March 24, 2011 by

Winners Announced for 2011 Essay Competition

On the evening of March 15, the Cornell HR Review held an awards ceremony for its annual essay competition. Open to all Cornell students, this year’s competition challenged students to respond to one of three prompts, which addressed such topics as labor relations, HR branding, and contractor utilization. Prizes for the competition included $750 for first place, $500 for second, and $250 for third.

CHRR staff narrowed down the pool of entries to the competition’s four best, then an independent panel of judges representing CHRR stakeholders (students, academicians, and HR professionals) determined the winners. This year’s final round judges panel included 2010 competition winner Nathan Sheranian MILR ’11, ILR Professor Lisa Nishii, and Cornell Vice President of Human Resources Mary Opperman. Ms. Opperman keynoted the event, discussing the challenges of advocating in behalf of employees while seeking the best interests of management. The event was emceed by CHRR vice president Ryan McAllister (Cornell MILR ’11) and attended by ILR School Dean Harry Katz.

MILR students swept this year’s competition, with Chelsea Vandlen (MILR ’11) garnering the first place prize for her essay, Making ‘cents’ of temps: The costs and benefits of temporary workers. “I was very excited to win the essay competition this year,” she remarked. “The caliber of the students who submitted essays is incredible, so I feel honored that my essay was selected.” Ms. Vandlen said ideas for her winning essay spawned from previous work as a research assistant for CAHRS and from lessons learned in the HR metrics course at ILR taught by professor John Hausknecht. “I hope that my essay proves useful to other students, faculty, and practitioners, and I applaud the Cornell HR Review for hosting such a great competition!”

Second place for the competition went to Samuel Merkley (MILR ’11), whose essay offered suggestions for increasing the brand equity of HR as a profession. Additionally, Christopher Lee (MILR ’12) was awarded third place, and Lisa Chen (MILR ’12) took home an honorable mention.

The winning entries will be published in CHRR in April, and details regarding the next annual essay competition will be announced in February 2012. ℵ


  1. HR professionals undertake seemingly conflicting roles, advocating in behalf of employees while seeking the best interests of management. Explain whether practitioners of HR can feasibly appease both sets of stakeholders and, if so, how.
  2. Ask an outsider to describe HR and you may hear less-than-flattering comments such as, “They plan parties and don’t contribute any value to the business;” or “HR just hires and fires;” or “HR is for people who aren’t good with numbers.”  Explain how HR can increase its brand equity, both at the macro and micro levels.
  3. Weigh the costs and benefits for HR as companies utilize more and more part-time and nonpermanent workers (e.g., temporary workers, leased workers, independent contractors).


1st Place: Chelsea E. Vandlen html | pdf

2nd Place: Samuel D. Merkley html | pdf

3rd Place: Christopher G. Lee html | pdf

Honorable Mention: Lisa Chen html | pdf

2011 Essay Competition Winners: (left to right) Lisa Chen, Chris Lee, Chelsea Vandlen, Sam Merkley

ILR Dean Harry Katz, alongside competition judge and Vice President of Human Resources for Cornell University Mary Opperman, prepares to address attendees

President Jonathan DeGraff welcomes the gathering, with Vice President Ryan McAllister, who emceed the ceremony, looking on

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