A Vanguard of Success

Students from MSAI and MBAi were named co-winners of the Capstone Showcase after helping one of the world’s leading investment firms leverage data to enhance client experiences.

MSAI and MBAi students after winning the Capstone Showcase

Vanguard is one of the world’s leading investment management firms offering investments, advice, and retirement services to tens of millions individual investors around the globe.

In an effort to glean actionable client insights from unstructured data, the company turned to Northwestern's MBAi Program — a joint-degree program offered between Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and the McCormick School of Engineering — and Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence (MSAI) program.

Students from the two programs participate in a 10-week capstone project that allows them to present solutions to problems facing industry partners.

The goal of the project was to help Vanguard leverage technology to enhance overall client experience.

"The prospect of tackling the Vanguard project was exhilarating due to its pioneering nature in  open-topic modeling," said Njay Okafor (MBAi '23), one of four students who worked on the Vanguard project. "This project was not merely about data crunching; it was about decoding and understanding client needs and improving service quality. It resonated with our passion for leveraging technology to enhance customer experiences."

Okafor was joined on the team by Vasudha Khare (MBAi '23), Shikher Srivastava (MSAI '23), and Simon Zouki (MSAI ‘23). The quartet was one of 17 teams of MBAi and MSAI students to work on a capstone project. The teams held a poster session at the Capstone Showcase in December, and Vanguard was named co-winner along with a team that worked with IT solutions company CDW.

Srivastava said one of the biggest challenges was the sheer amount of data the team had to sort through.

"We had to ensure accuracy and efficiency in topic identification against this backdrop of vast data," he said. "A constant balancing act was maintaining the technical sophistication of our solution while ensuring the insights were actionable and understandable."

To find that balance, the students relied on each other and their unique experiences.

“Collaborating with MBAi students was extremely valuable,” Zouki said. “Their diverse perspectives, combined with our technical expertise, created a rich learning environment. This cross-disciplinary collaboration broadened our horizons.”

That collaboration is one of the capstone experience’s ultimate goals. The project is designed to reflect the realities of professional work, where technical experts routinely are expected to collaborate with more business-minded colleagues to solve a problem.

"Extracting insights from huge volumes of unstructured data is a key need for a lot of organizations, including Vanguard," said David Monnerat, senior data science product owner at Vanguard, who collaborated closely with the capstone team. "Finding ways to accelerate the identification and extraction of those insights is often the difference between being able to act on them or not. The work the team did and the lessons they shared will help inform the direction we go to deliver that value to the business faster."

Not only were Vanguard representatives pleased with the project, but the MSAI and MBAi students were proud as well. The four agreed the experience prepared them for their careers after Northwestern.

"Capstone projects like this are vital as they bridge academic theory with practical application," Okafor said. "They provide hands-on experience in tackling complex, real-world problems, invaluable for aspiring data scientists and product managers. These projects enhance not just technical skills but also foster critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration, all essential for professional success." 

McCormick News Article