were deployed to classrooms and conference spaces throughout the Business School. Members of each team played the part of senior executives tasked with responding to the catastrophic storm and its aftermath. Teams were assessed on their ability to strategize through extreme circumstances, while reacting quickly and effectively to realistic elements including real-time emails, social media posts, phone calls, and protests.

Press AttackLinda Chang (MHA'21) responds to rapid fire questions from reporters and concerned citizens during mock "press attack."

Faced with complex decisions and a range of competing stakeholders, an impromptu press attack challenged each team’s ability to maintain poise and articulate clearly. The pressure was real as a spokesperson from each team faced a barrage of questions from a dozen reporters, played by students from UM's School of Communication, and steered by Daniel Hicks, Miami Herbert lecturer and former NBC journalist.

An Interdisciplinary, Experiential Simulation

The crisis simulation case program was first launched at the University of Michigan. Emboldened by the program's effectiveness during their own experience, former Miami Herbert students Daniel Post-Jacobs and Jenna Landis have continued to support this initiative by co-writing the case. The two former students developed the 2019 case based on a real-life hurricane that impacted American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine.

Dr. Heidi Chumley, who served as executive dean at the Caribbean School during this hurricane, was a valuable resource in developing this case and evaluating student performance. Her perspective and first-hand experience enhanced the degree of authenticity and quality of the content. She, along with Alex Carrasco, VP Global Operations at the American University of the Caribbean, both attended the event. 

 Miami Leadership Challenge Organizers
(left to right) Alex Carrasco, Dr. Heidi Chumley, Sheryl Alonso, Jenna Landis, Daniel Post-Jacobs 

Dr. Sheryl Alonso, academic director of the Johnson A. Edosomwan Leadership Institute and director of Miami Herbert's Master of Science in Leadership Program, has led the effort since its inception.

“The Miami Leadership Challenge has exceeded our expectations, providing a crisis so real the students feel as if they are in an actual life scenario," said Dr. Alonso. "So many from different disciplines come together to make the program a roaring success. We are excited to see the program grow and become ever more inter-disciplinary.”

With more than 100 volunteers of faculty, staff, students and community business leaders, organizing the event was a challenge itself.

“The Miami Leadership Challenge is an intense logistics driven event with many moving parts that require many volunteers,” said Amarylis Wallace, Assistant Director, Entrepreneurship Program & The Johnson A. Edosomwan Leadership Institute. “A lot that goes on behind the scenes and planning starts the summer before.”

Amarylis WallaceAmarylis Wallace briefs participants during the kick-off to the Miami Leadership Challenge.

“It is both a fun and rewarding program where students excel in their leadership skills and work together in teams to solve the crisis at hand -- we even had students who participated last year return to do it again,” said Wallace.

Amarylis Wallace briefs participants during Miami Leadership Challenge kick-off.Inside the "War Room," volunteers execute communications, playing the roles of various stakeholders.

Behind the scenes, a “War Room” communications hub comprised of student, staff and faculty volunteers played the roles of various stakeholders and communicated to the teams through various electronic media in real-time, adding pressure and authenticity to the simulation. The Miami Herbert Business School IT Department developed a designated network for this event, allowing for a smooth execution.

John Gulla, assistant director of emergency management for the University of Miami, added an additional dimension to the interdisciplinary competition, as he assumed the role of an insurance firm determine their whether their liability. Also the judge of the competition's Hurricane Preparedness Award, he visited every team and asked what steps they took to prepare.


The top three teams selected one of three grand prize experience (chosen in order of placement):

  • Shark Tagging Experience offered by the UM Shark Research and Conservation Program.
  • Tour and visit to The Innovation Lab at Royal Caribbean, said to be the world's largest virtual reality room
  • Tour and visit of Hurricane Simulator at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

First Place – Team Kappa

  • Gabryelle Cabezas
  • Cristy Gonzalez
  • Alexander Kamphurst
  • Ana Kemp
  • Yesenia Valiente
Team Kappa

Second Place – Team Pi

  • Natalia Aldana
  • Miguel Amin
  • Andrea Arizaleta
  • Aron Baigelman
  • Bo Li
Team Pi

Third Place – Team Delta

  • Jacob Feldman
  • Brian Galea
  • Tamara Johnson
  • Vladimir Penaloza
  • Palmer Withers
Team Delta

Warlord’s Choice Award – Team Delta

Cool Under Pressure Awards

  • Natalia Aldana
  • Cherisse Cooper
  • Frank Davila
  • Palmer Withers

Executive Presence Awards

  • Aron Baigelman
  • Ana Kemp
  • Amanda Pearl
  • Jaqueline Ryan
  • Abdulla Shanan
  • Palmer Withers

Hurricane Preparedness Planning Award – Team Theta

  • Chanal Carlisle
  • Zian Huang
  • Ping Su
  • Nan Zhou

To view photos from the competition and awards ceremony, click here. For more information about the Miami Leadership Challenge, click here.