For the first time ever, WashU Olin will welcome new specialized master’s degree students in the spring semester—a manifestation of how the Olin team has met yet another challenge wrought by the pandemic. And with this new intake, my colleagues have gone the extra mile to create important student experiences for those who will attend online.
The story starts well before the fall semester began, when hundreds of international students had hoped to arrive in St. Louis for fall classes. As travel restrictions, quarantines and visa issues barred many students’ arrival, Olin’s team pivoted. We enrolled 306 SMP students in the fall—online and in-person—but allowed hundreds more to defer their admission to the spring, hoping circumstances might change.
Many months later, the virus has not yet relented. Circumstances haven’t changed. But the international students who deferred from the fall still want a WashU Olin experience. I’m pleased to say our faculty, our Weston Career Center and our graduate programs team is prepared to provide that experience to approximately 350 more SMP students who will join us in January.
Faculty have done a tremendous amount of work to add additional course sections and adapt their curricula. They’ve accepted additional teaching loads, catering to students many time zones away in China and other international locations. Faculty members also updated their office hours to accommodate students learning abroad.
“We’re making a special effort to keep class sizes small, using tech to enhance the experience while they’re learning abroad with us,” said Ruthie Pyles, associate dean of graduate enrollment management. “We’re trying to think about providing the intimate classroom experience for them as well as students in the states.”
Gathering students in person—in China
Indeed, as part of that effort, Olin’s team is organizing residencies in Shanghai and Beijing. These weeklong meetups, where travel is again allowed, will assemble the SMP students in China—those who began in the fall and those who begin in spring. They’ll interact with classmates, engage with alumni, participate in our industry speaker series and meet with a career coach. We’re even arranging sightseeing tours.
“This innovation is built on a foundation of the success of supporting students and our connections in China,” said Jen Whitten, associate dean and director of the Weston Career Center. She is collaborating with Ashley Macrander, associate dean and director of graduate student services, on the programming.
Nine members of Ashley’s team are working with the WCC and partners in China on arrangements for workshops, networking events and sightseeing—along with the considerable logistics involved with moving, housing and feeding the students. The residencies during the spring semester “will create an opportunity for SMP students to build community and participate in professional development,” Ashley said.
Building on our strategic foundations
And as Jen points out, we’re able to make these extraordinary—and unprecedented—arrangements thanks to earlier work on Olin’s strategic plan. For example, we’ve reorganized and upgraded the WCC in many ways, including the addition of Corporate Relations Manager Di Lu in Shanghai as our eyes and ears on the ground there.
“She is working in China, supporting these efforts, and supporting our students’ career goals,” Jen said. “She is actively hosting employer events and helping students connect with Chinese companies.”
We’ve also expanded our footprint as a global business school through our global MBA, which I’ve written about before and which has given us the contacts and resources in China to create a valuable student experience now for our SMP students. I’ve also discussed how our investment in the Center for Digital Education has prepared us to evolve course delivery and knowledge dissemination for online learning and virtual classrooms.
As I’ve said in this space before, our work is singularly focused on traversing three horizons—the “firefighting” horizon at the outset of the pandemic, the “raise-our-game” horizon as we’ve adapted and the “look to the stars” horizon as we reimagine business education in a dramatically new global environment.
With our new SMP intake in the spring, I believe we find ourselves spanning the second and third horizons as we both raise our game and explore new ways to disseminate knowledge, bestow the accreditation of a WashU Olin degree and preserve the important student experience.
Olin’s Weston Career Center has begun an initiative to identify international job opportunities for Chinese students in its programs—as well as any other students seeking employment in Asia—by expanding the school’s network of communication among Olin alums abroad. The initiative recently garnered accolades from a consortium of universities.
Last month, Olin’s Weston Career Center hosted a virtual event based in China called the Specialized Master’s Program Summit as one of the first steps in this exciting initiative. The summit was the first event of its kind for the Olin community, connecting students and alumni around the world virtually and featuring panels, speakers and direct meetings between students and companies across various industries.
Di Lu, the corporate manager for the Weston Career Center out of Asia, has accepted three American Universities’ China Association (AUCA) awards on behalf of Olin Business School this year, and is a crucial part of Olin’s drive to increase engagement in China.
She was excited about the outcome of Olin’s first virtual SMP Summit and believes that its newly virtual format “helped make [the event] happen,” because it allowed facilitators to connect “more people across more locations.” Thanks to the unifying force of the internet, the SMP Summit featured almost 20 alums located in cities across Asia who were involved in one-on-one networking sessions with students, as well as multiple guest speakers from high-profile companies.
The WCC’s interest in connecting students with alumni in China comes from a pre-existing, strong network across the United States that continues to provide resources for students to build a career domestically. However, according to Lu, many students’ career interests are starting to shift to companies and firms in Asia.
According to Lu, this initiative is a prime example of how the WCC and Olin are “a student-centered school and career center” that are willing to make big commitments in order to serve students’ needs. She also sees it as evidence that Olin is an increasingly “globally minded” school that seeks to provide students with opportunities around the world, while also keeping them connected to resources and opportunities here in St. Louis.
The WCC is also expanding its initiative to provide student resources and alumni networks across China with various programs and events outside of the recent SMP Summit. Lu explained that the center is promoting a joint alumni engagement and corporate partner program to develop relationships between hiring partners, alumni, and current Olin juniors and seniors in cities across China.
The center is putting on four virtual career fairs, more than 20 company information sessions, and a series of industry panels throughout the school year in collaboration with the AUCA.
Lu hopes that this WCC initiative will “help maintain a strong connection between the Olin community and students/alums even after they leave the US.” She believes that events linking Olin’s current students with alums and community members based in Asia will “cultivate the culture of Olin people helping each other,” a culture that is so important to every member of the Washington University community.
For students and alums interested in connecting with industry and community members across China, visit the WCC to take advantage of these exciting new programs.
Pictured above: Di Lu accepts AUCA awards on behalf of WashU Olin.
Richard Xie (BSBA ’23) received an honorable mention in the 2019-2020 Dean James E. McLeod First-Year Writing Prize for his essay, “Campus Diversity: Chinese International Students amid American Exceptionalism.” Xie was one of more than 100 entries. This is the first year the award is open to non-Arts & Sciences students, and the sixth year the competition has been held. A ceremony will be held in the fall to honor Xie and the other winners. Xie’s essay follows in its entirety.
Campus Diversity: Chinese International Students Amid American Exceptionalism
In 2018, Chinese international students accounted for roughly 30% of all international student population in American colleges (Han), which makes this group the largest among all international students. Correspondingly, Chinese students, through tuition fees, room and board, and other consumptions, contribute an equal proportion to American GDP, approximately 9.8 billion dollars (Barta et al.). Despite coming in large numbers, however, this group of students does not seem to integrate very well in American society. Abelmann and Kang’s research on media portrayal of Chinese students highlights media’s negative reception of the students (385), and Heng’s research emphasizes that Chinese students feel un-welcomed and misunderstood by Americans (841). Perhaps the strongest evidence comes from Cheung & Xu’s research on Chinese students’ intention to return to China after graduation. Their results suggest that Chinese students who choose to stay in America do so because of better career development, and consider political and social factors far less significant as reasons to stay in the US (1619).
In some ways, these data seem to suggest that Chinese students come to the US mainly for financial benefit and professional skill development, and not for loftier ideals such as learning from the democratic system or the practice of free speech. Indeed, that is the rhetoric of certain media reports who portray the majority of Chinese students as passive diploma-seekers who, in return for their money spent on tuition, want only the coveted overseas diploma and work experience, and are hence uninterested in learning from the American values and political mechanisms. However, such narratives not only devalue Chinese higher education as inferior to that of the US, but also manifest a narrow perspective which says that the students from China come to the US for financial gains only (Abelmann & Kang, 392).
Unfortunately, when stories with a single perspective like “the Chinese are not interested in American culture” are told repeatedly, they tend to become facts. The American students who believe in this narrative will view their Chinese peers with prejudices they may not even know they have. In the words of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie, such a single story eliminates the possibility of a fair, well-rounded representation of the Chinese students. It ignores, as so many single stories do, another perspective which is the possibility that the Chinese may have come to the US with open minds, ready to embrace and learn from the American culture; yet they do not feel accepted, and find their values and belief systems underappreciated. As a result, they do not prefer the American society over that of China. While there may be other reasons that Americans overlook this possibility and instead opting for the “profit-seeking Chinese” model, this essay focuses on the argument that it is the belief in American culture’s superiority over all others that induce this single narrative. This argument is introduced as American exceptionalism by Suspitsyna and Shalka in their research (299); in essence, American students who hold this unconscious mentality may portray the Chinese difference in a negative light, and alienate those who seem unable to conform. Such beliefs limit the Chinese students’ expression of talent and skill because it does not foster a positive environment where their differences are valued.
Evidence of this belief can be found in previous research done on how American media reports view the Chinese students. Suspitsyna and Shalka’s extensive research focus on articles relating to Chinese international students that have appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education (“the CHE”). Their work filtering through four years’ worth of the academic newspaper echo Abelmann and Kang’s finding that the US media tend to describe China and its citizens in a binary fashion (293). In one instant, the media portrays the Chinese students as beneficial to the US as a profitable market and friendly to American values, and in another the same demographic is seen as fraudulent in applications to college and a threat to the organization of US society. Ruble and Zhang, in their research, posit that the lack of real-life interactions makes it hard for Americans to learn much about the Chinese. With what little, and often exaggerated, information they have from the media, American students cannot possibly know all the fine nuances of the Chinese culture and learn about them as equal humans. As a result, American students can only assign various characteristics, or stereotypes, to people from that particular group (Ruble and Zhang, 32). Therefore, as Abelmann and Kang aptly put into words, “[the Chinese are] ‘superior and inferior’ to Americans but never comparable.” (385) This view of Chinese people puts the demographic on either end of the spectrum, yet it is quite unlikely that the Chinese culture is superior or inferior to the American in every way. However, the binary stereotypes constructed by the media are powerful enough to induce Americans to see the entire Chinese population in very narrow ways.
Further, Suspitsyna and Shalka argue that these views are mainly negative ones, a view in accord with Ruble and Zhang’s research, which indicates that negative stereotypes pacify human anxiety when interacting with a new culture (32). They raise the example of the stereotype of Asians being the “model minority,” a title that is deceivingly complimentary: although generally seen as equally successful, the Asian minority is not generally perceived equal in status by the white majority. This stereotype exists, Suspitsyna and Shalka argue (291), to highlight the attempt at imitating the American way of life. Jamaican sociologist Stewart Hall, in his lecture Negotiating Caribbean Identities, establish a similar point: the guest minority often attempt to assimilate to the host majority and can get very close without succeeding, that is, to be a part of the host culture (8). This imitation, however, serves to signify the superiority of the host culture, and by emphasizing the Chinese choosing to study in the US in increasing numbers, the media intends to elevate American superiority in education.
To give a more concrete idea of how much American exceptionalism is prevalent around where this paper is written, the author sent out a survey to American students at Washington University. From 38 responses, the survey seeks to gauge several indicators relating to stereotypes, attribution of causes to differences that exist between the groups, and overall implicit American exceptionalism from an American perspective taken on average.
First, the survey asks the participants to assign identity to stereotypes. By constructing two fictional characters Lily and Tiana, the survey gives them contrasting, stereotypical personalities. Lily is quiet in class, socially withdrawn, and congregates with Chinese students, while Tiana is more engaged both in class and socially, and congregates with American students. Participants, who are all American, clearly identify Lily as Chinese and Tiana as American, and believe that Tiana has a more pronounced American identity than Lily has a Chinese identity.
(1 = very unlikely, 5 = very likely, n = 38)
Lily is Chinese
Lily is American
Tiana is Chinese
Tiana is American
These results show that the average American student at Washington University agree with the stereotype of a disengaged Chinese student. This conclusion is further supported when the same participants are asked specifically on each trait: class participation and social cohorts.
(1 = very rare, 5 = very frequent, n = 38)
Chinese students in-class participation
Chinese students socialize with American students
Chinese students socialize with Chinese students
These results agree with the general stereotype above, which indicates American students at Washington University perceive Chinese students to be relatively quiet in class and self-congregating.
Based on the participants’ stereotypes, the author then measures to what degree the students at Washington University may possess American exceptionalism. The author does this in two separate ways: first, the survey asks if participants believe it is Lily, the Chinese stereotype, or Tiana, the American stereotype, whose behavior ought to change in order to promote diversity on campus. The author posits that if participants possess higher degrees of American exceptionalism, then as they believe American behavior is superior, participants will choose to change Lily’s behavior over Tiana’s, and that is indeed what it is found.
(1 = very unhelpful, 5 = very helpful, n = 38)
Chinese change behavior for diversity
American change behavior for diversity
Therefore, the results suggest that participants believe the Chinese have greater responsibility in changing their behavior to promote diversity. This is in close accordance with one article investigated by Suspitsyna and Shalka in the CHE. In the article called Selecting the Right Chinese Students by Jiang, the author argues that American universities ought to choose Chinese students who can contribute to a “thriving” campus community over those who present tangible differences. It is this similar call for acculturating to the US with the belief that the American way is superior that led to students who believe they do not need to change; it is the foreigners who should change in order to become more like Americans. Chinese students, who are new to the country, may find it hard to adapt straightaway, and may thus be marginalized and their talents nowhere to be expressed.
The second way the author measures American exceptionalism is through asking participants to attribute the difference to different skill levels of communication and cultural differences. The logic behind these two questions is that it is assumed that because American exceptionalism does not believe other cultures are equal but different, it is impossible to think that differences can be attributed to a different culture. In the eyes of American exceptionalism, American culture is the singular one existing. It is a lack of knowledge of the existence of other equally rich cultures that leads believers of American exceptionalism to conclude that any differences must be based on the same American cultural basis, yet derived from individual deficiencies. And that is indeed the case here.
(1 = very unlikely, 5 = very likely, n = 38)
Difference due to communication skills
Difference due to cultural differences
The difference exists; it is slight, however, indicating that Washington University students in general carry some cultural blindness, but are aware that other equal cultures other than American exists.
My research shows that American students at Washington University, overall, carry the stereotypes that are common to many American college students (Heng, 23; Ruble and Zhang, 32), and they have traces of American exceptionalism as defined in this paper. They are not extreme in their stereotypes and beliefs, indicating that they are aware of differences of cultures. Nonetheless, the belief that differences are due to deficiencies, as well as the expectation for Chinese students to acculturate, contribute to a decrease in the minority’s willingness to communicate, and thus both parties do not realize the potential of an international exchange.
Now, both previous and my research shows that Chinese students, though seen as hardworking and smart, are not very outspoken (Suspitsyna and Shalka 291; Abelmann and Kang, 388; Ruble and Zhang, 32). This can be understood as Chinese students arrive at a completely new and different cultural environment. It is natural that, when faced with a challenging new environment, people are more hesitant to reach out due to perceived unpredictability and anxiety (Ruble and Zhang, 31). As Heng’s research states,
As [one Chinese international student] confided, ‘often times, we are really shy and afraid of a new environment, and we do not know how to initiate a conversation. If people can take the initiative, that would be really helpful.’ [Another Chinese student] also explained that her reservation in asking host peers out stemmed from a fear of rejection: ‘I do not know what are Americans’ thoughts of Chinese. They may think your English is bad so communicating with you is hard…. They may wonder: Why should I play with you, Asians?’ (Heng, 842)
Therefore, Chinese students who are new to America often lack the knowledge necessary to build successful social communication, and are likely to be less confident about themselves.
One way the Chinese students have been building their confidence is through the formation of ethnic enclaves. Such enclaves are usually believed by the majority as closed-off, secret societies that are hard to keep track of, and may present a threat to them. As a result, enclaves are typically portrayed as detrimental to the facilitation of diversity and are not worth investigating (Chen and Ross, 155). In Chen and Ross’s research on Chinese enclaves in American higher education, however, they examine deeply into the activities of the enclaves, and discover that it acts as a safe base from which Chinese newcomers can then choose to branch out of (167). According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after satisfying one’s physiological needs (needs for food and shelter), one looks to satisfy the needs of love and belonging. These needs are characterized by friendship and family. To Chinese students who are new to the American culture and college campuses, therefore, their most immediate and comfortable source of companionship and family most likely come from other Chinese students (Chen and Ross, 168).
As a result, by providing such psychological basis for new Chinese students, enclaves effectively satisfy these students’ psychological needs. According to Maslow, only once the psychological needs are satisfied, that is, only once people feel supported and belonged, will they go on to look for achievement in the general sense (in classes, in social relationships); they will also now look for respect from other people. So the enclaves prepare the students as they are now equipped to go on further and explore the strange world that is the American campuses. To further illustrate this point, Mallinckrodt and Wang, in their paper Acculturation… of Chinese/Taiwanese International Students, interprets Ainsworth’s famous “Strange Situation” experiment and concludes that people who are more securely attached, that is, people who have a more stable and strong relationship with a safe haven, are likely to explore strange environments more extensively (421). In this analogy, then, strong ties to ethnic enclaves enable Chinese students to explore and better expose American students to their unique values.
Another way with which Chinese students can build their confidence is through serious leisure activities, according to Lee, Sung, Zhou, and Lee’s research. Such activities, which are time-consuming and organized, help participants hone their skills and meet similar hobbyists, thereby building a sustainable social network. An example of serious leisure activities taken up by Chinese students at American colleges is intramural sports. Members of intramural sports teams often share information actively outside of the sports context, which helps to build a small circle of friends. This circle of friends then is able to provide social support, which is shown to be significant in school adaptation, both academically and socially (Lee, Sung, Zhou, and Lee, 203).
Therefore, this paper seeks to assert several interrelated points. Going back to the start of the paper, it is shown that American exceptionalism, the belief that the American way of life is the best in the world, ignores other cultures that are equal in quality yet different and hence hinders learning when they meet, as it happens on American college campuses between Chinese international students and local students. It follows that, to facilitate diversity is not to promote homogeneity and adherence to the host culture, but to effectively encourage local students to recognize the value in other cultures and promote them to accept differences and inquire about them instead of ignoring them.
Chinese international students, as newcomers to the US, often require psychological assistance, and such assistance may be procured from fellow Chinese students in ethnic enclaves established on campus. Such enclaves often succeed in building a family and giving a sense of belonging to the international students, which builds confidence for them to explore the new setting.
Ethnic enclaves are not the only solution to address Chinese students’ needs in the US. There are other viable options such as intramural sports and group work in classes. As the overall organizing and governing body, the universities have the capability to give the new Chinese students something beyond the physiological needs. New students are often shy and self-conscious, hence a sense of belonging is significant in helping them become comfortable with who they are so that they are more confident expressing their differences. It is emphasized once more that differences represent value, not deficiencies. And it is through supportive networks and atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement that the value will be given its chance to improve campus diversity.
Abelmann, Nancy and Kang, Jiyeon. “A Fraught Exchange? U.S. Media on Chinese International Undergraduates and the American University.” Journal of Studies in International Education, Vol. 18(4) 382–397, European Association for International Education, 2014.
Barta, Patrick, et al. “How International Students Are Changing U.S. Colleges.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 2014, graphics.wsj.com/international- students/.
Chen, Yajing and Ross, Heidi. “‘Creating a Home away from Home’: Chinese Undergraduate Student Enclaves in US Higher Education.” Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 3/2015: 155–181
Cheung, Alan Chi Keung and Xu, Li. “To return or not to return: examining the return intentions of mainland Chinese students studying at elite universities in the United States”. Studies in Higher Education, Vol. 40, No. 9, 1605–1624, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2014.899337
Han, Shu. “Number of Chinese Students in the U.S. 2019.” Statista, 28 Nov. 2019, www.statista.com/statistics/372900/number-of-chinese-students-that-study-in-the-us/.
Lee, Chungsup and Sung, Yoon-Tae and Zhou, Yilun and Lee, Sunwoo. “The relationships between the seriousness of leisure activities, social support and school adaptation among Asian international students in the U.S.” Leisure Studies, 37:2, 197-210, DOI: 10.1080/02614367.2017.1339289
Mallinckrodt, Brent and Wang, Chia-Chih DC. “Acculturation, Attachment, and Psychosocial Adjustment of Chinese/Taiwanese International Students.” Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol. 53, No. 4, 422–433, 2006.
Ruble, Rachel A. and Zhang, Yan Bing. “The Impact of Stereotypes on American Students’ Willingness to Communicate with Chinese International Students.” The Bulletin, 2012
Suspitsyna, Tatiana and Shalka, Tricia R. “The Chinese International Student as a (Post) Colonial Other: An Analysis of Cultural Representations of a US Media Discourse.” The Review of Higher Education, Volume 42, Supplement 2019, pp. 287-308, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.
Heng, Tang T. “Different is not deficient: contradicting stereotypes of Chinese international students in US higher education.” Studies in Higher Education, Vol. 43, No. 1, 22–36, 2018.
“Suppose you’re a client advisor in the UBS wealth management team. How would you manage your client’s USD 2 million assets based on medium- and long-term investment objectives?”
Throughout the online competition, Jin learned to use UBS’s framework to create a financial profile for her theoretical client, reflecting on the particularities of the wealth management industry in China and experiencing a global perspective for wealth allocation. Jin had two weeks to create and present her solution.
Jin knew competing in this challenge would give her an experience she couldn’t get elsewhere. While she had a strong background in global marketing and accounting, this gave her the opportunity to see the Chinese markets first-hand.
“It was a great learning opportunity,” Jin reflected. “It pushed me to learn more about career options in this field, and it showed me the bright future of the wealth management industry in China.”
Jin credits her focus on visualization, details, innovation and feasibility for her win—from presenting within the brand guidelines UBS would use with a traditional client to fully considering risk levels and objectives.
Olin values this opportunity for our students and young alum to study China’s market from a unique view of UBS, which is a key player in the wealth management industry. WashU and Olin has dedicated resources to bridge students/alumni with global learning and career development opportunities. We welcome and look forward to continuing working with UBS and other top firms in China.
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.”
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.
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
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).
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?
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.