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.


Preston Tharp, MBA

This was posted on behalf of team lead Franklyn Nnakwue and his teammates Prateek Deval, Ryan Sun, Aria Ren, Amy Yu and Cathy Wang.

As a group of MBAs and specialized master students at Olin Business School, we worked on one of the most challenging analytics projects. Our client, Direct Supply, has a long relationship with Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning and Center for Analytics and Business Insights.

Direct Supply is a company that specializes in providing equipment, e-commerce, and service solutions to the senior living industry. With 35 years of history, it has many customers. For this project, we focused on the business’s products. Our goal was to leverage data to draw insights that Direct Supply could use to improve customer experience and operational performance.

Field trip to Direct Supply

To better understand Direct Supply’s business model, the team went on a one-day field trip to Milwaukee, where Direct Supply is located. After the interaction with the sales team, marketing team, data science team and supply chain team, we had a more robust understanding of the business and the ways our project could be transformative

We also understood that the project is not solely about writing code and answering the questions, but also about testing the viability of our recommendations.

Real-world challenge and timely adjustment

As we dug deeper into the project, we found that the initial hypothesis that we were working with wasn’t feasible. “Welcome to the real world,” said our professor, Seethu Seetharaman. As we sought to pivot our analysis, Professor Seethu and Professor Michael Wall offered us a lot of help in redefining the questions and finding other approaches to solving the problem. We finally figured out an alternative approach that could fulfill Direct Supply’s initial goal.

Projects won’t always go smoothly as planned, and challenges would always appear along the journey. The faculty advisors, CEL committee and CEL fellow were helpful in ensuring that the team was on the right track.

This was a precious experience for the team. The project offered us a great opportunity to get involved in solving real-world business problems. It was definitely the highlight of our academic experience at WashU.

Pictured at top: A client representative; Preston Tharp, MBA ’20; Nithin Ramachandran, client; Aria Ren, MSCA ’19; Franklyn Nnakwue, MBA ’20; Cathy Wang, MSCA ’19; Ryan Sun, MSCA ’19; Amy Yu, MSCA ’19; Michael Wall, CEL/CABI faculty adviser; Prateek Deval, MBA ’20; Seethu Seetharman, CEL/CABI faculty adviser.




Seethu Seetharaman; Michael Wall; a client representative; Jessica Sanchez Chavez, MBA

FTL Finance is a St. Louis business that focuses on providing HVAC, plumbing and electrical contractors with convenient financing solutions. As a leading national specialty finance business, FTL aims to offer efficient application processes and excellent customer services, through which it aims to develop long-term contractor relationships.

This semester, thanks for the help of WashU Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning and the mentoring from professors Seethu Seetharaman and Michael Wall, our team of six students from MBA and the master of customer analytics programs had a chance to learn more about this niche market, transforming contractor data into valuable key business insights by building predictive models.

Data-driven business insights

FTL has a steady utilization of marketing and sales resources to bring growing revenue from HVAC contractors. However, without a reliable and efficient way to identify target groups of contractors, the use of those resources is inefficient. So, FTL Finance requested that our team explore their contractor’s dataset and come up with a way to prioritize existing contractors using predictive models.

Our team broke down this project into three smaller problems:

  • Which contractors in FTLs database of registered contractors are most likely to apply?
  • How long will it take for a contractor submit the first application after the registration?
  • Will a contractor stop applying with FTL Finance eventually?

After analyzing data from more than 5,000 registered contractors, our team constructed two powerful models to facilitate the choice of target contractors and identified key behavioral factors that motivate contractors to submit applications.

Real-world experience

In mid-December, our team visited the FTL Finance and presented key findings and recommendations they can incorporate into their long-term strategic plans. Also, we have demonstrated a set of hands-on training materials for FTL Finance to use in the future.

This CEL practicum has created a unique opportunity for SMP students to build connections with MBA students and to reveal everyone’s expertise in different academic areas. This project is also a valuable experience which transforms in-class knowledge into real-world business insights.

Pictured at top: Seethu Seetharaman; Michael Wall; a client representative; Jessica Sanchez Chavez, MBA ’20; a client representative; Stella Yang, MSCA ’19; Ziyue Wu, MSCA ’19; Jonathan Pick, MBA ’20 and team lead; Chaoran Xie, MSCA ’19; Yijun Cao, MSCA ’19.




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.