CEL student Dongyu Zu contributed this post to the Olin Blog.
Our team of five had an incredible opportunity to collaborate closely with the footwear company New Balance last semester through the Center for Experiential Learning’s practicum program.
We embarked on a project with a dual focus: developing a Python-based forecasting tool that estimated site traffic for the next 24 months and extracting unique insights from the data to improve the accuracy of site view forecasting.
Our CEL team consisted of Justin Matthews, MBA 2022 and team lead, Shradha Challa, MBA 2023, Dongyu Zu, MSBA 2023, Yifan Chen, MSBA 2023, and Haiyue Weng, MSBA 2023.
During the project, we held regular meetings with our client at New Balance and Professor Peter Boumgarden, CEL Scholar Ishmael Kodjoe-Tadekah, Impact Advisor Eriko Pope and Professor Seethu Seetharaman. The meetings served as platforms for sharing progress and insights and receiving valuable feedback. The collaboration deepened our understanding of modeling techniques and strategies, ultimately contributing to the project’s success.
Insights and opportunities
The resulting forecasting tool has provided New Balance with invaluable insights and opportunities. It empowers cost savings by providing a deeper understanding of future demands, enabling more favorable contract negotiations. It also facilitates visualizing and comparing country-specific data, empowering the marketing team to understand the impact of campaigns on key countries.
We also had the opportunity to visit the New Balance corporate office in St. Louis, and we received shoes and clothes as gifts. It was an exciting and insightful experience to see the inner workings of such a renowned brand.
This experience highlighted the power of teamwork and collaboration. I recognized that we were not just individual contributors, but an interdependent team striving towards a shared goal. Moreover, through practical application and exposure to real-world scenarios, I have deepened my knowledge and honed my skills in forecasting modeling techniques and marketing analysis.
Immersing myself in the dynamic environment of an American company and a renowned brand has exposed me to a professional setting characterized by high standards and a relentless pursuit of excellence. This experience has given me firsthand exposure to the work culture, practices and expectations prevalent in such organizations, which has been invaluable in shaping my professional growth.
The CEL practicum experience with New Balance was the highlight of our semester. We not only developed a powerful forecasting tool and gained unique insights, but we grew individually and as a team. We are grateful for the opportunity to have collaborated with New Balance!
Pictured: Ishmael Kodjoe-Tadekah; Shradha Challa, Justin Matthews, Yifan Chen, Dongyu Zu, Haiyue Weng and New Balance Senior Manager Adam Word.
Pictured above is the CELect Carma team just before presenting final project findings to Carma’s CEO and his advisors. From left: Julian Tornusciolo, BSBA 2024; Jay Harrington, JD 2023; Eric Arlen, BUCS 2024; Willow Xiong, MSBA 2023; and Miao Li, MBA 2024.
As part of CELect St. Louis, a group of five students had the exciting opportunity to work with the local startup Carma, a platform aiming to connect vehicle owners with high-quality, affordable repair shops. The students had the opportunity to directly communicate with a founder and CEO. The program diversity within the team provided a variety in skill sets and exposed group members to new perspectives. Students ranged from car enthusiasts to low automotive knowledge, but all members were excited by the prospect of a platform that could make repairs more convenient and efficient.
The team was tasked with identifying top prospect repair shops to add to the platform within the St. Louis area. The process was particularly data-intensive, as they were responsible for finding software to identify St. Louis shops, ranking the viability of each shop and obtaining pricing information for the highest-ranking shops. Each step provided members with the chance to develop important skills including research, data analysis, organizational and communication skills.
The team was able to resourcefully combine software programs to compile a comprehensive list of all of the shops in St. Louis. They utilized free library access to paid software to avoid raising costs for Carma. The process was fairly labor intensive, as the team manually combined the data from multiple programs using excel.
Ranking each shop challenged the group’s Excel skills. The team communicated with Carma’s founder to define important characteristics of prospect shops. They then created statistical models and used Excel formulas to slowly eliminate shops with undesirable traits. After a series of eliminations, the group was able to compile an Excel document with the most promising shops in St. Louis.
They then began a series of phone calls to gather pricing information for each of the top shops. This allowed members to learn how to efficiently communicate over the phone. Initially, they struggled to bypass repair shop employees’ suspicions, but they adapted their scripts and finalized their Excel sheet with top prospects and their prices.
Presenting their findings to Carma’s founder proved to be an invaluable experience as the team received feedback and gained an understanding of the value of their work. The final Excel sheet provided Carma with important data for their next step of expansion and the team’s overarching process allowed Carma to better understand how to repeat and improve the data-gathering process in future markets. The clear positive impact of the team’s work was a truly gratifying reward for each member’s efforts.
A group of WashU Olin undergraduates cooked up a sweet selection of recommendations for a St. Louis-area bakery that provides a second chance for individuals who have been released from prison.
In their Small Business Initiative consulting project—through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning—the students consulted with Laughing Bear Bakery, a mostly wholesale business located in St. Louis’ Tower Grove South neighborhood. The students—Grace Shen, BSBA 2025; Gavri Steiger, AB 2025; Jake Wolf, BSBA 2025; AJ Sann, BSBA 2024; and Oliver Every, BSBA 2025—were charged with working with the bakery’s founders to suggest ways to make the nonprofit more sustainable.
“From our first meeting, it was apparent that at the heart of the business was a social cause” Steiger said during a recent in-person presentation to the founders at Olin. “We thought there were things on the business end that could match the passion of their social commitment.”
The students visited Laughing Bear—which was featured in an NBC-TV Today Show video in November 2022—to meet with founder and former prison chaplain Kalen McAllister, along with other employees and board members. The students dug deep into the bakery’s pricing model, its sales and expenses, its product lineup and its marketing. A good deal of the work was aimed at putting order to a business model—critical to the nonprofit’s ability to apply for grant funding.
“It was super fun to work with an actual business. I really love talking to the founders of businesses. I was lucky and happy to do it,” Shen said. “People our age often don’t get the chance to contribute in such a meaningful way.” Through their analysis, the students developed “price sensitivity models” to adjust the bakery’s work to seasonal needs and a five-year growth plan.
They also proposed a “donation cookie”—a product customers could buy, and enjoy, while effectively donating to Laughing Bear’s cause.
“A lot of people miss the fact that not all business are the same,” said Mike Whipkey, a member of Laughing Bear’s board of directors, who watched the students’ presentation. “A lot of the time, people get good advice, but it’s delivered really badly, and these guys understood that.”
Members of the student team stressed how thrilled they were to make a real-world contribution to a cause-oriented business they could get behind.
“Being able to give insights to people who may not have a business background, but can benefit from something I learned in class — that was really exciting for us,” Sann said.
Pictured above, from left: Mike Whipkey, Jake Wolf, AJ Sann, Oliver Every, Gavri Steiger and Grace Shen.
Rajat Nepal contributed this blog post. He is a junior in the Business + Computer Science Joint Degree Program at WashU, focusing on business analytics.
As a part of CELect Barcelona, we had the chance to collaborate directly with a start-up through a semester-long consulting project. We had the rare opportunity to have a considerable influence on a growing organization’s future. CELect Barcelona has been my favorite class through Olin Business School. This is for a few key reasons: experiential learning, working in a diverse team and cultural excursions.
No other class I have taken as a Business + Computer Science undergraduate has allowed me to do impactful work where I can see real-world results. Rather than case competitions for fictional companies or analysis of past business problems, I was able to interact with an actual client facing pressing issues.
Our team was tasked with helping Dost AI Solutions, a B2B intelligent document processing start-up based in Barcelona, Spain. Dost asked us to help formulate a marketing plan for entering the United States as a Software as a Service (SaaS) company. Our team analyzed the United States market based on target demographics, competitive analysis and product audits. We communicated consistently with our clients to provide an in-depth solution to their problems.
Working with a start-up meant we had to be agile with our solutions. Start-ups move quickly and can go in a new direction at a moment’s notice. As such, our strategy evolved and changed with every new piece of communication we received. This was the experiential learning that other Olin classes just could not provide.
Working in a diverse team
CELect Barcelona was unique because most students were graduate students from various parts of WashU. Our team consisted of undergraduates, Olin graduate students and McKelvey graduate students. As a Business + Computer Science undergraduate student, I have been in many groups for different courses, but not with graduate students. Furthermore, half of our team consisted of international students.
As a part of the course, all students had the opportunity to meet with clients in-person in Barcelona. As a part of our trip, we took part in many cultural immersions. We went to major architectural landmarks such as La Sagrada Familia, start-up scenes in Barcelona such as B-Combinator, and we partook in local experiences such as an FC Barcelona game. As someone who had never been to Europe, these excursions allowed me to understand the start-up scene in Barcelona. Spending a week with our clients, team and other students also increased team synergy. Our team got much closer, both socially and professionally, due to the cultural excursions we did together
Overall, when combining these three aspects of the course, I felt like our team could deliver the best possible solution to our client. I felt like we genuinely impacted a new start-up trying to succeed amidst a global recession. We provided solutions in an agile way while working effectively on a diverse team.
Even though I do not plan on going into the consulting industry, I hope to use what I learned from this class in my professional life after college. I will certainly work on diverse teams with diverse backgrounds in the future and hope to use the teamwork skills I learned through the class for those teams.
On a more social level, I hope to use the cultural excursions that were part of this course to further myself as a global citizen. What made me choose Olin in the first place was the emphasis on global studies. I am very pleased with this course, what it stands for and the valuable experiences it provided.
Photo: Students in Barcelona. The author is on the right, with glasses.
Maggie Glasser, 2022 CEL Impact Award winner, wrote this for the Olin Blog.
Like any other day as a full-time MBA student, my schedule was filled with classes and schoolwork. By 8 p.m. that night, it felt like my day was just starting. I was fully immersed in the land of Excel and PowerPoint, sifting through data and formatting slides in anticipation of our final Center for Experiential Learning client meeting. Also on my list was preparing for tomorrow’s team meeting, where I faced the difficult task(s) related to maintaining my team’s motivation while respecting the normal stressors of B-School. The days were long, but I enjoyed my after-hour work sessions because it was a time where distractions dwindled and productivity climbed.
Like many practicum consulting engagements with the CEL, I was equipped with a team of three to five graduate and/or undergraduate students to solve a real-world problem that was not outlined in a textbook. We channeled our professional and classroom experiences to create meaningful and lasting value for our corporate client. As the team lead, I was tasked with the additional responsibility of creating sustainable team dynamics. For me, this meant blending personalities, developing candid communication and establishing accountability so that we could effectively align on a common goal and create valuable experiences.
I approached the projects with professional expectations and delivered a “this-experience-is-what-you-make-it” message with my teams from the get-go. The CEL is organized with the goal of providing just that: the structure to support teams through a professional consulting engagement along with the autonomy to craft your own experience. Here’s a three-point guide explaining how I shaped my CEL experiences to drive returns beyond business school:
1. Create a foundation of support and discovery
My first engagement with the CEL was in spring 2021, when I was offered the opportunity to serve as team lead for a family-owned and St. Louis-based HVAC company, Hoffmann Brothers. As a team, we were tasked with developing a systematic approach of analyzing geographic market entry. Our first objective was to create a structure for the project by developing a Statement of Work. Soon after, the chaos commenced. Within two days, we went from a team of six to a team of four and a personal matter placed me on a short leave of absence. It was during this time that the CEL leadership team not only stepped in, but also stepped up. A combination of one faculty advisor, one CEL scholar and the CEL program team helped us navigate through these unexpected distractions alongside demanding client expectations.
In many ways, the project enabled an ecosystem of discovery. As a project team, we merged our diverse experiences and perspectives to unpack a complex business problem in a supportive and risk-tolerant environment that left room for learning through mistake and recovery. As the team lead, I put leadership theories from the classroom into action by embarking on a journey of trial-and-error to uncover who I really wanted to be as a leader. In managing the delicate balance of project management and personalities, I started to construct a sustainable leadership style based on my own discoveries and real-time feedback from others.
After this engagement, I was hooked. I not only made the decision to pursue a career in management consulting but was also offered the unique opportunity to re-engage as the team lead for Hoffmann Brothers the following semester.
2. Build a structure to facilitate and accelerate growth
Equipped with a new problem, a new team and a new skillset, my goal was to surpass the high standards that were established during my first engagement. This time, our project focused on the second pillar of business growth strategy: generating value, driving profit and creating sustainable competitive advantage through service line expansion. Our team was collaborative in nature as we supported and challenged each other to reach the next level. As their leader, I started with a foundation of skills and ideas formed by the first engagement. This allowed me to refine my processes and build a structure that helped the team increase individual efficiencies and unlock their collective potential. Together, these conditions created the simultaneous reality of learning and working, which lead to explosive growth for my team, our client and myself as a leader.
The CEL is organized like a management consulting firm in that there are layers of opportunity. Team members,equivalent to staff-level consultants, conduct research and interviews, build models and own individual work stream(s). Team leads, or project managers, structure the project, communicate with the client, manage output and synthesize the team’s work into a cohesive analysis. Lastly, CEL scholars, or senior executives, oversee the entire operation, ensure quality and consistency of outcomes, and nurture client relationships.
3. Polish skills to drive lasting outcomes
After two successful engagements as a team lead, I was asked to join the team of CEL scholars. Accepting this role provided an avenue for me to improve my management skills in new and different ways. In addition to my responsibility to support four new team leads as individual leaders, I also advised their project teams in pursuit of achieving their shared goals. For me, this meant balancing the hands-on approach I adopted as the leader of my own teams with a hands-off approach that left the team leads the room to craft their own experiences. The direct result pushed my boundaries as a leader into an entirely new dimension: I reinforced the art of asking thoughtful questions, shifted from listening with an intent to respond to listening with an intent to understand, and started offering options instead of prescribing methods.
As I reflect on my CEL experiences, I am now able to recognize the compound effect(s) it indelibly had on my growth as a leader. Each day, I had a platform to test a range of skills in small ways, and the effects multiplied. While any single engagement with the CEL delivers value, it was the aggregation of my three experiences that will ultimately drive lasting impact in the next phase of my career as a professional consultant.
Pictured from top left to bottom right: Maggie Glasser (team lead), Claudia Zhang (team member), Kranthi Reddy Puligari (team member), Alex Ignatius (CEL scholar), Chumar Williams (team member).