When the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn caused internship cancellations, WashU Olin and the Center for Experiential Learning stepped up to provide summer learning opportunities for students while supporting St. Louis-based businesses. We’ll be sharing their stories on the Olin Blog. Today, we’ll hear from Nick Mueller, BSBA ’22, who acted as team lead working with GO! St. Louis.
Tell us about your summer project.
I worked with three other students as team lead for GO! St. Louis, a nonprofit running organization that promotes health and fitness in the St. Louis area by hosting running events such as marathons, half-marathons, 10K races, 5K, races, etc. as well as some biking and hiking events. We worked to mitigate the detrimental effects of COVID-19 on our organization’s ability to continue its operations.
In what ways has this CEL experience been helpful in applying your education or sharpening your skills?
This CEL experience gave me the opportunity to lead a team of my peers through a professional yet low-stress consulting engagement. We worked closely with a faculty member who provided feedback throughout the project, but gave us a great deal of discretion in how we approach it. This freedom replicated the independence of a post-graduation consulting job and forced me to apply my own education and creativity, while the guidance I received helped me discover and improve upon my weaknesses. As a result, I emerged from each task as a more confident and competent consultant.
What was a “day in the life” of this CEL program?
Each week began with a class on Monday and a check-in with our faculty advisor on Tuesday. During this check-in, we discussed our objectives for the week and how we would accomplish them. For the remainder of the week, the student team worked on our own doing research, crafting messages, meeting with experts (runners, PR specialists, etc.), completing our deliverables, and other required tasks. During this time, we typically met about once day, and we were always allowed to contact our faculty member for questions or assistance. On Sundays, we submitted a weekly update that outlined what we accomplished that week and what we hoped to do next week.
What was it like working with a real-world client?
We met with our client on Zoom every two weeks and communicated via email or text whenever necessary. Our Zoom meetings included our faculty member as well, who gave us feedback after the meeting. Faculty feedback on client meetings was especially helpful in teaching me the professional courtesies and leadership skills that display confidence and competence in a business setting. It really taught me how to how to deal with a client, how to lead meetings both with a student team and with clients.
We speak of Olin as a values-based, data-driven business school. Have you seen that in action?
Absolutely. Both clients I have worked with through the CEL have had a precise mission. My first client promoted literacy among African American children and positive images of African American culture. My second client was focused on promoting fitness, health, and exercise in the St. Louis community – a mission complicated by COVID-19, but more critical than ever in the wake of social distancing and people becoming more reclusive. The Center for Experiential Learning chooses its partnerships carefully, and I believe the missions of these organizations reflect the values of Olin Business School, such as social reform and community engagement.
The faculty in this program have placed strong emphasis on the importance of using data to formulate and justify recommendations. Furthermore, our Monday classes typically feature guest speakers and our most recent class was led by a panel of business analysts who gave a lesson on data visualization and communication.
What surprised you about the experience?
I was surprised by the way we were able to do it all virtually without any problems. When the summer came around, I believe there was a good deal of skepticism regarding how feasible this would really be, to do a project like this all over Zoom. But I was pleasantly surprised by how it all turned out. And I think that the faculty, as well as the students, did a great job in pivoting and being flexible with everything.