Tag: Undergraduate

Richard Ryffel, a part-time professor of finance practice at Olin, wrote this for the Olin Blog.

It was in the early days of the pandemic’s work-from-home regimen in April when the other organizers of the Municipal Finance Conference and I convened to discuss whether to cancel, postpone or reconfigure the ninth annual Olin/Brookings/UChicago/Brandeis hosted event.

The conference, ordinarily held at Brookings’ headquarters in Washington, DC, is the preeminent municipal finance academic conference and its importance was all the greater given the rapidly evolving impact of the pandemic on state and local government finances.

Well before it was commonplace, the organizers pivoted to offer the conference virtually—becoming one of the early adopters of our “new normal” communication realities of Zoom, YouTube, screen sharing, virtual breakout rooms, curated backgrounds and the occasional cat intrusion.

In the same way state and local governments are adapting to their COVID-19 realities with what conference keynote speaker, Mayor Lilly Schaaf of Oakland, California, called “entrepreneurial bureaucrats,” conference organizers were able to quickly and effectively reinvent the conference.

The conference was held July 13-14 and was a considerable success, setting new attendance records and receiving strong survey feedback. With assistance from the exceptional Brookings staff, the online conference came off with no technical glitches whatsoever. Panelists, moderators and audience members alike transitioned flawlessly to the new virtual format, and the conversations and Q&A were lively and robust.

As a valuable field experiment for the effectiveness of distance learning, conference organizers found the new format lent itself to securing a broader group of speakers, more registrants and attendees from geographies that were underrepresented in the past.

Significant benefits in terms of financial and time costs accrued to all involved as well. So much so, that some type of virtual offering is likely to be a mainstay of future conferences.

Olin alumna Sarah Snyder, BSBA ’05, of Samuel A. Ramirez & Co., participated in a panel on the impact of COVID-19 on the municipal bond market and discussed how municipal bond issuers and investors are being impacted by the effects of the pandemic and the various policy responses thereto.  Other topics included pension funding holidays, climate change, legalized marijuana sales, infrastructure spending, tax incentives and shadow banking.

The conference organizers are planning a mid-year event also to be offered virtually and are looking forward to a return to a physical conference in 2021 to be augmented by a synchronous virtual program. But conference organizers will be ready to pivot once again, based on the then-existing pandemic realities.

Sadie Kurzban
Dora Greenwall

Dora Greenwall, BSBA ’23, was inspired by Sadie Kurzban, the founder of 305 Fitness, and wrote this for the Olin Blog.

Sadie Kurzban created a company by envisioning a world she wants to live in, not the one she sees now. Every decision she makes is authentic and reflects her own moral values. And, that starting point animates and makes real her vision. There is a way to build a successful business on your own terms.

The takeaway from my interview is that Kurzban approaches her business with true leadership and a consistent sense of justice. Her advice for women in business follows that vision.

“We never do anything great when we are chasing after other people’s identity,” Kurzban said. Throughout entire conversation, I saw a woman who believes in herself and in her business as an extension of that personality.

She did not wait for somebody to help her create 305; nor for the network she needed to create this business. She says that there is no right time to start a business. It is always the wrong time—but do it anyway.

I asked how she had the courage to continue when things weren’t going the way they were supposed to. I wanted to know how she continued to believe in herself.

Kurzban flipped this question on its head: “The other question is: What does it benefit us to not trust ourselves or believe in ourselves?” She taught me that to make it in business there is no option but to believe in yourself.

Sadie and I then went on to speak about COVID-19. She explained that she shut her locations down early because it was the right thing to do. She wanted other boutique firms to follow suit.

She behaved ethically—as you would expect. She spoke about how most businesses look toward other businesses to see what steps to take. She wanted to set the correct example.

It seems that most of Sadie’s actions show direct care toward people rather than money. She told me money is not everything.

“I started the business not to make the maximum amount of money, but because I cared about people’s health, I wanted to inspire people,” she said.

This is what she does everyday day and in every dance class. She created a community in a time where even close connections feel distant. She lives her life empowering others to embrace who they are and celebrate our differences.

Kurzban taught me that it is OK to dance like nobody’s watching, and, more than this, celebrate the dance. Celebrate being able to think differently, look differently, and most of all believe in yourself always. There is no reason not to!

Shannon Hagedorn, a career coach for the BSBA program in the Weston Career Center, wrote this for the Olin Blog.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes intention, coordination and time to create great things, whether they are architectural masterpieces that last centuries or an effective career pipeline.

Vaios Kouvelis ’19 shared his insights as a current IB analyst in the Lincoln International info session on February 20.

We knew we had a lot of work to do to build up investment banking at WashU. About a year and a half ago, we received feedback from students, alumni and employers. We listened and acted accordingly. Now, we’re developing a program that has strong relationships with alumni and employers, thorough preparation resources for students and a more inclusive process of connecting students to available opportunities.

We (and I use that term very loosely and inclusively to refer to students, staff, employers and alumni!) have been very busy with the following initiatives:

  • IB Interview Prep Sessions and Mock Superdays: Hosted prep sessions, collaborated with the WashU Career Center to conduct two rounds of IB mock superdays with 10 alumni and employers as interviewers, and processed feedback in additional interview prep sessions.
  • Author Talk: Gleaned insights from Josh Rosenbaum, managing director and head of industrials & diversified services at RBC. He discussing his book, Investment Banking: Valuation, Leveraged Buyouts, and Mergers and Acquisitions.
  • On-Campus Information Sessions: Connected with Lazard, Lincoln International, Moelis and RBC in person.
  • 124-Page Trek Prep Binder and Prep Session: Compiled recent data from Market Line and Bloomberg into trek notebooks and discussed each student’s research on each firm’s strengths and news as well as questions to ask each firm individually during a prep session.
  • Four-Part IB Essentials Spring Series: Launched a webinar series designed to equip sophomores with critical insight about accounting, the leveraged buyout, mergers and analyst expectations for interviews and internships.
  • Organized Virtual Information Sessions and 28 Alumni Coffee Chats: Converted in-person trek sessions and networking activities cancelled due to COVID-19 into effective virtual experiences with alumni and contacts at PWP, Moelis, Centerview, Houlihan Lokey, RBC, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Cain Brothers, Citadel Investments, AWH Investments, Samuel A. Ramirez & Co., Inc., Wolf Hill Capital, NBC Universal, Eco Street Capital, Benefit Street Partners, and US Bank.
  • 25 IB Mentor Matches: Paired first-years and sophomores with recent alumni for a four-session mentorship, in collaboration with the WashU Career Center.
  • 20-Plus Mock Interviews with Senior Bankers at Goldman Sachs: Developed skills and gained insights from behavioral and technical questions.
  • IB Insights Summer Series Podcasts: Engaged 10-plus alumni and industry experts to offer short, high-level, exploratory conversations for students early in their career discernment.
  • Countless Coaching Sessions, Informational Interviews, Mock Interviews, Info Sessions, and Conversations with Students, Alumni and Employers: Appreciated that a lot of work happens behind the scenes and that this list only begins to scratch the surface of recognizing what we’re all doing to help students prepare for and secure their next steps.
Josh Rosenbaum, head of industrials & diversified services at RBC, and the WUIB presidents, Luis Vazquez-Ugalde and Jonathan Severns, connect after the author talk.

We’ve still got a lot to do but we’re excited to start seeing results, including feedback from our team’s collective efforts, landing stories from students, and recognition from firms. You can take my word for it, or read some of the comments below:

  • Matt Bauer, BSBA ’22, who accepted a 2021 internship at Lincoln International, “wanted to say thank you and express my gratitude for all the help and advice you’ve given me along the way. Going back to the beginning of the year when I didn’t even have a resume, I definitely couldn’t have done it without you.”
  • Addison Liang, BSBA ’22, who accepted a 2021 internship at Credit Suisse, was grateful for “all [the] help throughout this process!”
  • Ian Welsh, BSBA ’22, who accepted a 2021 internship at Morgan Stanley, “wanted to say thanks for helping me with so many aspects of this process. It is so helpful to have people like you at the career center that are so willing to help guide me through every step of the process.”
Sophomore students practiced interviews with a mock superday. (Pictured left to right: Heidy Wang, Roger Wang, Albert Kao, Ian Sajjapong, Drew Wilkerson, Harrison Arnberg, Max Schieferdecker and Melvin Aninagyei-Bonsu)

We know it takes time, but we’re laying the foundations for a self-perpetuating cycle and lasting impact, as we build investment banking at WashU.

Pictured at top: Alumni from Guggenheim, Lincoln International, Barclays, Lazard, Oppenheimer and Moelis offered insights in a superday of IB mock interviews. (Pictured left to right: Matt Bernstein, Vaios Kouvelis, Syed Ahsan, Colin McCune, Nikhil Angelo, Bill Reisner, Meg Stolberg and Calvin Works).

WashU alumni Noah Offenkrantz (LA ’20) and Ben Green (BSBA ’20), pictured above, recently launched Find Your Farmer, an online marketplace allowing consumers to order fresh produce, meats and cheese from local farmers.

While at Wash U, the CEO of our organization, Noah Offenkrantz, took several courses that analyzed the industrial agricultural system. Noah’s experience with the agricultural system transcended the classroom.

During an internship experience at a local STL nonprofit, Noah learned about issues of food access while managing a community garden. During his tenure abroad in India, Noah worked on a farm while studying the impact of the Green Revolution on a small, rural village. These experiences bolstered a notion that was introduced by his teachers and furthered by his observations of the world.

This notion, the one that inspired FYF, goes like this: our agricultural system is broken. Grocery stores are stocked with artificially colored, synthetically ripened vegetables that travel thousands of miles and touch countless hands before ending up on crowded shelves. We have no idea where this food comes from or how it was raised but we add it to our cart because it’s cheaper. Cheaper in nutrients and cheaper in taste. The answer to these problems is simple. Find your farmer. Find out who they are and what they grow. We wanted to give people an easy outlet to do just that.

We plan to start off in St. Louis to understand how the market works and what people want out of a service like ours, and then move into other cities throughout the United States, employing the lessons we learn along the way. 

Our team consists of five Washington University students and one Washington University professor (our mentor). At WashU, Noah was in the College of Arts & Sciences and studied Global Health and Environment, while Ben was in the Olin Business School and studied Finance and Accounting. The rest of our team members are Anish Naik, who studied Computer Science; Spencer Stewart, who studied Political Science; Francis Serrano, who studied biology and Peter Boumgarden, who has experience in strategic management and serves as the director of the Center for Experiential Learning. 

Our company has taken Olin’s pillars of excellence into great consideration. We are a values-based company that strives to foster community, protect the planet and promote the health and wellbeing of our clients. Our pro-social mission—to create a world where every person knows their farmer by name and story—is an extension of the Olin philosophy. As we learned at Wash U, every company has an ethical obligation to the planet and society. FYF intends to consider this obligation at every stop along our journey. And this isn’t the only Olin teaching that we apply in our business philosophy.

FYF is a data-driven company.

We use data to show people how their purchases can impact themselves and the world around them. In addition, we leverage experimental testing to develop and adapt an ideal user experience. 

FYF is globally oriented.

We analyze best practices from many different services and offer a variety of features to ensure that our service meets the demands of our target population. 

FYF is experiential.

We strive to offer people a better idea of our farmers’ practices and motivations by providing videos and interviews that provoke customer engagement. In addition, we are committed to developing strong, personal relationships with our partnering farms. 

FYF is entrepreneurial.

We studied trends and took advantage of a perceived opportunity. For example, we noticed that COVID has pushed more and more people to shop online. The disease also demonstrated to farmers the vulnerability of wholesale revenue streams.

Our goal is to leverage the lessons that we learned through our academic studies to create a service that supports local farmers, builds farmer-consumer relationships, provides individuals with healthier, tastier food products and cuts down on carbon emissions. Every order made through our platform serves to further these goals.

Check us out at www.find-your-farmer.com.

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.