Tag: Specialized Masters



Entrepreneurship professor Doug Villhard (top center), works with students in the CEL

Right now, Ally Gerard should be on the west coast working in the corporate partnerships department for the Los Angeles Clippers NBA team. A student in Olin’s business of sports program, Ally landed the internship after a very competitive recruiting process.

Coronavirus had other plans, however, and the internship was scrapped—a situation a great many of WashU Olin’s undergraduate and graduate students now face. Still, Ally’s chance to flex her Olin muscles, apply her skills and gain experience has not been lost.

That’s thanks to a new seven-week course Ally, BSBA ’22, and more than 300 of her fellow students are taking right now—a course Olin’s faculty and staff conceived and launched in a matter of weeks as the pandemic gutted internship opportunities for our students.

“Applied Problem Solving for Organizations” began as an idea in late April. By the time the course began June 1, more than 30 faculty members had volunteered to serve as project advisors. Dozens of companies—many with Olin alumni in leadership—had proposed projects offering real-world experience to our students.

Ultimately, the team at Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning had settled on 50 projects for teams of four or five students, many of which include both graduate and undergraduate students.

Preserving experiences for summer

“I wanted to help out the students who were confronted with internship challenges,” said John Horn, professor of practice in economics and advisor to Ally’s team. “It’s not a perfect substitute, but it’s really pretty good. I’ve heard from students who kept their internships that their virtual experiences were challenging. Their employer is also trying to figure out the program in real time.”

Another faculty advisor, Durai Sundaramoorthi, senior lecturer in management, expanded on Horn’s last point.

“This is an interesting alternative to a traditional internship,” he said.  “This project gives a broad perspective about the entire business of entrepreneurship. It is a great learning experience for students.”

Built with care—and haste

Enough cannot be said about the urgency with which the Olin community tackled this challenge—from the CEL, which organized the curriculum, to the staff that promoted the program and recruited students, to the Weston Career Center, which guided students toward the opportunity and worked with potential clients, to the alumni who recognized the need and offered project opportunities.

It’s worth noting that the opportunity worked in both directions.

“Honestly, we had to scrap existing plans to bring on summer interns due to the pandemic,” said Jay Li, BSBA ’16, and director of marketing for Regatta Craft Mixers. “When I received the email from Dean Taylor about the program, we rushed to pitch a strategic project we’ve been struggling with.”

Now, an Olin team is working with the New York-based beverage maker to gain insight from its consumer research to inform a grocery-store selling strategy.

Solving real-world problems

Ally’s team is working with St. Louis-based Insituform Technologies—a pipeline rehabilitation firm—to research industry best practices and conduct a competitive intelligence analysis to understand the regional differences in the firm’s operations. She’s leading the team, which includes graduate students.

“This is my first experience in ‘leading up’ to students much further along in their higher education journey,” she said. “The CEL has fostered a working environment that pushes us to grow as consulting professionals but also as empathetic leaders and teammates.”

In many ways, of course, this turn of events was disappointing. We have exceptional students who have worked hard. We have built a world-class career center, which has been knocking it out of the park with student placements and internships—then, a global crisis.

We can’t get the internships back, but we can make sure our students have a meaningful experience. We can make sure our students have a story to tell about the work they did this summer. We can—and we have.

Pictured above: Entrepreneurship professor Doug Villhard (top center), works with students in the CEL’s summer program.


Career coaches and advisors in WashU Olin’s Weston Career Center understand it’s a tough time to emerge into the workforce, thanks to a global pandemic that’s wreaked havoc on the economy and cast uncertainty into the outlook for many companies.

Their advice: Don’t despair. Check out these resources for ideas, direction and inspiration.

HIRING REALLY HASN’T STOPPED. Just because the overall economy has slowed let’s not assume hiring opportunities have disappeared.  In fact, check out this article from The Muse regarding companies that are still hiring. The Muse

GET YOUR NETWORKING GOING. Although your approach may be different, now is definitely the right time to build or enhance your network during COVID-19.  Just ask…KornFerry.

EVEN IN THE ERA OF SOCIAL DISTANCING. Fortune Magazine also offers suggestions on networking in the era of social distancing: Fortune Magazine.

PREP FOR A VIRTUAL INTERVIEW. For the next few months, look for all recruiting activities to be virtual.  How ready are you to meet the challenge of a virtual interview? Indeed.com has some ideas for you to consider: Indeed.com.

BUT BRUSH UP FIRST. This is an extremely competitive time in the job market.  You have an opportunity now to brush up on your interview skills, so please make this a priority. Here is an article from The Muse that may help: The Muse Interview Guide.




Photo credit: David Brickner / Shutterstock.com

Over the past several weeks, I have heard powerfully and candidly from many in our alumni and student community about the need for a clear message—backed by action—concerning the shameful record of racial inequity in our community and beyond. I hear them and want to be clear about my response: I stand in solidarity with the Black members of our community and the community at large. Further, we state unequivocally that Black Lives Matter.

Serious issues of racial inequity—brought again to the fore by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery and many others—are deeply painful and there is urgency in putting action behind our conviction.

At Olin, we say we are better than this. We are committed to being a community of diversity, equity and inclusion. We will foster an environment where our staff, faculty, students and alumni uphold these principles. Our conviction is real. Conviction alone, however, is not enough. We must put action behind those convictions.

I am appointing a task force—which I will chair and which will include representatives from within Olin and across WashU—to guide us toward identifying unjust systems and practices, and offer sustainable strategies to infuse solutions throughout Olin, from recruiting students and faculty, to curriculum improvements, to research.

At the same time, I have appointed a team to begin work immediately with the Olin Diversity and Inclusion Team to develop a robust plan, with goals and measurable performance indicators, focused on strategies to uproot systems of racism within our community. This team has my direct support.

I am committed to following through on this work, communicating regularly about our progress and consulting with all members of our community. I am grateful for the valuable insights and strong counsel I have already received. I am also grateful for the ongoing work by our faculty, staff and students toward a more diverse, equitable and inclusive Olin. I recognize there is far more work to do.

I will share further updates soon as our work begins to yield specific action steps.

Pictured above: May 30, 2020: Protestors raise their hands in solidarity outside of the Fifth Police Precinct in Minneapolis in response to the death of George Floyd. (David Brickner/Shutterstock)




A group of eight MSF students and their mentor landed a second-place win at the 2020 Chicago Quantitative Alliance Investment Challenge.

The Chicago Quantitative Alliance “is a professional investment organization comprised of leading quantitative investment practitioners.  The CQA membership includes investment managers, academics, plan sponsors, consultants, and other investment professionals.  The primary goal of the CQA is to facilitate the interchange of ideas between quantitative professionals.” (CQA Website).

The Investment Challenge allows students to experience every aspect of portfolio management through the Stock-Trak investment simulation platform. Teams are judged on their return value, risk adjusted return and a presentation on their strategy.

Olin’s team consisted of eight students, as well as Cobo HE, MSFQ ’20.

  • Yitong Cai, MSFQ ’20
  • Jie Cheng, MSFQ ’20
  • Miao HE, MSFQ ’20
  • Xinyuan Hu, MSFQ ’20
  • Yiming Huang, MSFQ ’20
  • Aurora Liu, MSFQ ’20
  • Jingqui Zhao, MSFWAM ’20
  • Weihao Zhou, MSFQ ’20

Other winning teams included UC San Diego in first place and Union College in third.

Cobo He, student advisor, expressed gratitude for the faculty who worked with him and his fellow students. “I’m especially grateful to Profs. Guofu Zhou and Hans Fredrikson, who gave us some useful investment advice and shared their insights to help us. And Professor Timothy is so responsible and did a lot to follow up and help us.”




Our cats also became important members of our extended team. Their analytics skills, however, were not up to snuff (see photo at top: clockwise from top, Alex Ignatius, MBA

Alex Ignatius, MBA ’21, wrote this on behalf of her team from the Center for Experiential Learning for the Olin Blog.

The restaurant industry was hit hard as the coronavirus swept through the United States. Some businesses shuttered their doors, others converted their operations to curbside pick-up and delivery. Nearly everyone was forced to make deep cuts to their front-of-house and culinary workforce.

As part of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning, our consulting team analyzed how a leading New York-based restaurant group should most effectively re-open, recruit staff, attract customers and remain profitable coming out of the COVID-19 crisis.

Lamar Pierce
Lamar Pierce

Over the span of four months, and with support and guidance from Lamar Pierce, professor of organization and strategy at Olin, our team of MBAs and master’s students in customer analytics and financial analytics quickly immersed ourselves in the complex business of hospitality to provide objective recommendations on the viability of our client’s current policies.

The biggest hurdle our team had to overcome during this project was: How do you maintain team camaraderie and productivity during a global pandemic? It’s a challenge every team no doubt faced as quarantine took hold around the world. Three team members from China had spent the previous months worrying about their families under lock-down back home, only to have the tables turned as strict shelter-in-place orders took effect in St. Louis and across the United States.

“Growing up as the daughter of a restaurant critic, and working in the restaurant industry for a decade, I was very excited to be a part of a project that really dove into the issues of compensation, mission and communication with the guest. Add to that the pandemic that traumatically shut down most hospitality establishments, we soon became involved with a project much larger than just the client themselves, but with the entire hospitality industry.”

Susie Bonwich, MBA ’21
Susie Bonwich

During moments of crisis it is important for leaders to “bring the weather” – to set the tone for how to adapt and move forward in the face of uncertainty and disruption. As a team lead, I channeled this mantra – preparing very intentionally for each internal and client-facing meeting to be sure that our meetings were a highlight of the team’s day—and the client’s. One team member joined each client call “sitting” in a different one of their restaurants. This brought a big smile to everyone’s face when we logged in each week.

Our cats also became important members of our extended team. Their analytics skills, however, were not up to snuff (see photo at top: clockwise from top, Alex Ignatius, MBA ’21, with Olivia; Steve Lach, MBA ’21, with Queijo; and Vanessa Liu, MSCA ’20, with Happy).

Jinghui Yan

The second key learning is how moments of crisis can bring incredible opportunity. Our project began as an exploratory mission for this restaurant group to look at some of the policies and decisions they had implemented over the past five years.

“It’s a rewarding experience to work on such a challenging but productive project. I learned a lot in the process of working with people from different backgrounds and tackling a real-world business issue together.”

Jinghui Yan, MSCA ’20

But once COVID-19 set in and the disastrous impact it was having on the restaurant industry became clear, our work on behalf of the CEL quickly became elevated to a key strategic priority. What started as a simple CEL project became one of the most important questions on everyone’s minds: How do restaurants think about re-opening and re-recruiting their laid-off employees after the quarantine lifts? As a business, how do we balance purpose and compensation for our employees, and how do we think about the guest experience and the reality of reduced covers when we must reconfigure dining room layouts to accommodate new social distancing standards?

Jarvis Jiao

We were able to make a meaningful difference to a business that desperately needed help during a time that was isolating, lonely and distressing. This CEL project gave us a sense of purpose when so many of us were feeling trapped.

“This project gave me an opportunity to apply what I have learned in class to empower real-world business decisions. There is no better way to experience business and implement your skills than a practicum project.”

Vanessa Liu, MSCA ’20

Our team rose to the challenge, conquered the complexities of analyzing ambiguous data, extracted significant insights and presented a final report with actionable recommendations to an audience of 25 client team members and WashU faculty over Zoom.

As shared by a professor and mentor to the team, “This is the work caliber of a full-time consulting organization working three-plus months at 80 to 100 hours a week—and you all did so with significantly less time and in the midst of a global pandemic that shifted the operations of (the client) as well as the industry as a whole.”

This CEL project was significant to our personal and professional development at Olin and is the type of real-world business experience that will continue to inform our work long after graduation.




Purina CEL team (left to right): Lucy Sun, MSAA

This spring, our team of two MBAs and five specialized masters students had the opportunity to work on a data-driven consulting engagement for our client, Nestlé Purina PetCare, through the company’s partnership with Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning and the Center for Analytics and Business Insights.

With a rich history in pet care, Purina is a globally competitive leader that makes world-class products and drives pet nutrition forward through research. For our project, Purina tasked us with providing recommendations for changing consumer perceptions about senior pet nutrition to increase sales in the senior pet food category.

Our team was very excited for the chance to tackle a real-world marketing project. Team member Margaret Cai, MSCA ’20, shared that she was initially interested in working on the Purina project because it “…provided a fantastic opportunity for me to develop my thoughts and create valuable suggestions.”

Under the guidance of faculty advisors—Professor Michael Wall, Professor Seethu Seetharaman, and Professor Meng Liu—our team was able to pair what we’ve learned in the classroom with data insights and industry research to develop a marketing strategy for senior pet food.

A new virtual reality

What started out as a normal semester took a turn when our campus had to react to the COVID-19 pandemic. For our CEL team, this posed unexpected challenges and disrupted our normal working environment—quite suddenly, we had to account for having team members across four time zones.

While half of our team was still in St. Louis, other team members returned to family homes in Columbus, Ohio; Big Sky, Montana; and Vancouver, British Columbia. We had gone from sharing conference rooms to being spread across two countries!

Despite our new situation and rapidly changing policies around COVID-19, we wanted to make sure that we could still deliver an excellent work product to our client. Our team moved quickly to adjust plans and work processes to accommodate our new reality.

Fortunately, we were able to use tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom video conferencing to help our remote team collaborate effectively. Being able to speak with other CEL teams and share our experiences also helped us all find ways to navigate our new environment and manage our projects.

Team member Kevin Jin, MSCA ’20, said, “In this special period, the CEL program gave me not only experience with a real business project, but also emotional support from team members and faculty.”

Real-world experience

In early May, the team was able to virtually present key insights and recommendations to about 30 Purina team members. With positive feedback from Purina and enthusiastic discussion, it was a wonderful conclusion to the semester.

WashU practicum students virtually shared their final presentation with the Purina team.

Navigating this unique experience with our clients at Purina provided a great learning opportunity for the student team. Team lead Leslie Ramey, MBA ’20, said, “I think the uncertainty we faced during the semester helped us focus more on building relationships to support our project work. The circumstances definitely pushed me further as a leader, and thanks to great support from Purina and the CEL, we were all able to have a positive experience.”

Team member Angela Li, MSCA ’20, said the project gave her a new perspective because she found that real business problems were more complicated than those faced in the classroom and this drove the team to be creative in their approach.

“[The project] gave me a chance to apply the knowledge and skills I learned from school to the real business world…. This experience allowed me to take a glance at my future career life, and consequently helped me prepare for it better.” Lucy Sun, MSAA ’20, agreed and said the project also helped improve communication skills.

“We needed to express our ideas and thoughts with team members and also explain our results and findings with our clients” she said. “After this project, we all could communicate very effectively.” 

For other students hoping to engage in a CEL practicum project, team member Margaret Cai said her top piece of advice is “the more you devote yourself, the more you learn,” which is a lesson our whole team will take with us into our future careers.

Pictured at top: Purina CEL team (left to right): Lucy Sun, MSAA ’20, Margaret Cai, MSCA ’20, Leslie Ann Ramey, MBA ’20, Shantanu Pande, MBA ’21, Kevin Jin, MSCA ’20, Angela Li, MSCA ’20 and Dominique Nie, MSCA ’20.