Not long after the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament came to a close, a trio of Southwestern University business majors made a strong showing at a different type of “March Madness” in Waco.

Juniors Olivia Bakke, Logan LeBlanc, and Abby Ryan posted a top-10 finish at the inaugural National Collegiate Digital Marketing Championships at Baylor University on April 11. The team from Southwestern competed alongside peers from some of the top universities in the nation in the March Madness-style academic competition.

“The amount of competition, and how competitive we got, was just like a college sporting event, but in digital marketing.” - Olivia Bakke ’25

All three students were coached by Associate Professor of Economics and Business Debika Sihi using materials from her Digital Marketing course.

“I am so proud,” Dr. Sihi said. “Their marketing acumen was definitely on display, which made me really happy as an educator. Here at Southwestern, we try to educate the whole person, including both professional and personal development. The way that they interacted with each other and the other students, faculty, sponsors, and recruiters made me even more proud. That’s what we want at Southwestern, for people to grow up and become good citizens, and that’s who they are.”

The Championship consisted of four different individual and team events, with universities earning points in each competition. Bakke and LeBlanc competed as a team in the main event, “Presentation Pro,” a 32-team bracket-style tournament in which schools vied against each other to wow judges with marketing presentations.

“The amount of competition, and how competitive we got, was just like a college sporting event, but in digital marketing,” Bakke said. “You would never think you could get that same athletic competitive drive in that experience.”

Bakke and LeBlanc also competed in “Going Viral,” a competition that required orchestrating impactful social media campaigns across multiple platforms. LeBlanc was crowned champion of the YouTube category and finished 13th out of 81 total participants in the overall individual competition.

“With the help of Dr. Sihi and my teammates, it was really cool to win the competition, get some points for Southwestern, and show that the small schools can win too,” LeBlanc said. “The Business Department here at Southwestern has really set us up in a way to compete against larger schools, like Florida and Texas, who offer renowned ad marketing and digital marketing programs.”

Ryan competed in both “Quantum Quiz,” a timed competition where she had to answer questions about a wide range of marketing concepts, and “Man vs Machine,” an event where she competed against artificial intelligence to build the most compelling marketing campaign.

“It was really exciting but a little nerve wracking,” Ryan said. “As small as our team was, I felt really prepared because I know we’ve all had internships in marketing. We placed pretty high, above some pretty big schools.”

Southwestern’s team finished 10th in the nation, competing alongside schools such as the University of Texas, the University of Florida, the University of Missouri, LSU, Florida State University, and Ohio State University. At times, SU’s contingent was competing against teams made up of eight to 10 students.

“It was inspiring to see that you don’t have to go to a big school to be successful, and you don’t have to major in marketing to be good at marketing,” Bakke said. “That was really insightful because I feel like most of the analytics and number analysis is taught in the classroom, but a lot of it I had found through my internships.”

Bakke and LeBlanc are both interns in the Office of Marketing and Communications at Southwestern. In addition, Bakke is also interning at Power Digital Marketing, a nationwide marketing agency. Ryan is currently working at Austin PX, a pharmaceuticals and manufacturing company. She has plans to pursue her masters in marketing after graduating in 2025.

“I’m potentially looking at getting my master’s in marketing at UT,” Ryan said. “Being able to interact with their students, and compare the ways that we learn at our school, where we get such a good variety of different educational topics, was really cool. I can’t think of another opportunity that we would have like that.”

Aside from the academic competition, the event also provided the trio with opportunities to network with recruiters, industry professionals, and fellow students from across the nation. It also allowed recruiters to witness the students in action.

“It was super cool to be able to go and hear from professionals within the digital marketing world,” LeBlanc said. “Being able to hear and see what other students are seeing in their internships and their job searches was something that I gained a lot more insight in.”

“I can’t think of another opportunity that we would have like that.” - Abby Ryan ’25

With the inaugural experience under their belts, the group plans to return to Waco next year to compete in the 2nd Annual National Collegiate Digital Marketing Championships, hopefully as part of a larger team from Southwestern.

“We’re hoping more students join us next year,” LeBlanc said. “I know we can get a little bit bigger team and show out for the University.”

“The opportunity was unforgettable,” Bakke said. “I can’t wait to do it again.”