Tag: Center for Experiential Learning



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.




John Weibel, MBA ’19, contributed this post on behalf of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning.

For the most part, banks look and act alike. However, First Bank is not just any bank among the many in the St. Louis, Los Angeles, and San Francisco regions. As a family-owned business with strong connections in the communities they serve, they know the unique challenges faced by family-owned businesses.

Opportunity for family-owned businesses

As First Bank looks ahead to the next five years, they strive to become the bank of choice for the owners, families, and employees of family-owned businesses. They had the expertise to accomplish this goal but needed to better understand their target customers and the competitive landscape for this customer segment. Thus, the client challenged the CEL team to research the market landscape for family-owned businesses and to conduct analysis on the intense banking competition in the regions they serve.

The CEL team quickly discovered trends about family-owned businesses and identified key metrics for First Bank to evaluate. The team then conducted interviews with First Bank leadership. These interviews offered great opportunities for the team to refine where the project needed to go. Following the interviews, the team expanded on the market research to estimate the target market for First Bank, identified competitive advantages and disadvantages among the competition, and pinpointed opportunities for the client to exploit.

As the leadership at First Bank develops their next strategic plan, they have invited the team to present our recommendations at their leadership summit. The client has also asked the team to lead a session on how to replicate and scale our solutions as they measure their success.

Creating a real business solution

This CEL practicum has been an excellent opportunity to apply the critical thinking, analytical, and communication skills that Olin emphasizes in the classroom to a real business situation.




Krutika Sood, MBA ’20, a member of the Missouri Botanical Garden team traveling to Madagascar wrote this for the Olin Blog. Krutika worked with fellow MBA students Lael Bialek and Coilean Malone as well as faculty advisor Karen Bedell and CEL Fellow Megan Cowett to complete the project.

On March 8, 2019, three MBA candidates and one CEL Faculty Advisor set out on a 31-hour plane journey from St. Louis to Madagascar. After an eventful week learning about the distinctive flora and fauna found in the forests of Madagascar, only two of those MBA candidates made it back to St. Louis on the March 16, 2019 (Don’t worry, the other two members of the team made it back after a 42-hour journey on March 17, despite a missed flight).

The reason our team set off on this journey was to visit the Madagascar Program team of St. Louis’s own Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG).

The MBG was founded in 1859 by Henry Shaw. Today, the MBG is a National Historic Landmark and a center for science, conservation, education and horticultural display, and is considered one of the top three botanical gardens in the world. The Madagascar Program, started in 1987, is MBG’s largest and most successful international program.

Biodiversity hotspot

Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot and global conservation priority as it is home to about 14,000 species of flora (95% of the species are endemic) and only 7% of its forest cover still remains. This, coupled with the fact that Madagascar is one of the ten poorest countries in the world, has defined the two core goals for MBG’s Madagascar Program:

  1. To conduct botanical research and exploration on one of the world’s most distinctive and threatened floras.
  2. To conserve biodiversity through local engagement to improve natural resource management and the quality of life improvement in local communities.

The Madagascar Program consists of two major components – the Research Unit and the Conservation Unit. Our team was tasked with understanding the functioning of the Research Unit in order to recommend an optimal operational and financial strategy geared towards sustainable program growth. As a consulting team, our main goal was to provide recommendations that are realistic, actionable, and in alignment with the mission and goals of the Madagascar Program and the MBG.

Value of overseas site visit

This experiential learning opportunity has been valuable and enriching for us because it gave us a chance to utilize our collective professional and academic experiences to tackle a complex problem for a real client. We were able to gain valuable work experience during our MBA program that challenged us to think creatively and acquire knowledge about the symbiotic relationship between firms, local communities and the environment – a very crucial relationship in today’s business world.

Furthermore, collaborating with various stakeholders across three continents (USA, Europe & Africa) has been both a highlight and a challenge with this project. It taught us how to adapt and be effective in a dynamic and ambiguous environment, a.k.a, any real job. This project also allowed us to experience a new country and immerse ourselves in a different culture.

We didn’t get much sleep, but we did get to eat delicious food, see exotic forests, dip our toes into the blindingly blue Indian Ocean, and meet some adorable lemurs. Overall, it was a rewarding experience and we would surely choose to do it again. Working on a CEL Practicum has definitely been the highlight of our year.




The OAS Ventures Team, Jordan Gonen, BSBA ’19, Mickal Haile, JD ’19, Claudia Ortiz Albert, MS ’20, Andrew Schuette, PMBA ’19, Alex Teng, MS ’20, and Kristen Xin, MSCA ’19, contributed this post on behalf of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning.

The global middle-class and wealthy demographic is expected to reach 47% of the world’s population in 2030 from 34% in 2015. This segment of the population is more concerned with how their calories are produced than how many are produced. Specifically, they are concerned about sustainability, transparency, water conservation, carbon footprint, efficiency, traceability, and local food production.

To address the demands of a growing middle-class and wealthy population, our client, Ospraie Ag Science Ventures (OAS), makes investments in early-stage biopesticide and biological startups where they can address the following demands of this demographic: sustainability, carbon footprint, and efficiency. Carl Casale, the CEO of OAS, former CEO of CHS, former CFO of Monsanto, and Olin alumnus, brings a wealth of industry experience to his investments.

Our student team, diverse with backgrounds in healthcare, investment banking, law, venture capital, computer science, and data analytics eagerly commenced this project in alignment with OAS’ mission of finding ways to leverage capital to address these concerns.

Increasing effectiveness in ag-tech

In our introductory meeting with Carl, we learned a great deal about OAS and the broader ag-tech venture landscape. We also talked through several potential opportunities to increase the effectiveness of deal flow. After several explorations, the team determined our primary objective—increase Carl’s advantage by streamlining and standardizing the diligence process to make it repeatable, reliable, and scalable.   

We began the project by looking to clarify ambiguity in the process and codify best practices. The team investigated OAS’ existing protocols for examining a prospective investment’s intellectual property. We employed a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods to experiment with numerous hypotheses. We explored several potential solutions, encompassing everything from python queries to white-label software platforms to human resources.  This iterative, sprint-style project management approach helped us to uncover new information quickly, trim fat, and work towards our north star.

Over the course of the semester, Carl has been incredibly helpful, always willing to share resources or make relevant introductions. We spoke with a number of relevant stakeholders and industry experts that greatly enhanced our research and learnings. Dozens of phone calls and meetings later, the team has solidified measures and delivered our final recommendations to Carl and the OAS team at an off-site in North Carolina in early May.

Real-world problem solving in action

Participating in the CEL program has given our team a unique opportunity to apply traditional classroom concepts to a dynamic, real-world business environment. From this immersive experience, we have implemented and strengthened several fundamental professional skills, such as user research and strategic design, which have provided tangible value to our client.

Furthermore, we have learned to think as a team while being pushed outside our comfort zones and given the opportunity to explore ambiguous problems and make consequential conclusions. This has been an awesome first-hand experience of real-world problem solving in action.




Sneha Varma, 2020 MBA; Amy VanEssendelft, CEL Staff; Jasmine Zhu, 2019 MSCA; Ram Pappu, 2020 MBA; Kate Baeg, 2020 BSBA; Trip Smith, 2019 MBA CEL Fellow; Oliver Culver, 2019 MBA

Ramakrishna Pappu, MBA ’20, a member of the Alyeska CEL project team in Daegu, South Korea, wrote this for the Olin Blog.

We were a diverse group of individuals from WashU Olin across the MBA, SMP and undergraduate programs, working together on the AGM-Alyeska project over the spring 2019 semester. The project was in the cosmetic skincare industry with two very passionate clients.

Our primary client was Alaska Glacial Mud (AGM), a producer of authentic pure Alaskan mud products and accessories. Our second client was Alyeska, a Korean company, which creates and markets new skincare formulations in Asia. AGM and Alyeska have been business partners for a few years, AGM using formulations created by Alyeska in its products.

The Center for Experiential Learning selects individuals and creates a team based on the broad experience, skills and interests of the students. A few of us in the team have prior experience working in the cosmetics industry that we could leverage to meet our client’s objectives. Personally, I was interested in utilizing my past experience and skills to help the client develop a market entry strategy, especially for the high-end skincare market—a section of the market that I wanted to get more exposure to.

Booming skincare market

The skincare market is booming, and South Korea is at the center of it, with high-quality products known around the world. Alyeska is located in Daegu, South Korea, and works closely with the local university and the government for R&D.

Alyeska has access to some world-class infrastructure, expertise and resources. It has teamed up with several other local companies to form a cooperative called Clewnco, a brand under which it sells its products in physical stores. Clewnco and Alyeska are looking to enter the US market and with the support of AGM, approached the CEL to help it figure out the best way to do so.

Specifically, our team’s objectives for the project included identifying how a new product can edge its way into the premium segment of the skincare market in the United States. What would be the best method of entry in this market? With increasing attention on Korean cosmetics in the world and strong competition within this segment, is it the right time to enter this market? What is the willingness to pay for the customers in this segment and what kind of pricing structure would help make Alyeska successful?

These are some of the questions that the CEL team helped address for the client during the project.

Value of overseas site visit

The site visit to Daegu gave the team an up-close look at the company’s laboratories, research and development facilities, as well as the manufacturing set up where the skincare products are made. Meetings with industry experts in skincare formulations and learning from their experiences and perspectives helped us gain deeper appreciation for our client’s work.

Interacting with the factory managers and staff showed us what it took to get raw materials transformed into finished products ready to be sold. We learned how business is done in Korea—often through informal networks that quickly shape into real business partnerships. The visit drove an understanding of the role disruptive innovation plays in the business landscape in Korea and we got a sense of the intrinsic motivations behind some business decisions made in the industry.

The last part of our visit included seeing the sights around the city of Daegu as well as the capital city of Seoul. The trip was a fine balance between working in a consulting team for a client and being a tourist to see the sights at the end of an action-packed work week.

The CEL program is a great way for students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real business scenarios. Working with an external client in the “real world” on a project that helps build and implement a company’s strategy in a high-pressure situation is a formative experience.

The CEL does a great job of exposing the teams to real life situations and complexities in the workplace, while under the aegis and support structure provided in a university setting. The experience we gained working with our clients and a new team has been very enriching and helps develop our leadership qualities that we can take into the future.

Pictured above: Sneha Varma, MBA ’20; Amy VanEssendelft, CEL staff; Jasmine Zhu, MSCA ’19; Ram Pappu, MBA ’20; Kate Baeg, BSBA ’20; Trip Smith, MBA ’19, CEL fellow; Oliver Culver, MBA ’19.