Author: Center for Experiential Learning

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About Center for Experiential Learning

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.

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 Nick Mueller, BSBA ’22, who acted as team lead working with GO! St. Louis.

Tell us about your summer project.

I worked with three other students as team lead for GO! St. Louis, a nonprofit running organization that promotes health and fitness in the St. Louis area by hosting running events such as marathons, half-marathons, 10K races, 5K, races, etc. as well as some biking and hiking events.  We worked to mitigate the detrimental effects of COVID-19 on our organization’s ability to continue its operations. 

In what ways has this CEL experience been helpful in applying your education or sharpening your skills?

This CEL experience gave me the opportunity to lead a team of my peers through a professional yet low-stress consulting engagement. We worked closely with a faculty member who provided feedback throughout the project, but gave us a great deal of discretion in how we approach it.  This freedom replicated the independence of a post-graduation consulting job and forced me to apply my own education and creativity, while the guidance I received helped me discover and improve upon my weaknesses. As a result, I emerged from each task as a more confident and competent consultant. 

What was a “day in the life” of this CEL program?

Each week began with a class on Monday and a check-in with our faculty advisor on Tuesday.  During this check-in, we discussed our objectives for the week and how we would accomplish them.  For the remainder of the week, the student team worked on our own doing research, crafting messages, meeting with experts (runners, PR specialists, etc.), completing our deliverables, and other required tasks.  During this time, we typically met about once day, and we were always allowed to contact our faculty member for questions or assistance.  On Sundays, we submitted a weekly update that outlined what we accomplished that week and what we hoped to do next week. 

What was it like working with a real-world client?

We met with our client on Zoom every two weeks and communicated via email or text whenever necessary.  Our Zoom meetings included our faculty member as well, who gave us feedback after the meeting.  Faculty feedback on client meetings was especially helpful in teaching me the professional courtesies and leadership skills that display confidence and competence in a business setting. It really taught me how to how to deal with a client, how to lead meetings both with a student team and with clients.

We speak of Olin as a values-based, data-driven business school. Have you seen that in action?

Absolutely.  Both clients I have worked with through the CEL have had a precise mission.  My first client promoted literacy among African American children and positive images of African American culture.  My second client was focused on promoting fitness, health, and exercise in the St. Louis community – a mission complicated by COVID-19, but more critical than ever in the wake of social distancing and people becoming more reclusive.  The Center for Experiential Learning chooses its partnerships carefully, and I believe the missions of these organizations reflect the values of Olin Business School, such as social reform and community engagement. 

The faculty in this program have placed strong emphasis on the importance of using data to formulate and justify recommendations. Furthermore, our Monday classes typically feature guest speakers and our most recent class was led by a panel of business analysts who gave a lesson on data visualization and communication. 

What surprised you about the experience?

I was surprised by the way we were able to do it all virtually without any problems. When the summer came around, I believe there was a good deal of skepticism regarding how feasible this would really be, to do a project like this all over Zoom. But I was pleasantly surprised by how it all turned out. And I think that the faculty, as well as the students, did a great job in pivoting and being flexible with everything.




The Fit and Food Connection is a nonprofit organization that provides food and resources to low-income families. Through this organization, families learn how to make healthier decisions, from food selection to implementing exercise in their daily routines. The Fit and Food Connection is there to support and advocate for the wellness of those in the community.

They’re working with our Taylor Community Consulting Program this year as a client. We wanted to highlight The Fit and Food Connection’s previous experience working with students engaged in our TCCP Program.

Here’s what they had to say.

 What unique perspective do students bring? How did they drive impact in your specific project?

Students bring a youthful perspective, and they also bring their business smarts based on their field of study. They are also very tech savvy and can use that knowledge throughout the project with The Fit and Food Connection. They drove impact within our project because they set out to help us create some help for our volunteer onboarding within the organization, and they provided some great groundwork for our volunteer program.

Was there anything that surprised you about the engagement with the CEL team?  If so, what – and why?

We know what an incredible institution Washington University is, but these students were so smart and the level of their engagement made the project so very special. Often we see teams of students where a few people do most of the work, but within the CEL team everyone was very engaged and participated at a high level.

With any collaboration, sometimes things can become rocky! What was the most challenging aspect of working with the CEL/student consultants?

The time frame to work with is always challenging. By the time we get some of the ground work done, there is only a few months to really dig in and we don’t often get to complete everything that we need.

How do you see CEL’s work fitting into the greater vision and mission of your company?

We see the CEL working together with Fit and Food for a long time to come. The work of the students is invaluable and our needs as a growing organization are great. We love their energy and enthusiasm and all of the knowledge that they bring to create some significant changes and forward movement within our organization.

What was the biggest takeaway you learned from this experience – and was your hope that the students take this away, too? 

The students helped us with some significant changes in our volunteer onboarding system, and gave us a great structure to use as we onboard volunteers. Our hope is that the students learned about The Fit and Food Connection, and that they see the intense benefits of giving back in their community. We also want them to see how a community can work together to create positive change, and that their work can really make an impact. The biggest takeaway was seeing how much work can be done in a short period of time, and that when you work hard at something and have a goal, great things can be achieved.

Gabrielle, Co-Director of The Fit and Food Connection, ended  with a few final remarks:

“We know that all of the students that we worked with are going to go on and do great things in their lives. They have helped our organization so much, and if they have learned something positive about their strengths or creating positive change within our communities, that would make us happy. We are so blessed to have this wonderful program in our city, and we are excited for future partnerships together.”

Through the CEL’s Taylor Community Consulting Program, students can engage with the St. Louis Community and make life-changing impacts.  Students in TCCP are valued and respected by clients. We also value our clients–especially those like The Fit and Food Connection, whose mission is to empower the community.

You can read more about The Fit and Food Connection here.


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 Phyllis Ellison, executive director of InvestMidwest Venture Capital Forum and  vice president of partnerships and program development, CORTEX Innovation Community

Given the pandemic, what compelled your company to get involved with this program?

 The CEL summer project program was offered at the perfect time. A practicum student that was scheduled to work in Fall 2020 with InvestMidwest cancelled. We had no idea if we were going to be able to find a student for summer, and how we would manage an internship. Cortex submitted two project ideas to the CEL, and one was selected. I’ve worked with three CEL teams in the past, and knew that having a team of WashU Olin Business School students working on our project would help us get the information and results we need to move any of our projects forward.

What is your project about?

InvestMidwest is an annual investor forum that connects venture capital investors to Midwest startups in the life science, tech, ag/food and energy sectors. The 20-year-old event recently transitioned to Cortex’s management. This project was to research the outcomes of the 700+ companies that have participated in InvestMidwest. That data will support marketing efforts and guide selection criteria in the future. 

What was it like working with WashU Olin students?

Olin students are great workers. Some are working on their organization and leadership skills; others are gaining an understanding of project management and the progression of a research project. They are all fine tuning their professional skills, and it was great to support that process.

What advice would you give students on the cusp of graduating at this time in history?

I really feel for students graduating during an economic downturn. I experienced it myself, as well as watching students go through the 2008-2010 recession. I would encourage them to be diligent in trying to find a job in their field. Don’t give up! Volunteer at a not-for-profit to gain experience and meet people. Attend events, when we’re able to do that again. Talk to people you know, asking about opportunities. Even if it’s below your preferred salary level, you’ll have the opportunity to grow your field. It will be difficult to return to your field of interest a couple years down the road if you don’t have any experience when a fresh class of graduates is entering the work force too. 

What are you going to take with you from this experience?

This experience has been such a great reminder. I’ve worked with CEL teams in the past, and this reminded me how valuable these teams are. The research and analysis the students did was incredible—and it’s a good reminder to remember WashU Olin as a resource we can tap into.




Al Kent

Beth Doores and Amy VanEssendelft wrote this for the Olin Blog. Beth is WashU’s associate director for campus life and former CEL program manager. Amy is a current CEL senior program manager. Both of them worked with Al Kent and the Olin/United Way Program

The Olin/United Way Board Fellows Program provides graduate students the opportunity to serve the greater St. Louis area as voting board members through a year of service with a United Way-supported nonprofit agency. Students engage with community leaders and develop valuable skills in board governance, interpersonal communication and leadership.

Al Kent has been the program director since the 2013 cohort and has decided to “pass the gavel” to Karen Bedell, MSW ’18, in January.

As Al transitions out of his role as program director for the Olin/United Way Board Fellows Program, we want to say “thank you!” as we reflect on his impact at WashU. A charismatic person from the south, be brought (and will continue to bring) the St. Louis nonprofit community his time, talent and treasure for the good.

Al embodies the definition of stewardship. The care he shows for our community goes deeper than the hundreds of nonprofits he has helped. His leadership speaks to the humanistic approach he takes with graduate-level students as he mentors through the program, but also in their careers and lives. His attention to the person and to the experience is not simply what he gives; it is the very nature of his character.

Listening…then challenging

From the comfort he brings to a room full of strangers to his business acumen, he guides our community members to be social change agents. Al is about the act of activism that St. Louis thirsts for during this time. He does not boast about the nonprofit work he has done personally or his impact locally; instead, he listens.

After he listens, he reflects and responds with encouragement—as well as a challenge for you to look at things from a different lens, check your values and, in the end, be better, do better and live better.

A man of family values, his passion comes from the heart of why we do the work we do: family. Those whom Al considers family goes beyond his home, extending to the far reaches of the broader St. Louis region. He is always ready to take late-night phone calls, mentor leaders across our community and travel countless miles to actively engage with our nonprofits…continually working to connect the right people to make the most impact.

To discover someone who authentically embodies his words through actions is a treasure. Al Kent is someone whom we are honored to call colleague, mentor, friend and family. He has taught us why the act of activism is far greater than the legacy. Thank you, Al!

Melding social work and an MBA

As we look ahead to 2021, we are happy to announce Karen Bedell as the new Olin/United Way Board Fellows Program Director. Having participated in all aspects of the CEL over the past several years, serving now as the CEL Practicum program director, she brings a unique perspective and a wealth of experience.

Her previous experience includes serving as senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Centene, and she has held leadership positions in marketing, strategic planning and community relations. Her passion for finding the intersection between nonprofit and for-profit work led her to earn her master’s in social work from WashU’s Brown School, which connected her with the CEL. She combines both her MBA—which she earned at St. Louis University in 1984—and her MSW in an impactful and cohesive manner, to the benefit of all who work with her.

Al Kent will be transitioning in December as Karen takes over in her new role in January. Visit the Center for Experiential Learning website for more information.


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 businesses, nonprofits and startups. We’ll be sharing their stories on the Olin Blog. Today, we’ll hear from Jay Li, BSBA ’16, director of marketing at Regatta Craft Mixers.

Given the pandemic, what compelled your company to get involved with this program?

Honestly, we had to scrap existing plans to bring on summer interns due to the pandemic. When I received the email from Dean Taylor about the program, we rushed to pitch a strategic project we’ve been struggling with. 

What is your project about?

Our students worked on using insights from consumer research to inform a selling strategy for the grocery channel. 

What was it like working with WashU Olin students?

The additional bandwidth and their fresh perspective was great. It was a pleasure working with our team, and they definitely challenged some assumptions we’ve held for a while. We were really impressed with the depth of thought and analysis we’ve seen from them. 

When you’re so focused on fighting daily fires, other things—like figuring out exactly who our consumers are—have to wait. The students have really helped us work on some badly-needed projects. Plus, the students’ fresh perspective has been great—they helped us find ways we were looking at the wrong hypotheses.

What advice would you give students on the cusp of graduating at this time in history?

I would encourage them to try and find silver linings. Although COVID-19 has disrupted our lives, there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation and disruption as our behaviors change.