Author: The CEL

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About The CEL

The Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) provides students with the opportunity to engage in real-world, team-based consulting projects and experiences around the globe. Guided by distinguished faculty, students are able to deliver actionable results to organizations, develop skills as a life-long learners, and establish themselves as credible business and community leaders.


Shirley (Jingxuan) Zhou, MSCA ’19, wrote this on behalf of her team for the Center for Experiential Learning.

Edward Jones, a full-service brokerage firm with a high reputation, concentrates on working with serious, long-term investors across both the United States and Canada. With more than 18,000 financial advisers, the company helps clients make sense of investing. At Edward Jones, each financial adviser has their own website, allowing clients to get to know more about the advisers and their business.

During the past four months, a team of two MBA and four MSCA students cooperated closely with Edward Jones’s marketing team and analytics team to explore customer behavior on these sites and measure the effectiveness of the advisers’ microsites.

In the meantime, professor Seethu Seetharaman and Michael Wall also provided constructive guidance on data processing and marketing strategies, ensuring the project was at the right track.

Using data analytics to make an impact

The whole process could be divided into four steps:

  • Identify if customized microsites provide benefits over standard microsites.
  • If they do, explore the optimal level of customization.
  • Discover driving factors that lead to customization by an adviser.
  • Provide business insights and recommendations obtained through the analysis to improve microsite performance.

On December 5, the team visited the headquarter of Edward Jones, delivering the final presentations to both marketing team and analytics team. According to different audiences, the team had different focuses. After showing the data analysis results, key insights and recommendations, both teams were impressed about their work.

Real-world experience

The CEL practicum has offered the team a great opportunity to apply data analytics skills to real business world. While leveraging the analytical skills and business sense to help Edward Jones better optimize its business-decision process, the team also gained a lot of experience and knowledge on team collaboration and communication. This is definitely an amazing experience for every team member.

Pictured above: Madhuri Mada, MBA ’20; Gaurav Malik, MBA/MSCA, x’20; Sabrina Alexandre, MSCA ’19; Shirley Zhou, MSCA ’19; Katherine Yin, MSCA ’19; and Max Jiang, MSCA ’19.




Hanze Xu, MSBA’18, contributed this blog post on behalf of the fall 2019 Mastercard practicum team for Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning.

With the mission of “doing well by doing good,” Mastercard seeks to leverage its rich data resources to make a positive economic and social impact in the communities in which it works.

Tied to the “Data for Good Initiative” established in 2016, Mastercard partners with the Center for Analytics and Business Insights within Washington University in St. Louis on student-led practicum projects that use data from merchant retail locations.

Provided by Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth, this aggregated transaction data is intended to drive social-economic insights that will benefit the wider St. Louis community, home to Mastercard’s operations center.

The student project team this year consisted of six graduate students: four in the customer analytics program and two full-time MBA students. The team focused on forecasting economic changes that may result from the anticipated opening of a Major League Soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis in 2022.

Student members of the Mastercard team, starting from fifth from the left: Phoebe Do, Hanze Xu, Siyi Wang, Sarah Fuller, Yuyun Li, Pamela Chen, Muhammad Hassan.

The team analyzed the impact of two similar MLS stadiums in San Jose and Orlando, which opened in the last four years, and used the results from those analyses to predict potential results for St. Louis.

I was very excited to apply the knowledge and theories learned in class to a real-world event, especially when the project is tied to an exciting upcoming opportunity that the local community is excited about.

By working side by side with the team of faculty advisors—professors Seethu Seetharaman, Michael Wall and Meng Liu—the team has looked through more than 700,000 rows of data, built predictive models, and generated insights about the changing spending patterns associated with the stadiums in three cities.

After three months of hard work, the team successfully completed the analysis using both qualitative research and quantitative model building. The work indicates that the MLS stadiums in comparison cities San Jose and Orlando helped increase overall retail spending in adjacent neighborhood areas, and the same can be expected for St. Louis.

The team gave its final presentation to the Mastercard senior executive team in the first week of December 2019. The team was able to impress the client team with comprehensive analyses and thorough recommendations, which led to a rich discussion of how to make St. Louis a more attractive destination, both for investors and the community.

The team also laid out potential next steps for Mastercard to tactically implement partnerships with the new MLS team and to further bolster the fall 2019 recommendations with further analyses.

The project was a great learning experience and the highlight of my semester. The great combination of MBA and SMP students in a team environment created the perfect conditions for us to learn from each other.

Yuyun Li, Pamela Chen, Muhammad Hassan, Phoebe Do, Siyi Wang, Hanze Xu.

Analytics students learned how to translate the results of models into business insights and communicate them clearly to a client, and the MBA students learned more about the underlying analytics concepts.

We all grew incredibly fast throughout the course of the project, and ultimately delivered strong results for the client. As I am graduating this December, this is also a perfect close to my amazing experience at Olin over the last two years.

Pictured at top: Muhammad Hassan, MBA ’20; Sarah Fuller, MBA ’20 and CEL-fellow; a representative from Mastercard; Michael Wall, CEL/CABI faculty adviser; Phoebe Do, MBA ’20; another client representative; Yuyun Li, MSCA ’19; Pamela Chen, MSCA ’19; another client representative; Hanzu Xu, MSCA ’19; Siyi Wang, MSCA ’19; another client representative; Seethu Seetharaman, CEL/CABI faculty adviser.




CEL practicum participants Katrina Wu, MSCA ’19, Phoebe Do, MBA ’20, and Yukti Malhotra, MBA ’19 contributed this post on behalf of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning.

Direct Supply, the nation’s leading provider of equipment, e-commerce, and service solutions for senior living has been committed to enhancing the lives of the elderly. With continuous innovation, the company offers them comfortable environments and updated facilities.

Through WashU Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning consulting practicum, a team of graduate students comprised of two MBA and four master of science in business analytics students had the opportunity to learn about Direct Supply and their growing industry.

Under the guidance of the Center of Analytics and Business Insights co-Directors Seethu Seetharaman and Michael Wall, the group has been studying more than two million transactions, building predictive models, and generating insights about Direct Supply’s customers and product returns—all with the intent of improving profitability while optimizing the consumer experience.

Improve profit, optimize experience

This “product return predictive analysis” project is structured in four phases:

  • Estimate the probability of a given transaction resulting in a return.
  • Categorize and segment returns based on various attributes.
  • Forecast the probability of a “good” or “bad” return based on the customer experience pre- and post-return.
  • Devise strategic business and technological recommendations to improve the return experience.

In March, Direct Supply executives visited Olin to attend the students’ midterm presentation. They included Randy Kirk, executive vice president and chief data scientist, Nithin Ramachandran, director of business intelligence, and his team, Chandana Andipakula, Christopher Mooney and Rajarsi Mitra.

By delivering key insights from the data overview and early-stage models, they impressed Direct Supply with their findings. Ramachandran, MBA ’13, and his team praised the project as the group’s best so far.

The students strengthened their relationship with Direct Supply over dinner after the presentation, where they learned more about the company’s history, culture, and future vision as well as project-specific details. They visited Direct Supply in Milwaukee in early May to share their final recommendations.

Real world impact

The project has offered a valuable opportunity for the consulting team to gain experience by applying classroom learning toward real-world impact. The combination of MBA and customer analytics expertise creates an environment conducive to learning. MBA students learn to support their recommendations with robust data, while analytics students learn to translate their findings into clear, meaningful, and client-facing business insights.

Additionally, the client benefits from engaging savvy and energetic students who are committed to solving the most pressing problems.




John Weibel, MBA ’19, contributed this post on behalf of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning.

For the most part, banks look and act alike. However, First Bank is not just any bank among the many in the St. Louis, Los Angeles, and San Francisco regions. As a family-owned business with strong connections in the communities they serve, they know the unique challenges faced by family-owned businesses.

Opportunity for family-owned businesses

As First Bank looks ahead to the next five years, they strive to become the bank of choice for the owners, families, and employees of family-owned businesses. They had the expertise to accomplish this goal but needed to better understand their target customers and the competitive landscape for this customer segment. Thus, the client challenged the CEL team to research the market landscape for family-owned businesses and to conduct analysis on the intense banking competition in the regions they serve.

The CEL team quickly discovered trends about family-owned businesses and identified key metrics for First Bank to evaluate. The team then conducted interviews with First Bank leadership. These interviews offered great opportunities for the team to refine where the project needed to go. Following the interviews, the team expanded on the market research to estimate the target market for First Bank, identified competitive advantages and disadvantages among the competition, and pinpointed opportunities for the client to exploit.

As the leadership at First Bank develops their next strategic plan, they have invited the team to present our recommendations at their leadership summit. The client has also asked the team to lead a session on how to replicate and scale our solutions as they measure their success.

Creating a real business solution

This CEL practicum has been an excellent opportunity to apply the critical thinking, analytical, and communication skills that Olin emphasizes in the classroom to a real business situation.




Krutika Sood, MBA ’20, a member of the Missouri Botanical Garden team traveling to Madagascar wrote this for the Olin Blog. Krutika worked with fellow MBA students Lael Bialek and Coilean Malone as well as faculty advisor Karen Bedell and CEL Fellow Megan Cowett to complete the project.

On March 8, 2019, three MBA candidates and one CEL Faculty Advisor set out on a 31-hour plane journey from St. Louis to Madagascar. After an eventful week learning about the distinctive flora and fauna found in the forests of Madagascar, only two of those MBA candidates made it back to St. Louis on the March 16, 2019 (Don’t worry, the other two members of the team made it back after a 42-hour journey on March 17, despite a missed flight).

The reason our team set off on this journey was to visit the Madagascar Program team of St. Louis’s own Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG).

The MBG was founded in 1859 by Henry Shaw. Today, the MBG is a National Historic Landmark and a center for science, conservation, education and horticultural display, and is considered one of the top three botanical gardens in the world. The Madagascar Program, started in 1987, is MBG’s largest and most successful international program.

Biodiversity hotspot

Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot and global conservation priority as it is home to about 14,000 species of flora (95% of the species are endemic) and only 7% of its forest cover still remains. This, coupled with the fact that Madagascar is one of the ten poorest countries in the world, has defined the two core goals for MBG’s Madagascar Program:

  1. To conduct botanical research and exploration on one of the world’s most distinctive and threatened floras.
  2. To conserve biodiversity through local engagement to improve natural resource management and the quality of life improvement in local communities.

The Madagascar Program consists of two major components – the Research Unit and the Conservation Unit. Our team was tasked with understanding the functioning of the Research Unit in order to recommend an optimal operational and financial strategy geared towards sustainable program growth. As a consulting team, our main goal was to provide recommendations that are realistic, actionable, and in alignment with the mission and goals of the Madagascar Program and the MBG.

Value of overseas site visit

This experiential learning opportunity has been valuable and enriching for us because it gave us a chance to utilize our collective professional and academic experiences to tackle a complex problem for a real client. We were able to gain valuable work experience during our MBA program that challenged us to think creatively and acquire knowledge about the symbiotic relationship between firms, local communities and the environment – a very crucial relationship in today’s business world.

Furthermore, collaborating with various stakeholders across three continents (USA, Europe & Africa) has been both a highlight and a challenge with this project. It taught us how to adapt and be effective in a dynamic and ambiguous environment, a.k.a, any real job. This project also allowed us to experience a new country and immerse ourselves in a different culture.

We didn’t get much sleep, but we did get to eat delicious food, see exotic forests, dip our toes into the blindingly blue Indian Ocean, and meet some adorable lemurs. Overall, it was a rewarding experience and we would surely choose to do it again. Working on a CEL Practicum has definitely been the highlight of our year.