Bryn Mawr Hosts Inaugural Certificate in Finance Program Over Spring Break

Posted March 17th, 2011 at 2:07 pm.

The Bryn Mawr College Certificate in Finance program began with the sort of reserve often encountered in any new classroom as students hesitated to offer answers to basic finance questions about things like estimating the future cost of a college education or figuring out what car could be afforded on a $300 monthly transportation budget.

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Bryn Mawr student bloggers on the Certificate in Finance Program

But about an hour into the first session, “The Fundamentals of Public Finance,” while reviewing a “yield curve” chart, it was as if a switch was flipped, and the classroom came to life with questions and comments.

  • “Why do all the yield curves for two-year, five-year, 10-year and 20-year AAA municipal bonds flatten for those couple of years?”
  • “Can you go back to page 17, why would it be better to take the annuity?”
  • “What caused the bump in the yield curve a year ago on the previous chart?”

By Wednesday, students were poring over financial statements as they tried to decide whether a company should buy back its stock to fend off a hostile takeover as part of a case study.

“Their return on equity really jumped out at me,” said anthropology major Lise Wagner ’13.  “They clearly haven’t optimized their capital structure. They’re overliquid and underleveraged,” added another student.

“It was great to see that kind of change happen and to see the students not just passively take in the information as it was presented. Business and finance needs people who are going to question every assumption and who bring an intellectual curiosity to what they do. Business needs really bright liberal-arts majors. They need Bryn Mawr graduates,” says Bryn Mawr Chief Financial Officer John Griffith, the person most responsible for putting the program together.

Nearly 30 students attended the four-day intensive series of workshops. Reasons for taking the course varied greatly. During introductions, several students expressed interest in careers in business and finance as well as graduate study. A number of the students are economics and math majors, but there were also chemistry, physics, psychology and other majors represented.

Three students come from the Graduate School of Social Work. Rachel Salzberg currently works at a bank and thought the course could help her in her career, while Brenda Mason thought a better understanding of the basics of finance could help as she counsels clients.

The lone male student in the class, social-work student Chris Gagne, says the program has been invaluable in his efforts to open a brewery in Philadelphia.

“This program has really helped me figure out how we want to structure our funding streams,” said Gagne, who along with his partners plans to have a prospectus for his business venture ready within the next few weeks.

The week’s programming was a combination of interactive presentations by working professionals from several financial services firms including the PFM Group, Bank of America, Vanguard, and Cambridge Associates; case studies led by Griffith and Meredith Myers, a full-time faculty lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School; and lunches and a networking event with Bryn Mawr alumnae representing a range of professional experiences.

“John and I had very carefully slated the sessions to build off of each other and reinforce key concepts, so I came into the week with high expectations for success,” says Myers. “However, my hopes were surpassed at every level. The teachers and speakers were so talented and obviously dedicated to helping the students grow, and the students proved even brighter and more enthusiastic than their fine reputations. It was an inspiration to witness such high levels of learning go hand-in-hand with such sincere and comprehensive support.”

In addition to covering complex topics like the optimal capital structure, portfolio diversification, what hedge funds are and how they work, and how to analyze financial statements, the program helped students with some of the basics of getting your foot into the door of the professional world, such as how to prepare and navigate the interview process, networking, public speaking and understanding corporate culture.

During the communication-skills workshop, Myers stressed to students that the humility traditionally valued by Bryn Mawr’s campus culture may not serve them well in the interview process.

“Regular bragging is obnoxious. Bryn Mawr bragging is good,” she told the group.

In the workshop “Maximizing the Impact of Your Communications with Employers,” Karen Fox, a talent-attraction manager with the Vanguard Group, also stressed the need for students to be somewhat assertive during the interview process.

“If there are points you want to make about yourself, you have to make sure you do that. You don’t have to have the interviewer lead you. You can lead,” she told the group.

The alumnae lunches and the networking event were a hit with everyone involved. Among the alumnae taking part were Fay Donahue ’72, CEO of Delta Dental; Carol Pepper ’84, chief executive officer of Pepper International LLC, who regularly writes for Forbes; and alumnae in senior positions at Goldman Sachs, Pershing Square, and other financial-services firms.

“Everyone was so frank and willing to share their experiences,” blogged Yong Jung Cho. “I felt that the alumnae were sincerely interested in helping Bryn Mawr students succeed. Something I heard repeatedly throughout the week was that one’s career path is unpredictable and when opportunities arise, regardless of academic or experiential background; if interested, we take them.”

“It is critical that young women interested in a career in finance hear from alumnae who have been working in the field,” says Pepper. “This field is still extremely challenging for women — making the right choices in terms of what area of finance to focus on can make all the difference between success and failure.”

“I feel strongly that a liberal-arts education is by far the best preparation for a career in finance, although today there are fewer liberal-arts majors entering the field,” she adds. “Financial services is constantly changing— there are always new risks to measure, new products to assess and new opportunities to explore.  The ability to make decisions, think critically and evaluate new situations with intellectual rigor and the ability to consider both long- and short-term consequences of decisions is key ”

The Certificate in Finance program will be offered again next year.  In addition to finance, Griffith and Myers are also designing programs focused on entrepreneurial and business leadership/management.

For more information concerning future programs contact Sydney Coppola in the Office of the Treasurer.

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