110619 claflin hbcu challenge

Claflin University students Caleb Green, left, and Mackenzie Brown, right, were joined by their adviser, Dr. Belinda Wheeler, at the inaugural HBCU Innovation Challenge in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Two Claflin University students were among 32 college students who recently competed at the inaugural HBCU Innovation Challenge in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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Mackenzie Brown, a junior management information systems major, and Caleb Green, a senior business administration/management major, represented Claflin. They were joined by their adviser, Dr. Belinda Wheeler, an associate professor of English.

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The challenge was sponsored by Colonial Life, Unum and The Company Lab (Co.Lab). Unum is the top disability insurer in both the United States and United Kingdom. The company also offers other insurance products, including accident, critical illness and life insurance.

Colonial Life Insurance is based in Columbia. The company offers disability, accident life, cancer, critical illness and hospital confinement insurance plans in 49 states. Colonial Life was founded in 1939. It has been a subsidiary of Unum since 1993.

The companies invited 32 juniors and seniors from HBCUs to work together in a two-day innovation case competition to solve real-world challenges facing the insurance industry. Participants competed to gain national recognition and to win cash prizes, including $5,000 for the first-place team, $3,000 for the second-place team and $1,500 for third-place.

Each student was assigned to a team which was responsible for developing insurance benefits plans for "freelancers" or the self-employed. Their proposals were reviewed and evaluated by several company representatives who also offered feedback and evaluations.

"Our students did not win any awards or prizes but the judges were very impressed with their presentations," Wheeler said. "We met Tim Arnold, CEO for Colonial Life, who said he is looking forward to visiting the Claflin campus."

"The event was a great networking opportunity. We really enjoyed connecting with the corporate executives on a personal level," said Green, who met with Arnold and Unum CEO Richard McKenney. Green received an offer to join Unum's Professional Development Team and he highly recommends that students interested in business, management, accounting or financing attend next year's HBCU Innovation Challenge.

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"We want to be the most inclusive, diverse and welcoming company in our industry and beyond. Colonial Life, Unum and CO.LAB recognize the business value in attracting and retaining diverse talent," said Wade Hinton, vice president of Inclusion and Diversity at Colonial Life/Unum. "We believe this challenge will help us connect with and recruit diverse talent."

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