Tag: Center for Experiential Learning

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.




Danielle Bateman Girondo, BSBA

Eight years ago, St. Louis’s Midwest BankCentre opened a branch in Pagedale, a suburb with a median household income of $27,000—about 40% of the entire region’s median. Five years later, the bank opened a branch inside a North St. Louis Baptist church, in a neighborhood with a median household income of about $31,400.

Serving underbanked communities serves as part of the bank’s mission as a values-based organization, but Danielle Bateman Girondo, BSBA ’00, executive vice president of marketing, and Alex Fennoy, executive vice president of Community and Economic Development, wanted to go further. They wanted to make the case that it was also good business.

They found their answer from a semester-long practicum project through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning. With faculty support from Sam Chun, professor of management practice, the students—Chris Colon, AB ’20; Frankie Hong, MSFQ ’20; Hannah Levin, MBA/MSW ’21; Lin Xie, MSBA’20; and Bruno Moreira Yamamura, MBA ’20—delivered their findings in May.

Midwest BankCentre’s two branches in underserved areas had created $11.3 million in additional regional revenue and more than $9.7 million in consumer wealth—as well as 124 new jobs in the region.

“It was great to be able to make the business case for why we need to make more investments in providing access to capital to all communities,” Girondo said. “We’re doing good and here’s the proof. It’s not just us saying it.”

Quantifying the ripple effect

Bringing full-service banking to traditionally underbanked communities doesn’t only serve Midwest’s community development goals. Girondo noted that it also helps differentiate the bank in a crowded marketplace. In its 2018 report to the community, Midwest noted, “With more than 130 banks and credit unions, St. Louis is one of the most overbanked cities in the country—but those services are not distributed evenly.”

The CEL team for Midwest BankCentre

Providing access to checking or savings accounts or other banking services creates a ripple effect, opening opportunities to provide financial education and offer loans that spur homeownership, business development and employment.

“It really struck me to learn how important the access to financial resources can be for households,” Hong said of the project, which was quintessentially aligned with Olin’s strategy of promoting values-based, data-driven decision-making.

“Midwest BankCentre really emphasized to us the ways in which they prioritized building trust in the community and the importance in doing so,” Levin added.

After an initial in-person meeting with bank leadership before the pandemic moved everything online, the students tackled the project by exploring ways to quantify the effect of adding banking services to an underbanked community.

“All we knew was that Midwest BankCentre was, somehow, having a positive impact in the community,” Yamamura said. “One of the biggest challenges that we faced was how to translate that into numbers.”

Data supporting values

Chun guided the students to a few existing economic measurement models, and he urged them to remember that precise numbers were not the goal of the exercise. It was about understanding on a macro level the impact of the service in the community. Chun credited the team with identifying additional modeling research on their own that they could tap and adapt as they analyzed Midwest BankCentre’s product matrix and account data.

Bruno said the team was able to construct models to interpret the strategy the bank has always implemented by investing money from the communities back to the communities.

Yamamura said one of the models calculated how Midwest’s loans were stimulating the local economy by generating more jobs and income for the population through a “multiplier effect.”

“The models are far from being perfect,” he said. “But I think they are powerful in supporting the bank’s message and its core values.”

Midwest BankCentre, the second-largest privately owned bank in the region, is a 114-year-old St. Louis institution with more than $2 billion in assets.

“The team was really inventive,” Chun said. “They put their hands in there and they created models of mortgage impact, financial training impact. I was really impressed.”

So was Girondo. “I was beyond impressed with the students,” Girondo said. “They did a really good job.”

Pictured above: Danielle Bateman Girondo, BSBA ’00, and Alex Fennoy of Midwest BankCentre.




Lin Cheng (MBA ’21) serves as an Olin/United Way Board Fellow for Senior Services Plus. She wrote this reflection on the experience for the Olin Blog.

Pictured above: : Hung Le (MBA ’21), Naotake Akaiwa (MBA ’21), Lin Cheng (MBA ’21) and Pralabh Garg (MBA ’21) volunteer at Senior Services Plus.

It has been quite an experience serving as a board member for Senior Services Plus as part of the Olin/United Way Board Fellows Program. The nonprofit world has always intrigued me, and I’m honored to serve as a board member for 2020. 

Back in February when I attended my first board meeting at SSP, it was the peak of Covid-19 in Wuhan, my hometown. I was greeted with a warm welcome and was impressed by the compassion of people in the agency. 

Since then, the pandemic has spread worldwide and our board meetings switched to online, but the good work at SSP has continued. The agency remains open and has even expanded its coverage to serve additional seniors in need, delivering thousands of meals to seniors every day. The spirit of the agency staff inspired me to serve the community as well. 

Last week, my friends at Olin and I had the pleasure to volunteer at SSP. We applied the operation knowledge we had learned in the classroom to form an assembly line and packed 600 bags of food to be distributed. 

Broadly, I am working with SSP to build smart/affordable homes for seniors to live independently. Day by day, I am more convinced of the indispensable force of non-profit in a well-functioning society. Most importantly, I am grateful to have the opportunity to be involved and serve the community.




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.