VIMS and Mason School Partner to Launch New Storm Surge Model

At William & Mary, scientific innovation and discovery all have one common goal: to help as many people as possible. Because of this underlying motive, expansion and awareness are at the forefront of thought, and involve a unique intersection between the scientific and business disciplines. Sometimes, these two forces combine to create a truly incredible outcome that can help foster discussion and bring about change.

Last fall, three Mason School MBA students were given the opportunity to collaborate with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) to help market a new storm model developed by VIMS to potential customers. VIMS, located in Gloucester Point, is William & Mary's graduate school for marine sciences. VIMS is responsible for conducting critical research for policy makers, various industries, and the public at large. The collaboration between the Mason School and VIMS was organized by the Field Consultancy Program, an experiential learning elective that connects MBA students with local businesses and organizations who need support in resolving business-related challenges. In this case, the MBA students had a rare opportunity to collaborate with another William & Mary program.

The VIMS project was centered around their new storm modeling system, a remarkable piece of technology that is able to “monitor flood patterns precisely and accurately, test water quality, and estimate storm surges” says project lead, Samantha Paul. “The storm modeling system is incredible and is one of the most accurate and best models on the market.”

Given the devastating consequences of storm surge in recent years, the importance of a model that can potentially save lives and alleviate the damage caused by flooding would be critical to vulnerable communities. The business component of this endeavor was determining which customers would benefit from the model’s capabilities and connecting VIMS to those customers. The MBA students were tasked with “finding lucrative pathways for research that has already been done” as faculty lead Graham Henshaw describes. “It is very much an entrepreneurial project that demands similar methods.”

The Field Consultancy Projects are particularly collaborative in nature, as the MBA students must work with each other, the faculty, and the clients to create a feasible and profitable solution. As Paul describes, “[i]t is crucial to understand your key stakeholders and what motivates them, what concerns them, and how to deliver recommendations that address the needs of each stakeholder group. My teammates and I did a lot of research for the project, and we found that one of the keys to success was having clear, effective communication with our client.”

One unique aspect of this project was its proposal came from current William & Mary president, Katherine Rowe, who has an extensive background in entrepreneurial endeavors. President Rowe was a resource for the MBA team, and came to both the midpoint and final presentations to help facilitate discussions and offer her own suggestions.

“President Rowe’s enthusiasm and her ability to understand growth strategies really aided in the project. She is an incredible woman and is extremely intelligent,” says Paul.

Henshaw recounts how the creation of the project was catalyzed by Rowe, as she was able to “recognize a really great business opportunity and an opportunity to bolster the collaboration between the Mason School and VIMS.”

By all accounts, the project was a complete success. Paul and her team members continue to work with VIMS to further develop the business model and bring the product to market for more customers. The project effectively provided a real-life opportunity for the MBA students to interact with a client and work towards a common goal. Henshaw says this project “really emphasizes the importance of collaboration between the business world and scientific discoveries, and the Mason School should look for unique opportunities like this one in the future.”

According to Paul, “[t]he Corporate Field Consultancy Class has been one of the most practical classes I have ever taken, and it definitely adds value to my MBA experience.” She points out the applicability of an experience like the Field Consultancy Program, noting that “[y]ou learn the theory in class, but being able to test and incorporate these theories in a real-world situation is invaluable."