NOTORIOUS WALL STREET VILLAIN GORDON GEKKO IS NOT A MODEL STOCKBROKER BY ANY MEANS. BUT, HE DID OFFER SOME SENSIBLE ADVICE IN THE 1987 AWARD-NOMINATED FILM: “THE MOST VALUABLE COMMODITY I KNOW OF IS INFORMATION.”
Shippensburg University and the John L. Grove College of Business are providing just the information and resources that students need to gain an edge in the business world. The Grove College’s senior-level Investment Management Program (IMP) course is one of few in the country providing students with the opportunity to manage a real-dollar investment portfolio. The program recently received a boost with the dedication of the college’s new stock trading room.
The innovative class benefits students on multiple levels. It’s a hands-on educational experience in investments where students manage the Wisman Fund, a real portfolio named for benefactor Frank Wisman. Per Wisman’s wishes, the course also was designed to grant scholarships once portfolio assets reached $100,000. Having hit the magic number in 2014, scholarships are now awarded annually to four finance majors—a freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior.
Christopher Jackson ’97, president of Grove College’s Finance Advisory Council, is continually impressed by the experience students receive in the IMP class. He said he’s only disappointed that he couldn’t take the course during his time at Ship.
Jackson, vice president and investment advisor at PNC Wealth Management, said, “By allowing the students to manage a real portfolio of investments, they learn first-hand the difficulties, failures, and successes that confront this profession at all times.” Dr. Sarah Bryant guides students who manage a real-dollar portfolio in the Investment Management Program.
THE REAL DEAL
In the early 1990s, local electrical engineer Frank Wisman had an idea. According to his daughter, Florence (Wisman) Mills, when Wisman had an idea, he acted on it.
His alma mater, Ohio State University, had launched a new program in which students were managing a real investment portfolio. If Ohio State could do it, why couldn’t the neighborhood university? In 1993, Wisman approached John Clinton, president and CEO of the Shippensburg University Foundation, and Dr. James Pope, then-dean of Grove College, with his plan to create a training opportunity for select finance majors.
“For him, the idea of students learning by actually doing something was real life,” Mills said. “Dad was a real do-it-yourselfer.”
Wisman had a successful career. He was a highly creative and energetic businessman; at the time of his retirement, he held thirty-five patents in electrical and related fields. He also had a broad and humanistic approach to life with a Renaissance-man philosophy. He strongly believed that students should gain real-world experience, and also believed the return on his investment should have a philanthropic goal. With that in mind, he specified that when the assets from his endowment reached $100,000, scholarships would be awarded to academically talented finance majors.
“This really set an example for a style of learning,” Pope said. “Students taught themselves and taught each other, and the university supported and sustained it. …It’s not just practical experience, but experience that ties in with the academic experience.”
The fact that Wisman’s donation through the SU Foundation established a program that allowed students to excel with such a hands-on, real-world approach “made him extremely proud,” Mills said.
“He left a great legacy.”
Sixteen years later, the well-established course continues to provide students with the skills, theories, and concepts they need to practice investment portfolio management in a proactive, educational environment.
What started in 1995 with $15,000 allocated as seed money by the SU Foundation and Grove College has grown exponentially thanks to students’ efforts. Today, the class manages a $134,000 portfolio.
The base of the program is the theory and practice taught by faculty in the Finance Department as it relates to business and personal finance, said Dr. Sarah Bryant, professor of finance. Bryant mentored the twelve-student IMP class during the spring semester.
“The IMP course takes that body of information and requires students to invest real money using the tools that students have learned. Students pressure themselves to beat the market and beat prior classes’ returns.”
At the beginning of the semester, students elect officers and select coordinators for sub-groups within the class, delegate tasks, and set agendas for each class. The IMP Handbook lays out course guidelines, its history, the organization and operation of the class, and management of the portfolio, which is held by the SU Foundation.
The faculty provide guidance, however, the students have decision-making responsibilities. “Some of what makes the IMP class unique is that it is completely hands on and led by the students,” Jackson said. “The professor plays a facilitation role in the class as the students are responsible to set the agenda, assign leadership roles, divide the work tasks, compile reports, and make all the decisions as a team.”
As head of the accounting committee while in the IMP class, Jorge Santiago ’16 developed a custom portfolio tracker that students used on a daily basis. He also was the liaison between the class and Chrystal Miracle, CFO at the SU Foundation, when executing trades through the SU Foundation. To Santiago, enrolling in the IMP class was a foregone conclusion.
“I want to go into a career in investment management,” he said. “Highlighting
this class on my resume got me the job at Vanguard, which I secured before graduation.”
According to Bryant, “Students recognize that employers view the IMP capstone course experience as valuable. Since students conduct the class, they learn valuable leadership and outreach skills, to prepare ahead for each class, and to challenge each other on conceptions and details discussed.”
Just as with any portfolio, students have experienced fluctuations in the stock market. “This gives you every ounce of experience you will need to be a more attractive candidate for positions upon graduation. However, it can be stressful when the market swings in a way that we’ve never seen before,” Santiago said.
When the stock market fell in 2006 and the financial crisis led to the Great Recession in 2008, the portfolio took a major hit. The class reevaluated its positions and sold any investments that did not meet the original investment hypothesis. As the market recovered, so did the portfolio. It reached over $140,000 in 2014, providing the assets necessary to award scholarships.
“The scholarship goal has encouraged students to remain focused. The result has benefited students in the IMP program and also benefited Grove College as a whole by providing the four scholarships,” Bryant said. “Through enrollment of the scholarship recipients, the IMP program will continue its legacy.”
HARD WORK PAYS OFF
The IMP students annually attend the Quinnipiac University Global Asset Management Education Forum in New York City in March. The forum features discussions with top financial professionals as well as a student-management portfolio competition.
Of the more than 1,200 students from 140 colleges nationally and internationally who participate, Ship’s IMP students claimed a first-place award in their category in 2015. Members of CFA Institute, a global association of investment professionals, served as judges for the competition, screening each team’s performance based on the 2014 annual risk-adjusted return of their real-dollar portfolios.
Lisa Robbins ’15 was president of the class that year. “I was shocked we got first, but you have to consider the other schools,” she said. “We’re pretty unique. Other universities have investment clubs, but most of them are extracurricular. We’re focused on the portfolio and dedicate nine hours a week to it.”
The conference is another exceptional learning experience and opportunity to bond with classmates, Robbins said. Speakers included investors who regularly appear on CNBC and CNN and breakout sessions focused on topics such as global economy, global markets, alternative assets and equities, corporate governance, asset management, and investment strategies.
“This really was the perfect class to take before graduation and working in the real world,” she said. “The class taught me there is no limit to what you can do.”
A NEW TOOL OF THE TRADE
The IMP class will continue to progress thanks to the recent dedication of a state-of-the-art stock trading room in the Grove College. In January, the trading room was officially named in honor of benefactor Brad Hollinger ’76, who is founder, chair, and CEO of Vibra Healthcare and member of the Grove College of Business Advisory Board.
“The Brad E. Hollinger Stock Trading Room will give Shippensburg University students a distinct advantage in the job market since they will be using Bloomberg Terminal, a Wall Street trading platform used by investment bankers and equity traders,” said Dr. John Kooti, dean of Grove College.
As was Wisman’s goal, Hollinger wanted to provide students with invaluable firsthand experiences. “Today, it’s essential to have the real thing. It’s one thing to have theoretical, but there’s no better way to learn than trial by fire,” Hollinger said.
Most top business schools feature a stock trading room, and now Grove College, which ranks among the best business colleges in national publications, can offer its students this benefit.
“Our IMP class truly captures what we try to provide for our students in Grove College—an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom to a real-world business setting,” said Dr. Anthony Winter, associate dean of Grove College. “The IMP experience combined with our new Hollinger Stock Trading Room provides an excellent combination to better prepare our students for their professional careers.”
Already, Bryant said the equipment has “enhanced learning and pride in the trading room and the College of Business.” Santiago said having the trading room at his disposal will create a smooth transition into his position at Vanguard in the fund financial services department, where he will price, research, and trade fund assets.
“This room is the greatest thing to come to the College of Business in my time.
… It makes finance and IMP students competitive on a global scale.”