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 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. 




Julia Zou, MSBA ’20, wrote this on behalf of her CEL team. Editing help was provided by Lungile Tshuma, MBA ’21 and Michael Spiro, BSBA ’21.

Growing up in a family-owned restaurant, Fady Hawatmeh knew what it was like to run a small business. During the years when he ran a CFO consultancy firm in the greater Chicago area, Fady saw firsthand how countless small companies were struggling with the same issues he had seen in his father’s restaurants—managing finances and cash flow. That’s when he realized how systemic the issue was.

Small businesses typically don’t have a CFO. Now as an experienced CFO, Fady knows that no one in small businesses likes laying out 5-year financial projections, but understanding a business’s financial standing and cash flow is key if that business wants to survive and thrive.

“It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, you have to manage your cash flow and your finances. I knew there was a better way to do it.” said Fady.

Hence, he founded Clockwork. Clockwork is the only tool that builds your financial models, cash flow forecasts, metrics, and scenarios all in one place and in real-time. Before Clockwork was founded, Fady built financial models and cash flow forecasts for every one of his clients because 90% of them didn’t have one, and the rest were essentially ineffective.

As a consultant and outsourced CFO, he could help hundreds of companies. With the help of software, this number can scale to millions. In addition, Clockwork provides a platform for individual CPAs and accounting firms to offer more advanced financial forecasting services.

Founded just over two years ago, Clockwork has focused heavily on product to date. Now, with over 200 customers and helping save CPAs 5 hours per month per client, Clockwork is expanding its services in order to stay ahead of their competition. Clockwork wants to apply their early successes to serve to more clients, potentially expanding into new markets.

Fady is working on a semester-long practicum project through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning. With faculty support from II Luscri  (Direct of CELect), the students — Julia Zou, MSBA ’20, Julie Zhang, BSBA ’23, Lungile Tshuma, MBA ’21, Mingqian Li, JD ’21, and Michael Spiro, BSBA ’21 — will designate strategies to help Clockwork expand its product offering into the venture capital market. Venture capital firms typically have a large portfolio of companies they invest in, resulting in a strong need to efficiently monitor the financial standings of these portfolio companies. While we have only completed preliminary research to date, we believe that selling to VCs will have an amplifying effect on Clockwork.

Pictured above: Julia Zou, MSBA ’20, Lungile Tshuma, MBA ’21, Mingqian Li, JD ’21, and Michael Spiro, BSBA ’21 during their first meeting with Fady Hawatmeh.


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 Rob Poirier, EMBA ’14, clinical chief, emergency medicine, assistant professor of emergency medicine at WashU School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

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

As frontline emergency department clinicians battling the pandemic daily since it began in March, we have recognized immediate needs to operationalize innovative new technology to better serve patients requiring medical care. When I received the notice that there would be a summer class, especially with all the new projects we had, we decided that having a CEL team to help us out with these projects is was perfect timing to address some of the issues we had before us.

Olin students are bright, motivated problem solvers adept with technology who can think outside the box, devising solutions to new challenges. We thought the CEL program and students could quickly help us plan and implement new telehealth solutions improving care for patients in this socially distancing era. COVID has changed how we work in the hospital. The Olin CEL team has helped us successfully develop and implement new technology plans allowing us to meet new challenges posed during this pandemic.  

What is your project about?

Our project focused on telehealth solutions that can be used to extend emergency care expertise outside of the traditional emergency department. Telehealth is a new tool emergency clinicians can use to benefit individuals who may not need to physically visit an emergency department. 

What was it like working with WashU Olin students?

We found working with Olin’s students stimulating and educational. I think we learned as much from the students as they learned from us. Having outside opinions regarding how telehealth could be used was so important. They really helped us think outside the box.

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

Do not be afraid to learn how you personally can help yourself and others get through these tough pandemic times. COVID creates many new societal and industry problems that need solving. We all benefit from the creative ideas and brain power of current and graduating students alike to solve current issues at hand. Working together to find successful solutions is crucial to helping  us all make it through these challenging times.

What will you take with you from this experience?

This summer really reinforced for us how important diversity of opinions is. We can become tunnel-visioned at times, thinking we know what’s best for our patients. Working with the students this summer encouraged us to continue staying in contact with the CEL moving forward on operational projects.




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!




Ashley Atkins, program coordinator, wrote this on behalf of the Center for Experiential Learning.

One of the essential features of the Center for Experiential Learning is our ability to bring classroom learning to life through real-world client engagements—and our Faculty Directors are one of the elements that make this possible.

Professor II Luscri is the managing director at Skandalaris, and now faculty director of the CEL Entrepreneurial Consulting Team, which he describes as, “strong multidisciplinary teams that can look at the problems and challenges the startups are facing from a different lens and, in turn, create a comprehensive strategy for them to advance.”

We sat down with II to get to know him better as he begins his new role. Check out the full interview below:

How long have you been teaching at WashU?

I have been back at WashU since 2018, but I was here previously from 2007-2011.

What drew you to the CEL?

To me, there is nothing more important than giving our students real-world, practical experiences in ways that enhance our region and community. The CEL has a long history of doing that, and I am proud to be a part of this tradition.

What unique perspective will you bring to the students?

I see and work with startups across many industries and stages of development. As the Managing Director of the Skandalaris Center and the Assistant Vice Provost for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, I routinely engage with alumni investors and founders who bring valuable insights into our community.

 How do you plan to drive impact in CELect projects?

By creating win-win situations where our students learn and startups get the competitive intel our students are able to generate.

What advice would you give to students interested in participating in the CELect program?

Be open-minded about the startups you are interested in working with. You may learn more by working outside of your comfort zone than focusing on an area that you already know well.

Why do you think students should get involved with CELect?

If you are interested in founding your own company, working at a startup, or seeing how fast good ideas can be put into action, CELect is for you.

What is one thing you hope to accomplish this academic year?

I’d like to see better connectivity across our portfolio, and I am grateful for this opportunity as it brings Skandalaris and the CEL closer together.

All interview questions don’t have to be so serious, right? We asked Professor Luscri this question just for fun.

If you had an unlimited amount of money to start up a business, what would it be?

Wouldn’t it be cool to beat Elon to Mars?

Professor Luscri has highlighted some fundamental dynamics of an experience with the CELect program—one of many ways students can make a real impact in the startup community. The synergy between Skandalaris and Olin is an opportunity for better support across startups that:

  •  are coming out of all parts of the university, including those Skandalaris works with off University IP and from students and alumni, or
  • enter the WashU ecosystem and are looking for support.

We hope you enjoyed learning more about Professor II Luscri. The CEL team is excited to have him on board. You can learn more about II on his career profile, located here.