Three SUNY Oswego students swept the top awards in an elevator-pitch contest for Central New York college students.

Kamal Morales, a junior double majoring in public relations and theatre, took first prize. Second place went to John Owens, a junior majoring in computer science. The third-place winner was Nirdishtha Sapkota, a senior double majoring in journalism and art interaction design with a minor in creative writing.

The contest is sponsored by the Central New York Career Development Association (CNYCDA), which consists of 12 schools. Each year its council constructs and hosts an event that ranks the participating students' accomplishments in terms of career development, which provides additional practice to enhance their skills and possible exposure to future employers. 

Previous events included an in-person internship showcase. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions an in-person event was not possible this year. It became a virtual elevator pitching contest, with participating students submitting a video between 30 and 60 seconds summarizing and highlighting their career and college experience so far. 

“We came up with this contest because it could be done fully virtually and we found it to be extremely practical,” said Taeko Kelly, a SUNY Oswego career coach and CNYCDA events committee member. “Not only is the process of creating, perfecting and polishing an elevator pitch useful; on top of that you end up with this recording that you can send to future employers or put it on your linkedin profile.”

The contest ran from December 2020 through March 2021, and included opportunities to attend various elevator pitching workshops. 

“In a nutshell, an elevator pitch shares who you are, what you do, and what you want,” said Kelly. “In theory, a first-year student with no college experience yet could have entered the contest.” 

Showing authenticity

When asked what led to winning first place, Morales cited staying true to himself the entire time, since people like authenticity. 

“I had to realize that no one is me, and that is my superpower and that is what I brought to my pitch,” Morales said. “I started off by singing because that is who I am. It was fun and very exciting.”

As an accomplished vocalist and director of the Oswego Gospel Choir, that plays to his strengths.

“I put a suit jacket on and did the video and was just me, and I won,” Morales said. “Doing the pitch reassured me that I have everything in order to succeed. I have the spontaneity, the drive, and the motivation.”

He shared that past experiences and previous courses at SUNY Oswego helped to solidify what was making it into his pitch. “My COM 210 class helped me visualize how to construct the video and keep people's attention until the end because everybody wants substance,” Morales noted.

Deciding on what ultimately made it into the pitch proved to be difficult for all three winners. Owens found trying to condense one's entire life and career into a video of a minute or less is challenging. 

“We only had 60 seconds, so I wanted to put things into it that related to computer science because that’s my career and my major,” Owens said. “So I tried mostly to focus on that. However, my intro had some other background information; for example I went to Germany to work with a youth exchange program, and I highlighted that.” 

Given his background, Owens was able to take a more technical approach, putting his previous learned experiences to work. “ I had a lot of cuts and transitions, a lot of different videos and pictures, with a lot of planning involved,” Owens said. “I went a little overboard on the technical side because that is my speciality.” 

Owens ultimately chose to participate in the competition for the benefits of possibly receiving some career-oriented experience. 

“Initially, I just looked into it and saw the prize option,” Owens said. “However, after looking further into it, I saw that you could use this to gauge future employers, and it’s valuable now that I have this video and am able to show it to future employers. I can put it on social media or somewhere and gage people's interest.” 

The third place winner, Sapkota, heard of the contest while interning in the Office of Career Services. 

“I am a public relations intern at Career Services, and I am actually supervised by Taeko Kelly, and so she encouraged me and some of my friends to participate because it was a great opportunity for us,” said Sapkota. 

Through participating, Sapkota says she gained valuable experience in how one's word choice can become important when speaking in such a short timespan.

“Doing the elevator pitch made me gather my thoughts and realize some things that I need to practice highlighting about myself,” said Sapkota. “It made me aware that I do need to think about my word choice and how I represent myself digitally on Zoom and in other fashions.”

Regardless of prior experiences, all three participants explained taking part in the competition allowed them to create a valuable video that can be uploaded anywhere and possibly gain viewership by future employers. 

“I want to put it on my LinkedIn, circulate it and see if it can help me get a job,” said Sapkota. 

“I think just to have a video that showcases your career and life in such a short video, I think that is a valuable thing to add to your portfolio and to show future employers who are interested in you,” said Owens. 

All three of the  winners' elevator pitches can be viewed online (Morales, Owens and Sapkota) or on the CNYCDA YouTube channel. For more information about CNYCDA, visit their website.

-- Story by Jonathan Morrow of the Class of 2021