CEL summer project: ‘Meant to be’ for Ally Gerard, BSBA ’22

When the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn caused internship cancellations, WashU Olin and the Center for Experiential Learning stepped up to provide summer learning opportunities for students while supporting St. Louis-based businesses. We’ll be sharing their stories on the Olin Blog. Today, we’ll hear from Ally Gerard, BSBA ’22, who worked on competitive analysis for Institutiform Technology.

The late playwright Jonathan Larson wrote, “The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.” In the face of adversity and these times of tribulation, it isn’t enough to sit idly by and accept our circumstances. We must constantly create opportunity and value for ourselves and for others. 

Ally Gerard

Larson’s words rang ever so true this summer of 2020, and I truly have the WashU and St. Louis communities to thank for that. 

In April, on the eve of spring semester reading week, I lost my maternal grandmother to a nearly 30-year battle with breast cancer. My family was devastated. To make matters worse, several days later, I received official news that my summer internship program was canceled due to uncertainties of the pandemic and the future of professional sports seasons. 

So much stability, so many plans were ripped out from underneath me, and I had to pivot. When I heard about the CEL summer program, it just felt meant to be. 

I was coming off a spring semester in the Small Business Initiative and had a great experience participating in that course and leading that team. I enjoyed the client communication and collaboration, as well as the opportunity to apply my Olin education to real-life business situations in the St. Louis community. That being said, I came into this summer experience with high expectations because, at this point, I knew the CEL well and really trusted the professors leading the charge on this summer initiative. 

Unsurprisingly, it did meet those high expectations. Maybe I just lucked out with the most amazing and supportive teammates, client and faculty advisor, but I really just consider that a testament to the unparalleled community Olin has fostered over the years.

This summer, I had the pleasure of leading the student team of Zach Fisher, BSBA ’22; Helen Hu, MS ’20; and Yiqiao Wang, MS ’20; with guidance from Professor John Horn. Our group consulted for Insituform Technologies, a subsidiary of Aegion Corporation. Insituform specializes in pipeline installation and rehabilitation, offering its renowned cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) technology across numerous North American regions. 

Throughout the seven-week engagement, our group conducted regional competitive analyses to understand Insituform’s bid performance, bid aggressiveness, and competitive threats on the regional level. We also evaluated how certain elements of a project (such as pipe diameter and prime-contractor or subcontractor roles) affected Insituform’s win percentage for these municipality bids.

All this research built up to our final deliverable, which was an Excel model that predicted the project backlog of one of Insituform’s largest national competitors. It was a very complex, data-heavy undertaking; however, we were able to create a functional model that will be of benefit to Insituform’s competitive strategy moving forward. 

However, tragedy hit again just two days before our final presentation, when I received news that my maternal grandfather passed away from an unexpected heart attack. I actually found out during a CEL team meeting. It was a true shock and incredibly overwhelming to grapple with while preparing to present our final findings to the client. 

Despite the emotional obstacle, I will never forget the immense love and support I received from my student team, our faculty advisor, and our program manager Amy Soell. They gave me strength and made me so proud, again, to be an Olin student.

Life handed me a basketful of lemons this summer, and the CEL really helped facilitate a transformative lemonade-making process. I will always be thankful to Olin for innovating and executing this unforgettable professional learning opportunity, and I look forward to reconnecting with my teammates and faculty advisor in the fall!

In Business & Research, News, Student Life, Teaching & Learning
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