Understanding the Sound of the Water

William Ansehl shares how his research into MSAI led him to choose the program — and meet his current boss at ThayerMahan in the process.

The world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes are awash in sounds that tell stories. William Ansehl (MSAI ‘21) is using artificial intelligence (AI) to decipher exactly what those stories are.  

Ansehl is a machine learning engineer at ThayerMahan, a company focused on learning the hidden secrets from the ocean's depths – and ensuring no one is using the murky water to threaten important natural resources or the United States’ security.  

William AnsehlTo find success in the job, which he started in April, Ansehl is leaning on the lessons he learned while a student in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence (MSAI) program. 

“If you asked me a few years ago, I never thought I would be here working on underwater acoustics and leveraging AI to solve tough challenges in that space, just because I didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “The domain is incredibly interesting and complicated, with lots of opportunities for artificial intelligence to serve as a significant value-add.”  

Ansehl works on the team led by another MSAI graduate, William Dong (MSAI ‘20). Dong was one of a number of MSAI alumni that Ansehl learned about as he researched MSAI.   

In 2020, Ansehl was looking for a master’s program that went far beyond what he had learned while earning his bachelor’s degree in statistics. When he discovered the MSAI program, he dove deeper to see if it would help him achieve his career goals.  

“I actually made a homegrown Excel spreadsheet of the alumni from the program and where they ended up after graduating and where they did their internships,” he said. “I really liked the outcomes and the roles and what they were doing.”  

But he didn’t just stop with making the spreadsheet. He contacted some of the alumni from his list in search of advice, information about the program, and how it helped them succeed. Through those conversations, Ansehl realized the MSAI program was where he wanted to further his education.  

But he didn't want to just learn in the classroom. Though unorthodox, Ansehl decided to take on a full-time internship with Wayfair as a machine learning engineer while also going to school full time. The lessons he learned in both paved the way for him to secure an internship — and later a full-time job — at Deloitte as an applied AI analyst. 

That opportunity led Ansehl to his current role at ThayerMahan. As a machine learning engineer, he works with commercial clients and the Department of Defense to use advanced tools to develop solutions to often highly confidential problems.  

“I get to come in and look at problems with a statistics background and that AI background from Northwestern,” Ansehl said. “Then I get to take this really complex data and model it in a way to get some sort of tangible benefit. I love solving tough challenges, and these are some of the toughest challenges around.”  

Because of his own MSAI experience, Ansehl recommends the program to professionals looking for a boost in their career.  

And he strongly recommends people take the in-depth approach to researching the program like he did – spreadsheet of alums included.  

“I highly recommend doing that for any incoming and current students,” he said. “Just reach out to people, the cohort ahead and the cohorts that already graduated. Then, develop a relationship with your professors. That’s something I wish I did more of.”  

McCormick News Article