By Hal Conick
To confuse DePaul University’s Finance Lab with a real-life trading company would be an honest mistake. All of the ingredients are there: rows of computers, Bloomberg Terminals, multiple TVs with financial programming, and a stock ticker with orange and green lettering running above sprawling photos of Chicago’s Board of Trade and New York City’s Wall Street.
Brian Thompson (MBA ‘13), an adjunct professor of finance and economics, as well as a principal consultant at Black & Essington Solutions LLC, stands at the front of the lab. Students from Thompson’s Applied International Portfolio Management class file in and immediately start preparing for their upcoming final presentations. They debate which stocks from the school’s portfolio need to be bought, which should be sold and which should be held.
“Students learn to think quickly while applying what they have learned from other classes during these presentations,” Thompson explains. “These skills are essential for success in business.”
Students are managing real money from a $100,000 portfolio, part of DePaul’s endowment that goes toward funding scholarships at DePaul’s business college and music school. Their presentations will be judged by faculty members and financial industry professionals.
Applied learning is the key, Thompson says. Finance students in his class gain valuable career skills from using the tools the professionals use to make investment decisions.
“There’s definitely a tangible piece to it,” Thompson says. “The idea is what they’re doing has an impact. … Giving them the accessibility to investment decision-making here really opens them up to not only being more marketable on their resume, but also more useful on the first day on the job.”
Students who take classes in the Finance Lab go on to get great jobs, Thompson says, as the Lab becomes a talking point on their resume. A recruiter looking at 10 mostly-even resumes will see the experience in the Finance Lab and know the student wasn’t simply “cutting grass and painting last summer,” as he puts it. For students, that experience is priceless.
One alumnus privy to experience in the Lab is Arman Hodzic (BUS ’15), an analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Hodzic took three classes in the Finance Lab, including the Applied International Portfolio Management class, which he says remains a highlight on his resume. Hodzic hopes the experience will be key in his ultimate goal of transitioning to work as a portfolio analyst.
“That’s definitely DePaul’s strong suit. It differentiates them from other universities,” he says of the hands-on experience at the Finance Lab. “You can almost claim it as non-paid work experience that you get by participating in these really in-depth experiential courses.”
That experience starts to show by the end of each student’s time in the Finance Lab, Thompson says, as their confidence increases “twofold.” Students transform from nervous and self-conscious about their knowledge to quick-thinking and confident, something Thompson believes will help them in future job interviews in the finance industry.
“As companies needs have changed, the job market is more competitive than ever,” Thompson says. I believe the experiences in this class give students a unique competitive advantage that can be a game-changer during the interview process.”