Wellesley Collaborates with Glasswing Ventures to Engage Students in Artificial Intelligence

January 9, 2019
Five students present a project in front of a crowd. One wears a Wellesley "W" sweater.

To introduce more women to the male-dominated fields of venture capitalism, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, Wellesley recently collaborated with Glasswing Ventures—an early-stage venture capital firm investing in AI and frontier tech startups founded by Rudina Seseri ’00—to develop a team-oriented independent study course in which students would create a new algorithm to predict startup success.

“Wellesley students are taught to have a well-rounded approach to solving any problem or challenge they are presented with, so they are absolutely suited to applying their intellect to venture capitalism, data science, and machine learning,” Seseri said during a recent presentation in Pendleton Hall by the students in the course. “In a short amount of time, they produced a high-quality product. Often, the tendency in the industry is to believe women who come from liberal arts backgrounds may not have the skills to do this work, but this shows that we do.”

The team of five students developed and organized a computing environment to acquire, store, clean, and process data sets on more than 7,000 startup companies and their founders, creating a machine learning algorithm that Glasswing ultimately could use to predict startup success.

“I learned more about artificial intelligence and saw its application outside the classroom,” said Olivia Strobl ’19, a neuroscience major who interned at Glasswing last summer. “We extended the concept to the real world so it’s not so abstract. It was a thorough learning experience.”

Catherine Chen ’19 said the project required a high degree of teamwork from students from diverse majors. “We all approached this from different academic backgrounds,” said Chen, a computer science and French double major. “When problems came up, we approached them with a different base of unique knowledge.”

Oscar Fernandez, Wellesley associate professor of mathematics, worked with Glasswing, Wellesley’s Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations, Career Education, and the Office of the Provost to design the course.

“They had to figure out what background knowledge, framework, resources, and approaches to use,” he said. “Unlike solving a homework problem from a textbook—which a student knows beforehand has an answer, and she’s likely been taught the procedure for finding that answer—the open-ended nature of this course helped simulate the less structured environment many students will be working in after they graduate.”

Seseri said collaborations between Wellesley and companies offer students an inside view of professional pursuits. The involvement and oversight of professors gives students the opportunity to work on significant projects that are often related to a company’s core business—deepening their sense of an industry.

Katherine Hall ’84, a lecturer in physics at Wellesley and an entrepreneur herself, served as the lead faculty mentor on the project. She said the students in the course were exposed to skills they can use in the arena of investing and startups. “This was a chance to understand an important aspect of venture capital via collaboration with a Wellesley alumna who runs a successful company,” she said. “Experience like this compels students to think of this as a possible career move.”

Vlad Sejnoha, an advisor to Glasswing Ventures and former senior vice president and CTO of Nuance Communications, and Paul Ruvolo, professor of computer science at Olin College of Engineering, also worked with the students on the project.  

Photo: Members of the independent study, (L to R) Olivia Strobl ’19, Shreya Parjan ’21, Donna Gan ’20, Catherine Chen ’19, Tina Zhang ’19, present their project.