Author: Bear Studios


About Bear Studios

A company founded and run by students that focuses on strategy, design, and technology for clients in St. Louis and beyond.

Jacob Finke is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, where he majors in international and area studies and Chinese language and culture. He studied abroad at Fudan University in Shanghai for the summer and fall of 2018. Jacob wrote this post for the Olin Blog on behalf of Bear Studios.

Going abroad always strains relationships. This was something that I was aware of—and worried about—when I decided to study abroad for the summer and fall of 2018. In addition to finding new ways to keep in touch with my family and friends, I was particularly preoccupied about how I was going to communicate with my team at Bear Studios.

Since beginning my time as executive director of Bear Studios in April 2018, Lexi Jackson—my co-director—and I have done our best to communicate as openly as possible, not only between ourselves, but also with Bear Studios’ partners and fellows. We’re a team, and we wanted to communicate like it.

When I went abroad, it strained our communications plan—but I learned some valuable lessons from it.

Have a plan

Before I left for China, Lexi and I wrote up a plan on how we were going to communicate while abroad. Who was going to check our business email? Who was going to update our website? When were we going to have our phone calls? What worked best—FaceTime or Skype? All of these conversations are important—and they need to happen before you leave.

Be flexible

You know the plan Lexi and I drew up? It didn’t last long. Reality got in the way. We flip-flopped between Facebook Messenger and GroupMe before discovering halfway through the semester that iMessage was most convenient. Our roles constantly shifted and were complicated when new responsibilities, such as recruiting new fellows, muddied our beautifully laid-out plan. But we rolled with the punches.

Count on your team

I absolutely made communication blunders this semester. Sometimes, I poorly navigated the time change and sent flurries of texts at 4 a.m. St. Louis time. Other times, because of internet restrictions in China, I was unable to access my work email account for days at a time. When this happened, I knew I could count on Lexi and the team to be understanding—as they were, time and time again. While this was important while I was abroad, I know it will be no less important now that I am home.

I am by no means a communication expert and this semester’s communication plan was by no means perfect. However, it did illuminate some ways my communication can be improved. It also showed me just how important it is to have a team, like the one we have at Bear Studios, that is consistent, flexible, and open to error.

Pictured above are Washington University students and faculty with Fudan University program partners at Thanksgiving dinner in Shanghai in November 2018. Jacob is on the far right in the second row.

Lexi Jackson, BSBA ’20, is the co-executive director of Bear Studios. She majors in leadership and strategic management and political science, and she wrote this for the Olin Blog.

I am still two years out from my full professional career, yet I estimate that I have read more than 10 books on leadership and have heard quotes from a dozen more. Washington University’s focus on developing leadership principles in its students is extensive and deliberate.

Indeed, it shapes students who are prepared to assume leadership roles upon graduation, whether formally or informally. However, building authentic and genuine professional leaders requires more than theoretical studies; leaders are shaped by how they respond to the situations around them, how they foster and maintain relationships, and how they reconcile their mistakes.

In my inaugural year as one of the executive directors of Bear Studios, a student-founded and student-operated strategy and design firm, I have not only witnessed the growth of my own leadership skills, but I have had the privilege to see incredible leaders form alongside me.

One of the hallmarks of working as a contractor in consulting or design work is the unpredictability of each project. Bear Studios fellows are excited by this challenge and are dedicated to meeting every client’s unique request. In situations that demand quick turnarounds or challenging subject material, Bear Studios fellows display some of the most valued leadership characteristics in the professional workplace. Our fellows are adaptable, receptive to feedback, and transparent, openly communicating with clients about how to best translate their vision into timely and comprehensive deliverables.

The secret to our team’s excellent client relations is the emphasis we place on developing relationships with one another. Effective leaders recognize the value of those in their network and work to invest in those individuals so they can grow together. Bear Studios fellows rotate through different types of projects throughout their tenure, collaborating with other fellows who have previously contributed to projects of a similar nature.

Fellows learn best practices from one another and maintain an open dialogue with more senior fellows to ask questions and obtain insights when needed. This practice helps our fellows further develop their skills and provide clients with the highest quality of work.

No leader in our organization, or any other, is exempt from error. Mistakes are a natural part of professional development. Strong leaders take ownership of their mistakes and seek to identify the ways in which they can learn and improve from the situation. Fellows provide an update to their colleagues and Bear Studios management at our weekly team meetings.

During this time, fellows may relay any challenges they are experiencing. This meeting provides a platform for the entire team to contribute feedback and advice for the fellow. Additionally, after each client engagement, fellows are asked to reflect on how they managed the project. Further, fellows receive direct feedback from their clients that choose to submit comments through our client post-engagement form. Analyzing their own feedback with that of their client is a comprehensive way for fellows to gain actionable measures for future improvement.

Leadership is not a book that can be judged by its cover. Leadership encompasses the depth of an individual’s commitment to the success of their environment, the growth of their colleagues, and the extent of their self-improvement. Bear Studios does not develop leaders. Leaders develop themselves by leveraging experiences and experts provided by Bear Studios.

Pictured above: At client engagement projects like the one above, held at TechArtista in spring 2018, Bear Studios fellows are encouraged to lead by creating promotional materials or helping to plan and manage events.


Garrett Passamonti, Class of 2021, is a sophomore in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Garrett Passamonti, Class of 2021, is a sophomore
in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Garrett Passamonti, EN ’21, wrote this on behalf of Bear Studios.

My first year at Washington University was full of new experiences, from forming new friendships and discovering new clubs to the initial shock of a college course load.

All my energy was channeled toward doing well in classes and finding a new group of friends. As a cook in the kitchen, I did my best to follow the “standard” recipe of freshman year.

A new year

I came back to WashU for my second year knowing what to expect. The plan was to follow the same recipe I came to love by the end of last year. I already had my friends, knew how to handle higher-level classes, and had some solid extracurriculars.

But only a few weeks in, the dish I had finally mastered began tasting bland.

This year, it’s not all about the novel experience of attending a new school and meeting new people. Instead, it is about solidifying and deepening the relationships I’ve already cultivated. The recipe that defined my freshman year experience—do well in school and find new friends—is no longer there to follow.

Time to become a chef

My education so far has taught me how to follow recipes to cook. It is time to use my cooking skills to define who I am and how I will shape the rest of my college, and life, experience.

When I look at my friends, courses, and activities, I wonder how I am going to form them into my identity. I am afraid of making something I don’t like—but isn’t that why chefs taste test as they go?

What will I make?

Today, I am matching different interests, friends, and activities together, making frequent and careful choices about what tastes good to me.

This year I removed free time from my dish. The only reason I sought free time stemmed from a lack of passion for some activities—so I removed them from my recipe book. It’s not easy to make menu changes, but when I switched from biomedical engineering to systems science and engineering, it felt good seeing more room on my plate.

There was finally space to join a Jazz Combo, take voice lessons, and add on a minor in healthcare management. For me, free time shouldn’t be sought out—it should be avoided. When my plate is full and I’m not trying to find excuses to avoid certain activities, then I know I am being true to myself, developing my own recipe to life, and becoming a chef.

My goal is to make a fantastic meal. This trial and error will take time and effort, but it is worth it. It is important, at the end of the day, for your meal to taste good to you.

Do what makes you happy, what inspires you to push the limits of your ability and grow. Cherish every moment while you cook (it’s supposed to be fun) and stay attentive—you never know when that one ingredient may come along to change everything for the better.

Pictured above: Garrett Passamonti with members of the Stereotypes a cappella group at a competition in Boston, MA last year. The Stereotypes is one of the activities that Garrett joined early his first year at WashU, making it a central ingredient.

Melissa Guo, BSBA ’21, posted this on behalf of Bear Studios

Melissa Guo

Melissa Guo

Sometimes, the hardest part of college is being stuck in the limbo of not knowing which of many paths to take or passions to focus on. It is the pressure of making the “right choice” and not letting ourselves succumb to the “what if”s that follow.

Deciding on which interests to single out and transform into a career path is often difficult, given the limited exposure to different fields we have as college students and our general inability to decide on what we want.

And it can be daunting to feel lost and confused, especially because we tend to focus on the classmates who seem to have it all figured out. So, does being unsure of what we want really demand additional stress or signal falling behind in career development?

Not necessarily.

Being unsure is more than OK. In fact, it’s normal.

It is so normal that research from Pennsylvania State University shows that 50 percent of college students go into college undecided, and 75 percent will change their major at least once during their four years at a university.

With this in mind, we should focus on ways to make the career searching process seem less stressful.

Kill two birds with one stone

I have been an artist since I was 7, a debater since maybe before then. But the one thing that I have always wanted was to start my own business. At times, these interests intersect or make room for each other so it is possible to spend a few hours pursuing each. Yet most days, it is only practical to invest in a few.

To avoid burning out early, investing in activities that encourage exploring multiple interests at once is ideal. I joined Bear Studios, a student-run consulting firm that works with local St. Louis startups, as a design fellow. I found an intersection between business and the creative fields. I was able to test how to apply the concepts I learned in my art and design courses against a potential interest in business consulting.

Similar opportunities are provided by clubs like Beat Therapy, which combines interests in music and community service, or Engineers Without Borders, which focuses on both engineering and sustainability.

Putting in the time to find activities that cater to more than one interest is a great way to maximize exposure to different fields simultaneously.

Build self-awareness

When we focus so much of our time and efforts on understanding each career path, we are in danger of forgetting to spend time understanding ourselves.

Recently, Olin integrated a career aptitude test into the BSBA curriculum. The results are geared towards finding personal strengths and weaknesses in the workplace, as well as key personality traits, helping to match students with jobs that will not only play to their strengths but also be enjoyable to them. Similarly, reflecting on day-to-day habits, activities, and interests to truly understand which elements continue to drive us forward is instrumental in getting a better grasp of which career paths are suitable

To be sure which careers are the right fit or not requires a level of self-awareness that can only be built up over time.

Keep things in perspective

It is important to keep in mind that we are not alone in our struggles. Pulse surveys this year have shown that 79 percent of WashU students report feeling more stressed than their peers, which sheds light on how we tend to underestimate our abilities when comparing ourselves to others.

Developing the ability to keep things in perspective—truly understanding that there are so many others around us with the same insecurities—takes practice, but can eventually lead to having greater confidence in ourselves and the paths we choose in the future.

As long as we actively seek to be open-minded about potential career paths or interests, engage in activities that allow us to explore multiple interests, and spend more time trying to understand ourselves, figuring out what we want to pursue in life becomes a lot less daunting.

Pictured above: Melissa with two co-owners of Bears Bikes, a student-owned business on Washington University’s campus. Melissa aptly keeping things in perspective by trying her hand at exploring all of her interests to keep things in perspectives.

Ben Kosowsky, BSBA ’20, wrote this post on behalf of Bear Studios LLC.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” — Soren Kierkegaard

Take a moment and think about yourself five years ago—or even just one year ago. Consider the day-to-day issues you were facing and your near-term worries. I would bet that you cannot remember most of your troubles. And even if you can, they are likely not the same as those that bother you today.

Contemplate your attitudes and outlooks and reflect upon how different they are from your current perspective. If you are anything like me, it borders on absurd to think that you were the same person who had those thoughts and took those actions just a short while back.

Now, recognize that much of what you are concerned with and think about today will likely seem petty in five years’ time—or even just one year from now. The appreciation that you always have grown and always will grow is certainly important, yet it is only the first step in orienting your mindset toward personal growth.

Before I continue, let me introduce myself. My name is Ben Kosowsky and I am a sophomore at Olin Business School triple majoring in finance, economics and strategy, and philosophy. I consider myself to be a growth-oriented person. What follows are some of the strategies I use to maximize my personal growth.


Self-reflection can and should be different for everyone. For me, the most successful strategies have been documentation, meditation, and rebuke.

I became inspired to keep a journal after an interview with a “brother” in Delta Sigma Pi during my pledging process freshman year. Since then, I have spent at least 15 minutes every night reflecting on my day, focusing on what and how I can improve.

At first, meditating even for five minutes was very hard for me, but I have now reached the point where I can meditate for 30 minutes at a time. This contemplative time has trained me to let go of unproductive thoughts, focusing intensely instead on critical matters.

Finally, the strategy of rebuke, derived from the Jewish concept of Tochacha, involves inviting your closest friends to criticize you and explain how you can improve. This requires a tremendous amount of trust, but hearing your flaws from those closest to you can open your eyes to issues that documentation or mediation won’t bring to light.


Throughout your life, the vast majority of your thoughts and beliefs have changed, and they will continue to change. To embrace the inevitability of this change, you should actively seek out new ideas by exposing yourself to as many different perspectives as possible.

Everyone has things you can learn from them and taking the time to listen will help you truly understand their vantage point. Realize that you already know any potential things you will say, so you can maximize learning and growth by listening to what others have to say, and then determining what is valuable.


While it is critical to be open to new ideas, it is equally as important to not care too much about other’s perceptions of you. Reflect on how much you cared about what the cool kids in middle school thought about you, and how little you care about their perceptions now.

On a more macro level, realize that societal definitions of success are sometimes just as arbitrary as “coolness” was in middle school. Additionally, notice how large of a role randomness plays in life and allow yourself to take some of your accomplishments and failures with a grain of salt.

This should help you realize how important it is to live your life only according to your own value system and not according to anyone else’s.


One thing most people try to avoid is the feeling of being uncomfortable. My objective throughout college has been to challenge myself with a set of goals that push me beyond my comfortable limits, while still giving myself a chance at success.

In my first semester at WashU, I challenged myself to join as many on-campus organizations and to take on as much leadership and responsibility as possible. In my second semester at WashU, I challenged myself to think outside the box in terms of my career path and began to pursue opportunities in growth equity, instead of a more traditional path.

Last semester, I challenged myself to eat meals one-on-one with as many people as possible in order to deepen my relationships. My challenges this semester have been to meditate, to work-out, and to read at least one hour of philosophy every day.

None of these tasks were (or are) easy for me, but the key to growth is pushing your limits by setting your mind to overcome what makes you uncomfortable.


Embracing failure is not about being content with losing or not caring about success; instead, it is realizing that every struggle is an opportunity for learning and growth. Everyone struggles through failures in life. Learning to deal with and bounce back from them is the true test of one’s character.

One way I think about struggle is through the lens of what I call Type 1 versus Type 2 situations. A Type 1 situation is one you enjoy during the moment and will remember as a positive experience. A Type 2 situation is one where you are struggling during the moment and will likely remember it as a negative experience.

If you train yourself to recognize the potential growth opportunities of a Type 2 situations while in the midst of one, you can focus on how you can learn and grow from the struggle instead of dwelling on the struggle itself.

These strategies should be continuous processes that push you and keep you from becoming complacent. If you make a “wrong” decision, don’t dwell on your mistake (the “right” answer always seems obvious in 20/20 hindsight), but focus on how you can learn and grow from it.

If you consistently learn about yourself through self-reflection, open yourself to new ideas, take other people’s perceptions less seriously, push your comfortable limits with challenging goals, and learn to embrace failure, then you are well on your way to achieving personal growth.

Guest blogger: Ben Kosowsky, BSBA ’20, is a triple major in finance, economics and strategy, and philosophy; he is a strategy fellow at Bear Studios LLC.