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.


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. 




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.