Solving business problems at the MBAi & MSAI capstone showcase
At Kellogg, business learning is more than theoretical. We prepare our students for their future careers through many hands-on experiences including a capstone project course. Students in the MBAi Program at Kellogg and the Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence (MSAI) program at Northwestern University (MSAI) take a quarter-long class with the goal of applying the skills from their degree programs to a business challenge for an actual client.
The course culminates in an MBAi and MSAI Capstone Showcase (Showcase). This is an opportunity for students of those programs to collaborate in teams and present solutions to business challenges they have worked to solve throughout the quarter. For the Showcase, all teams create a poster session to display their business cases.
Showcase attendees include fellow students, faculty, capstone sponsors and other industry representatives who are able to cast four votes for their favorite projects. John Deere sponsored this year’s winning team composed of MBAi students Taylor Baker ’23, Lincoln Holt ’23 and Bin Yin ’23 and MSAI students Shraddha Bangad ’23 and Kavya Jaganathan ’22. Hear about the capstone project experience from Baker who discusses his team’s winning project and how the MBAi experience has prepared him for the next steps in his career.
Kellogg: Can you briefly talk about the inspiration behind the Sugar Harvesting Automation Project your team created? What were you trying to solve? What were you attempting to reimagine?
Baker: Andy Fano, Jim Lecinski, and Eric Anderson created the MBAi capstone program, and they had been working for months prior to the start of our project with John Deere to put together capstone project options with about 20 different corporate partners from Google and Royal Caribbean to John Deere.
Each member of our project team indicated a preference to work with John Deere because we found the project interesting and impactful. Deere is one of the largest agricultural equipment manufacturers in the world, and they are also one of the most advanced corporations in terms of how they apply AI/ML from using image recognition sensors to precisely water crops to optimizing harvests to maximize revenue for Deere's customers–which was our task.
We used data from several sensors on the tractor to maximize harvested sugarcane with an estimated 5 percent increase in recoverable sugar per acre–seeing as farmers own thousands of acres, Deere was excited about our result.
Kellogg: What was the most valuable part of your capstone experience?
Baker: We felt lucky to apply technical principles we'd learned in our programs with real corporate partners to find solutions to critical problems they were facing. Deere was extremely responsive and generous with their data and time throughout the project even experimenting with the output of one of our initial models on several harvesters during the project.
Kellogg: Can you share what collaborating on the project together and working for John Deere was like?
Baker: John Deere was excellent to collaborate with, and there was also a lot of collaboration necessary within the student team. We all came from different programs (MBAi and MSAI) and had varied skill sets. At the beginning of the project, we selected roles for each team member that we felt matched skillsets while allowing room for growth, and the team stuck well with those responsibilities. We lucked out with driven teammates who cared about the end result.
Kellogg: What did it mean to you that your project won?
Baker: We invested a lot of time and effort into our capstone project, and we cared about delivering a solution that would actually make an impact at Deere. We had some of the Deere team at the capstone final presentation, so to win meant a lot not only to us but also to our Deere partners!
Kellogg: What would you say to prospective MBAi and MSAI students about opportunities like the capstone that are offered in your programs?
Baker: The capstone project is an invaluable opportunity to apply the leadership and technical skills you'll develop as an MBAi/MSAI student. Beyond the capstone project, both programs offer opportunities to work in case environments where teams replicate and learn from real-world scenarios.
Kellogg: What have been some of your favorite classes in your programs? What skills (technical or otherwise) have you gained during your time at Kellogg and McCormick?
Baker: MBAi offers a wide range of classes with a majority of them focusing on AI/ML given it is a specialized program. I thought the MBAi Program did an excellent job catering to students who had varied technical backgrounds with coding classes that challenge those who come in with minimal coding as well as those who are software engineers. The program offers courses that help build foundations in AI theory, as well as technical skill sets such as Python, R, and SQL. I loved the MBAi courses, and some of my favorite elective courses were Customer Analytics and Moral Complexity in Leadership.
Kellogg: What technical and professional skills did you pick up on the project that you see helping you throughout your career?
Baker: Client and project management were critical for our project with Deere, as we worked closely with the client team every week and wanted to make sure we were driving impact. Technically, we coded primarily in Python and ran a variety of regression models to identify not only high-impact but also explainable results that Deere could use to optimize harvesting around the world.