Tag: Critical Thinking



Abigail MacDonald, MBA ’18, contributed this post on behalf of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning. Lexi Bainnson, BSBA ’21, edited and formatted this CEL blog post.

Back row: Jeff Brown, MBA ’19; Ingrid Claussen, innovation manager, Rosario Board of Trade;
Nick Wosniak, MBA ’19; Gabe Berkland, MBA ’19. Front row: Abigail MacDonald, MSW/MBA ’18;
Ana Galiano, Austral University, Rosario – School of Business Sciences dean; Ankita Bhalla, BSBA ’20.

St. Louis is known as one of the best agricultural technology ecosystems in the world. With great agriculture universities, world-class research centers, interested investors, and thoughtful infrastructure, St. Louis is a perfect example of a successful ecosystem.

This fall, a team of graduate and undergraduate students at Olin Business School took a deeper dive into agtech ecosystems to learn about the importance of those essential institutions, groups, and entities necessary to have a successful ecosystem. We partnered with Austral University in Rosario, Argentina, and the Yield Lab, located both in St. Louis and Buenos Aires, to look at two different agtech ecosystems. As part of this process, we traveled to Buenos Aires and Rosario in early October.

Wheels up

Before leaving for Argentina, the team conducted research and interviews in St. Louis. We were excited to share their findings with the partners at Austral University in Rosario and the Yield Lab upon arriving in Argentina. We had a full schedule once we touched down in Argentina, and all of us were focused on the goal of the trip: to understand the key drivers of the agtech ecosystem in Rosario and to learn about how it has evolved over time.

Rosario is located in the province of Santa Fe, which is in the heart of soy country in Argentina, making it a perfect place for an agtech ecosystem to emerge. St. Louis is also located in a heavily agricultural region. The team spent some time driving between the cities of Rosario, Cordoba, and Santa Fe. Ultimately, this traveling gave us the opportunity to see the countryside of Santa Fe and how it closely resembles the agricultural region around St. Louis.

On our second to last day in Rosario, our team visited Molinos Agro, a large local soy crushing facility in San Lorenzo (just outside of Rosario). We had spent most of the week learning about the agtech ecosystem from the beginning of the value chain with startups creating new farm technology or genetically engineering seeds.

A fuller view

As a result, visiting Molinos Agro was especially helpful in that it gave us a glimpse into the middle-end of the value chain. The soy beans came into this facility as raw materials and left as either soy mill or soy oil. This was a great experience for our team, as it allowed us to see the effects that startup technology can have on an entire industry.

Our week in Argentina was filled with activities. Throughout the visit our team had the opportunity to interview with accelerators, startup founders, large local corporations, government agencies, investors, and the Rosario Board of Trade. These interviews provided great insights into the Rosario agtech ecosystem. Upon returning to St. Louis, the team has been hard at work to learn more about the Rosario ecosystem and to create a gap analysis between the two ecosystems. This gap analysis will provide insight into the necessary pieces of a successful agtech ecosystem.

Based on our experiences thus far, taking on a CEL practicum project is a lot of work, but it provides students with experience in industries in which they may have never considered working and helps students to develop useful skills in consulting, teamwork, and critical thinking.

Pictured above: Abigail MacDonald, MSW/MBA ’18; Gabe Berkland, MBA ’19; Nick Wosniak, MBA ’19; Jeff Brown, MBA ’19; Ankita Bhalla, BSBA ’20.




Maxine Clark, founder of St. Louis-based Build-A-Bear Workshop, kicked off the semester’s first Women & Leadership class with a story of her childhood. This is a selection of my three takeaways from her talk.

It’s OK to make mistakes

Clark explained that her first-grade teacher, Mrs. Grace, was responsible for imparting a lesson Maxine has carried with her throughout her life: “Learn from your mistakes.” Every Friday, Mrs. Grace would hand out a red pencil to the student that made the most mistakes that week. Maxine Clark noted the uniqueness that for once it wasn’t the brightest or quickest student that was rewarded, but one that had made mistakes.

Taking this lesson forward, Clark was pleased to see that the retail industry also embraced mistakes. At her very first job in the executive training program at the May Company, she had the responsibility of marking down prices with a very similar red pencil. She thought, “Wow, I’m made for this job!”

As a student, whose value is measured often by test scores and grades, it’s refreshing to remember that making mistakes leads to growth. Looking around the classroom, I saw many young women also relieved by the idea that mistakes can lead to success. Clark’s words came at an important time as many of us are soon graduating and starting a new life chapter.

Know what you don’t know

Clark proudly admits, “One of my strengths is I know what I don’t know.” This acknowledgment helped her snag one an incredible promotion. As a new employee for the May Company, she was tasked with the job of traveling to Asia to pick out products for all of the May Company stores. Maxine knew immediately that she didn’t know what the other stores would need.

Without the support of her supervisor, she had to take it upon herself to travel to the Pittsburgh store to see their assortment. There, she ran into David Farrell, who would soon become the CEO. Impressed with her initiative, he continued a professional relationship, eventually promoting Clark to chief of staff. Knowing what she didn’t know both allowed her to prove self-initiative and feel comfortable asking for help.

Enjoy the journey

Clark emanates passion. With exuberance, she described every project she was involved in. She ascribes much of her success to her passion and her ability to “enjoy the journey.” Starting with Build-A-Bear, she felt that she could pour all of her energy into the company’s success and growth because she felt so passionate. Today, she invests her energy in projects surround education, women in business, and the St. Louis community.

Pictured above: Maxine Clark, founder of the Build-A-Bear Workshop, speaking in 2013 during Olin Business School’s Defining Moments lecture series. Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.




Angela Lu, MBA ’19, is president of the Graduate Business Student Association and wrote this for the Olin Blog.

One hundred and fifty-three days left in office.

We’re past the midway point of our term “in office.” I know because I laid out the timeline for the academic year over my summer, and installed a countdown timer on my web browser. It’s not that I can’t wait to graduate and move on from Olin; quite the contrary, I wanted to make sure that my team and I do not lose sight of how many days left we have to make an impact while still on campus.

So as the fall semester draws near its end, what have we been working on? How have we been doing?

We kicked off this year with three lofty goals: first, to increase Olin pride; second, to increase connectivity; and third, to increase accountability. The first, in many ways, we deem a natural derivative of the second two. In particular, we’ve really focused on increasing accountability.

I noted from the start that it wasn’t going to be easy. Holding others accountable for their actions sounds reasonable in theory, but few if any of us really enjoy starting a conversation, “Hey, you didn’t deliver on your promises and that was uncool.”

I am immensely proud of and grateful to my colleagues—the vice presidents of social programs, club presidents, etc.—who have boldly stepped up to the plate and enforced stricter RSVP policies for social as well as professional events. Together, we’ve turned away classmates without tickets at the door of Pin-Up Bowl (for our Welcome Back Party) and withheld food and beverage from walk-in event participants until the registered attendees had had their fill.

We’ve heard lots of grumblings. We’ve been questioned: Is this really necessary?

Here’s why we’re fundamentally trying to build a culture of heightened accountability: no one likes a flake. And while some events are more “informal” than others (such as social get-togethers), I firmly believe that they too are occasions for decorum. Since our integrity is built upon the sum of our consistent actions, we are behooved by our shared values to honor our commitments—and proactively communicate if we no longer are able to.

After all, it is exceedingly simple to change an RSVP response—it costs nothing save a few seconds. However, an accurate headcount for any event makes life much easier for an event organizer. It is an invaluable piece of data, but only if it is reliable. True professionalism stems from our ability to consider and be sensitive to the needs of others we interact with.

We fully acknowledge that the status quo—in companies, among friends, at school—may be less than ideal. Calendar invitations may be accepted and disregarded. Event registrations may frequently result in no-shows.

What is “normal” isn’t desirable—and here at Olin, we’re pushing ourselves to do better, and to be better. That’s why we’re tackling these tough conversations head on in building a culture of accountability and professionalism. We painstakingly seek to hold ourselves to higher standards so that we can all become our best possible selves. That is the growth and development we came to Olin for.

Pictured above: About 112 Olin graduate students at the GBSA club officers’ bootcamp in early October 2018.




Cynthia Cryder

It’s National Financial Awareness Day—and we see it as our duty to bring you the best financial and business-related news today and every day. So pull up a front-row seat to this exclusive, free personal finance training, brought to you by associate professor of marketing Cynthia Cryder.

Why it matters

It’s easy to think of financial awareness as something that’s best left to the experts – but Cryder, whose research on personal finance ranges from the psychology of debt to the practical details of how we spend money, says that’s a big mistake—and one that could cost you emotionally as well as financially. Though she’s an expert in consumer decision-making and personal finance, Cryder defines financial awareness as “being deliberate about your finances and making a plan.” That means staying one step ahead and being ready for the next major or minor disaster – because it’s going to come.

Cryder says being aware of your finances and having a plan to save, reduce debt, and think about the future is crucial because of the sheer nature of how we react to money. In fact, Cryder says people in the United States cite financial stress as more difficult on them than health, job, or any other kind of stressor.

“It seems like not having emergency savings is one of the most stressful things, because most families and individuals have a financial shock every year,” Cryder explained. So getting your finances in control and knowing where you stand is about more than counting checks—it’s about a happier, healthier you.

Rethink saving

One of the most frequent roadblocks Cryder finds to helping people become financially well is a misunderstanding of the nature of savings—and emergencies. “The idea that the only type of savings is for the distant future, like education or health savings,” does the consumer a disservice. That’s because emergency spending should be a top priority, according to Cryder.

Why do we have such trouble thinking of saving up for the short term? It has to do with the kinds of financial emergencies we face and the way we compartmentalize them. “We see isolated expenditures as just that: isolated,” said Cryder. “So we think that we’ll never have that financial shock or expenditure again. And that may be true, but we’re bad at then understanding that we are going to have another unusual type of isolated shock or expenditure.”

So when we rationalize that a car breakdown isn’t likely to happen again in the near future, we forget to save for things like a health emergency, or a home repair. Rethinking the likelihood of an “exceptional” event happening, and understanding that you’re going to face one each year, is one of the keys to being truly aware of your financial situation.

One step at a time

Once you’re aware of the state of your savings and you’ve decided it’s time to reduce financial stress in your life, Cryder suggests a few simple ways of moving toward stability.

First up: Figure out what needs to change. “It’s about deciding what is important to you as a person and as a consumer,” she says. Assuming your finances are stressing you out, you’ve got two options: make more money or spend less.

That might take the form of getting an extra job on the side, or taking in a roommate or two to help with expenses. Or it could be as simple as tracking your expenses for a month, seeing what adds up and what could be cut to make room.

While that might seem easier said than done, it’s a crucial decision to make if you want to get rid of financial stress. It’s also the key to steps two and three: pay down those debts and start an emergency fund.

When paying down debts, Cryder recommends starting with the most expensive—think payday loans, credit cards, and anything above 10 percent APR. While that might seem obvious at first glance, Cryder and her fellow researchers have found that many consumers are actually more likely to tackle the manageable, lower-interest rates first. “It’s not entirely obvious that people shouldn’t be doing this, because it’s possible that people get a great satisfaction from clearing something off their plate,” she said. But keep in mind: the longer you wait to pay down those expensive loans, the more debt you’re accruing.

Once your debt is under control, an emergency savings fund is a must. Thinking about spending crises, Cryder warns that “these things keep coming up—and we keep having to deal with them.” So putting away some money with the expectation that you’ll spend it on an emergency will make you better equipped to handle that situation when it happens.

Become the best you

At the end of the day, everything Cryder does is about the consumer. She believes the goal of financial awareness is to “improve consumer well-being.” She wants to help consumers “reduce financial stresses and improve outcomes in terms of finding a good match between how they’re spending their money and how they’re finding satisfaction in life.”

In short: a financially aware you means a happier, healthier, and more satisfied you—and making life safer, better, and more comfortable for everyone is what Cryder—and financial analysts—are all about.




Riana Nigam, BSBA ’19, wrote this for the Olin Blog. She was the recipient of an award to study abroad from the Glazer Global Learning Fund. 

It is the last day of my study abroad program, so naturally it feels like an appropriate time to do some reflecting. Over the course of the last four months, I feel like I have accomplished so much.

I have lived alone in a foreign country, I have organized trips and navigated new cities, I have learned about other cultures, I have taken interesting courses at a reputable business school in Europe, I have tried new foods, I have discovered things about myself, and the list goes on.

One of my most memorable experiences abroad pertains to a group project that I participated in as part of my operations management course at ESCP Europe, the French business school.

The project entailed selecting any business in Paris, visiting the sight, conducting an interview with the manager and analyzing and evaluating different dimensions of the business’s operations in a research paper.

My group consisted of three American undergraduate students and two Italian master’s students, so it was both a wonderful growth opportunity and immense challenge to recognize similarities and reconcile the differences in our cultural backgrounds and experience levels.

For our business, we selected an Italian restaurant called Marzo, located in Saint-Germain, a more upscale area in Paris.

I particularly enjoyed visiting the site during off-hours and gaining interesting first-hand insights from the restaurant’s manager regarding supply chain management, menu construction, consumer perception and several other topics.

It was not only a unique experience to be able to understand one aspect of the business environment in another country, but it was also greatly rewarding to present our final conclusions and recommendations to the restaurant itself.

After receiving welcoming feedback from both our professor and the restaurant, my group and I felt that we had achieved something meaningful and impactful. Most importantly, though, my friends and I managed to dine at the restaurant during our final week and it was worth every bite!




How many memberships does RISE Collaborative Workspace have to sell to reach its break-even point? Is is 152? Or 132? Or closer to just 40? It was one of the problems undergraduate business students grappled with in Michael McLaughlin’s “managerial accounting” class last week.

In fact, dozens of them grappled with that and numerous other questions. Three sections of the class, in teams ranging from four to eight students—144 in all—honed their newly formed analytical skills on Stacy Taubman’s real-world business, a women-focused, women-owned co-working space in its first year of operation.

Taubman opened her books to the class hoping a fresh collection of new eyes would uncover new insights into her business, demonstrate support for a planned expansion—and offer a great learning experience for students.

“Theory and practice are often very different,” said Taubman, who, with her team, sat through three sets of presentations from students who had dug into the numbers. “I just wanted a set of really smart eyes taking a look at what we’re doing.”

As it turns out, Taubman said, the third team of 48 students was closest to the real break-even point, but the specifics weren’t really the point.

“Having the opportunity to work alongside a real client in the industry made the material more enjoyable and engaging,” said Ariana Phillips, BSBA ’19, who is majoring in finance and Spanish. “Not only were we able to improve our teamwork skills, but we were also able to network with RISE professionals while better understanding their business model.”

Students dug into a variety of financial components to Taubman’s business, producing analyses of its variable and fixed costs, cost-volume profit, sales and expense budget, most profitable membership types, and a planned expansion to Denver.

Taubman was up-front about her lack of business credentials. Still, RISE is her second startup: She launched a tutoring company in 2013 while still teaching. She said the exercise with McLaughlin’s students gave her comfort that she was on the right track and that the expansion was worth pursuing.

“We wanted this to be real to students,” said McLaughlin, who had been friends with Taubman and knew of her interest in opening up the books for students.

“Our involvement in the RISE project was the quintessential way to apply the accounting knowledge we had accumulated over the course of the semester and actually see how and where it is used in the workplace,” Phillips said.

Pictured above: Student Alissa Geller, BSBA ’20, presents to Stacy Taubman, in the dark dress, center, front row.