Tag: Specialized Masters



Preston Tharp, MBA

This was posted on behalf of team lead Franklyn Nnakwue and his teammates Prateek Deval, Ryan Sun, Aria Ren, Amy Yu and Cathy Wang.

As a group of MBAs and specialized master students at Olin Business School, we worked on one of the most challenging analytics projects. Our client, Direct Supply, has a long relationship with Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning and Center for Analytics and Business Insights.

Direct Supply is a company that specializes in providing equipment, e-commerce, and service solutions to the senior living industry. With 35 years of history, it has many customers. For this project, we focused on the business’s products. Our goal was to leverage data to draw insights that Direct Supply could use to improve customer experience and operational performance.

Field trip to Direct Supply

To better understand Direct Supply’s business model, the team went on a one-day field trip to Milwaukee, where Direct Supply is located. After the interaction with the sales team, marketing team, data science team and supply chain team, we had a more robust understanding of the business and the ways our project could be transformative

We also understood that the project is not solely about writing code and answering the questions, but also about testing the viability of our recommendations.

Real-world challenge and timely adjustment

As we dug deeper into the project, we found that the initial hypothesis that we were working with wasn’t feasible. “Welcome to the real world,” said our professor, Seethu Seetharaman. As we sought to pivot our analysis, Professor Seethu and Professor Michael Wall offered us a lot of help in redefining the questions and finding other approaches to solving the problem. We finally figured out an alternative approach that could fulfill Direct Supply’s initial goal.

Projects won’t always go smoothly as planned, and challenges would always appear along the journey. The faculty advisors, CEL committee and CEL fellow were helpful in ensuring that the team was on the right track.

This was a precious experience for the team. The project offered us a great opportunity to get involved in solving real-world business problems. It was definitely the highlight of our academic experience at WashU.

Pictured at top: A client representative; Preston Tharp, MBA ’20; Nithin Ramachandran, client; Aria Ren, MSCA ’19; Franklyn Nnakwue, MBA ’20; Cathy Wang, MSCA ’19; Ryan Sun, MSCA ’19; Amy Yu, MSCA ’19; Michael Wall, CEL/CABI faculty adviser; Prateek Deval, MBA ’20; Seethu Seetharman, CEL/CABI faculty adviser.




Shirley (Jingxuan) Zhou, MSCA ’19, wrote this on behalf of her team for the Center for Experiential Learning.

Edward Jones, a full-service brokerage firm with a high reputation, concentrates on working with serious, long-term investors across both the United States and Canada. With more than 18,000 financial advisers, the company helps clients make sense of investing. At Edward Jones, each financial adviser has their own website, allowing clients to get to know more about the advisers and their business.

During the past four months, a team of two MBA and four MSCA students cooperated closely with Edward Jones’s marketing team and analytics team to explore customer behavior on these sites and measure the effectiveness of the advisers’ microsites.

In the meantime, professor Seethu Seetharaman and Michael Wall also provided constructive guidance on data processing and marketing strategies, ensuring the project was at the right track.

Using data analytics to make an impact

The whole process could be divided into four steps:

  • Identify if customized microsites provide benefits over standard microsites.
  • If they do, explore the optimal level of customization.
  • Discover driving factors that lead to customization by an adviser.
  • Provide business insights and recommendations obtained through the analysis to improve microsite performance.

On December 5, the team visited the headquarter of Edward Jones, delivering the final presentations to both marketing team and analytics team. According to different audiences, the team had different focuses. After showing the data analysis results, key insights and recommendations, both teams were impressed about their work.

Real-world experience

The CEL practicum has offered the team a great opportunity to apply data analytics skills to real business world. While leveraging the analytical skills and business sense to help Edward Jones better optimize its business-decision process, the team also gained a lot of experience and knowledge on team collaboration and communication. This is definitely an amazing experience for every team member.

Pictured above: Madhuri Mada, MBA ’20; Gaurav Malik, MBA/MSCA, x’20; Sabrina Alexandre, MSCA ’19; Shirley Zhou, MSCA ’19; Katherine Yin, MSCA ’19; and Max Jiang, MSCA ’19.


Mark Taylor, approximately 10 years old in Warwickshire, England.
Mark Taylor, approximately 10 years old in Warwickshire, England.

On most Friday nights in the 1970s, you might find teenage Mark Taylor outside a pub in the UK’s working-class Warwickshire community hawking “American hotdogs” to the patrons who had just tipped back a pint or two.

Taylor made the circuit throughout the weekend, from the pub until 2 a.m., to the soccer ground on Saturday afternoon, to a nightclub on Saturday night, pocketing 20% of the proceeds to cover basic needs—school supplies, clothes and a few meals here and there.

Taylor knew he needed to ease the burden on his parents and three brothers—who either worked for—or were destined to work for—the local auto plant in the gritty industrial town. He had different dreams in mind.

Skip ahead six years. With innumerable hotdogs and a year working as a tutor behind him, Taylor had become the first in his family to complete the British equivalent of high school. With straight A’s on his exit exams—and intervention by a visionary headmaster—Taylor became the first in his family to attend college.

And not just any college: The oldest campus in the English-speaking world—tracing its origins to the 11th century—Oxford University, where Taylor had earned a seat to study philosophy, politics and economics.

Mark Taylor with his parents in Warwickshire, England.

“I suppose arriving at Oxford and being able to measure myself against people with different backgrounds—that was the first time I realized how transformational this could be,” Taylor said, recalling his early days at university. “Without financial assistance, it would not have been possible.”

That financial assistance came in the form of British government-sponsored scholarships available to high-achieving students who had been accepted by a university. With straight A’s on his exams, a seat at Oxford and working-class parents, Taylor not only qualified to have his fees covered, but he received a small government stipend to help with living expenses during his studies.

“You’d get one check at the start of each term, so you had to be very careful not to blow the lot in the first week,” Taylor said.

Taylor is particularly keen on the importance of undergraduate scholarships, which he views as the first and most formidable barrier. Once he had earned his undergraduate degree, Taylor was able to leverage that to get his first job in a professional career track.

From there, he could finance his further education, including a master’s in economics at Oxford, a PhD in economics from the University of London, a higher doctorate in finance from from the University of Warwick and a master’s in English renaissance and romantic literature from the University of Liverpool.

“For me, education was a totally transformational experience,” said Taylor. “The difference is not only in material well-being, but also in terms of ways you can enjoy and view the world in different ways.”

Learn more about the ways Olin works with scholarship recipients and donors—and learn how you can become one—on WashU Olin’s scholarship page.


In the first week of October, Anne Petersen was in the passenger seat driving through upstate New York when she noticed her email was starting to blow up.

The Weston Career Center coach was on vacation with her husband when inquiries started to roll in from an email the career center had just sent to thousands of WashU Olin alumni. “You’ll always be able to partner with the Weston Career Center for lifetime career support,” the email said, inviting alumni to seek support whenever they needed it.

Seek they did. More than 50 Olin alumni reached out within the week that the email blast and video went out. Some were recent alumni, out only a year or two. Some had left as long ago as the 1960s.

“The emails started coming and the phone started ringing immediately. It was more than we anticipated,” Petersen said. “I don’t think alums were aware of our coaching services and the breadth of resources available. They also didn’t realize that we work with alums across the country via phone or Skype, as well as in person in St. Louis.”

Existing services—and new ones

The email campaign and related video were designed to remind Olin alumni of the career coaching resources available to them long after they walked away with their diploma. Coaching, career assessment, personal branding, resume and LinkedIn profile building, interview preparation, networking and negotiation—all services alumni can continue to get from the Weston Career Center.

That day in October, Petersen started responding to alumni seeking ideas about making a career pivot or changing geographies. She set up later appointments with some and worked with Jen Whitten, associate dean and director of the Weston Career Center, who fielded inquiries and connected alums with experienced coaches on the WCC team—including Frans Van Oudenallen, Mary Houlihan and Kathie McCloskey.

“They’ve run the gamut from young alums, undergrads, MBAs, specialized masters, senior citizens, mothers that were out of the workforce,” Petersen said. “It’s been a great process. We have had the opportunity to work with a lot of fascinating alums.”

Once Olin, Always Olin

A number of them have started by taking advantage of the WCC’s career leader assessment, a survey instrument that normally costs $75—but is available to alumni free of charge.

“It gives alums insight regarding their interests, motivations, skills, potential career directions and company culture matches,” Petersen said.Petersen said. The response to the email has been gratifying for the WCC team, who had sensed the services were not well-known enough or that alumni from outside St. Louis might be reticent to take advantage of them.

“They very much are commenting about the idea of ‘Once Olin, Always Olin’— the idea that it’s for me at any stage of your career,” Petersen said. “They felt like, ‘This does pertain to me—no matter where I am.'”

Looking for career help as an Olin alum? Contact Anne Petersen for career coaching resources (annepetersen@wustl.edu or 314-935-8951), or Jen Whitten (jwhitten@wustl.edu or 314-935-8970) to discuss WCC’s resources or any questions you might have. For remote coaching, the WCC is prepared to connect via Skype, phone or in person.




Sandy Sun, MSSCM

A three-member team of WashU business analytics students vanquished at least 49 other teams in the 2019 Teradata Data Challenge in Denver last month. Their victory was the second in consecutive years by an Olin team in the prestigious competition, which draws entries from around the globe.

“We didn’t really expect to win,” said Sandy Sun, MSSCA ’19. “It was exciting and amazing.”

Sandy Sun, MSSCM '19, delivering her team's presentation at the 2019 global Teradata analytics competition in Denver.
Sandy Sun, MSSCM ’19, delivering her team’s presentation at the 2019 global Teradata analytics competition in Denver.

The winning team included Sun, Jingxuan Zhou, MSCA ’19, and Peiyilin Shen, MSFTA ’19. They delivered their presentation—after months of work developing their solutions—on October 20 and learned of their victory the next day. The company—which provides database and analytics-related software, products, and services—received more than 50 submissions from around the world and chose 16 teams as finalists to compete in Denver, Colorado, at the Teradata Universe Conference.

In an email, Sun said the team’s challenge focused on a client, Hire Heroes, a nonprofit organization devoted to providing free support to veterans and military spouses as they transition to the civilian workforce.

“To better support its operation and services, the organization really needs donations to make a difference,” Sun wrote. “Hence, we chose ‘donor development’ as our topic, trying to provide some data-driven business recommendations to improve its current development.”

Zhou said the project, which the team had been working on since May, depended on their ability to clean and analyze more than 100,000 records spread across several data sets. The team’s faculty advisers were Olin professors Xiang Hui and Seethu Seetharaman, director of the Center for Analytics and Business Insights and faculty director of the specialized master’s in business analytics program.

The team organized the organization’s donor lifecycle into acquisition, retention and recurrence. Through their analysis, they were able to develop strategies they believed would support Hire Heroes to positively impact more heroes.

“The analytics are easy for us. It’s translating it into business insights that is difficulty,” Sun said. “That may be why we won. We needed to make sure our client knew what we were doing.”

A five-member team of customer analytics students won the same competition last year, defeating 44 teams in the global competition.

The 2019 team worked hard to present its ideas by telling a story so the audience would find it easy to understand. “After all, technical skills in data analysis, machine learning are always just tools to gain insights,” Sun said. “The ability to show results to untechnical people is equally important.”