High School Students Learn the Art of the Trade at Stevens

High-Tech Lab Lends Fun, Real-Time Excitement to Competition

4/25/2014

When Alex Frei and Kishan Patel choose where they want to pursue their undergraduate degrees, they’ll be looking for schools that allow them to pursue their interests in computer science and business.

After spending a day on the campus of Stevens Institute of Technology, they may have found just what they’re looking for.

The two students, both juniors at Jonathan Dayton High School, in Springfield, were on campus as part of the April 25 Trading Day competition hosted by the Howe School of Technology Management.

The competition, held in partnership with the New Jersey chapter of FBLA, gave high school students in New Jersey and New York a chance to use the state-of-the-art technology in the Hanlon Financial Systems Lab, the ultramodern facility where some of the most exciting research and teaching in quantitative finance, risk management and analysis is done. Student teams in the competition used real-time market data to manage a $1 million portfolio built from stocks of their choosing.

To say the energy in the room was high doesn’t quite do it justice. Students gestured at monitors and called out updates as their teammates feverishly worked the machines.

“The second we sat in those seats, we felt such an adrenaline rush,” Patel said. “This is just what it’s like in the real world, with all the tools we’ll be using when we’re working.”

The students got some training in how to use the software in pre-trading sessions, but plenty of Stevens student ambassadors were on hand to assist. Students from Ridgefield Park High School peppered David Inga with questions on using Bloomberg, and he happily walked them through the finer points of doing research and executing trades.

“It’s a pleasure to be able to help them get immersed in our high-tech lab and use the tools we’ve gotten so familiar with in the course of our classes,” said Inga, a sophomore pursuing a Quantitative Finance major. In his classes, he and his classmates develop algorithms, calculate portfolio risks and use real-time data to understand the impact of high-speed trading — all useful for modern jobs in finance. 

“The ability to use the Bloomberg terminals and work with this data helps us understand market structures, and all in a setting so close to New York,” he said.

'A great experience'

Tanja Grandov, the faculty adviser at Ridgefield Park, said she runs competitions with her FBLA students, but this is the first time her students have had access to the equipment so prevalent just across the Hudson River.

“It’s a great experience for the students to get a real hands-on taste of the equipment used on Wall Street,” she said. “In our competitions, we use Market Wire data, which can’t come close to what they’re using here.”

WATCH: Stevens faculty discuss the Hanlon lab on CNBC

Students at the winning schools earned scholarships that can be applied toward a Stevens education if they enroll to study business, as well as a tour of Bloomberg’s offices in New York. Students at Morris Hills High School performed best, with Northern Valley Regional High School taking second. Stuyvesant High School and Moorestown High School teams won “most spirited” awards for their enthusiasm.

That enthusiasm wasn’t lost on Nancy Ostrowski, a retired economics teacher who is the FBLA state adviser. FBLA, the Future Business Leaders of America, prepares high school students for leadership roles in business through additional education and competition.

“Look at these kids. They’re literally chomping at the bit, ready to get started,” she said. “The competition is something they thoroughly prepare for, and having this lab as the setting just makes the day that much more exciting.”

It was a learning experience for Stevens, too, said Aditya Samarth, a sophomore in the Quantitative Finance program.

“It’s great to teach them. You wind up learning so much just by showing them some of the tricks and shortcuts with Bloomberg,” Samarth said.

The passion students showed, meanwhile, reminded him of his own classes.

“They’re so invested in it. As the last session was winding down, one kid pulled out his laptop to check some more data — he had a TD account. That’s what I love,” he said.

A connection to industry

The competition was just one part of a busy day for the visiting students. Stevens lined up a panel of nearly a dozen industry professionals on hand to answer their questions about technology in business. Companies represented included Citi, Oakley, Morgan Stanley, Royal Bank of Canada, KGS-Alpha Capital Markets and ProShares.

For Brian Badillo, it was an eye-opening first visit to the Hoboken campus.

“That trading room is the kind of trading room I wish they’d had at my school,” said Badillo, vice president of business development at Worry Free Labs, a New York-based mobile app development company. “And the proximity to the city is incredible.”

Badillo, who has more than a decade’s worth of experience in business development and management consulting, said he doesn’t remember seeing a Stevens résumé come across his desk yet, but he’ll be looking out for them now.

“When you’ve got the sort of technology and experience that you do here, I’d imagine Stevens is as competitive, if not more so, than other business schools out there,” he said.

Guilaine Saroul, director of national professional services at PwC, said a high-tech education can help set job candidates apart.

“Having this lab in this location is a great opportunity for any student,” said Saroul, who provides assurance and advisory services to multinational corporations in Europe.

Students tended to flock to Saroul, who shared her insight from a sunny corner of the Babbio Center, with a breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline right behind her. A question that came up often was her experience as a woman in a male-dominated industry.

“You need to know what you’re getting into,” she said. “But there’s a lot of push and interest from companies in creating a more diverse workforce, and that means more opportunities for women.”

She also talked about the role of technology in a Big Four accounting firm. Audits today, she said, are as much about technology as about accounting and finance, so new hires have to combine a broad-based accounting and business background with the kind of technical skills taught in the Hanlon lab.

“What we need is people who can adapt and change, and who have the strong skills sets to succeed,” she said. “They have to be able to understand valuations, capital markets, due diligence, but also the technology.”

That was a keen point for Frei, of Dayton High School.

“Being able to apply both the computer side and business, and understand both, is what I want,” he said.

Frei and Patel spoke with Dr. Don Lombardi, a professor in the Howe School, for some insight on how to combine business and computer science in the class. Lombardi, who focuses on health care and project management, said that’s a common desire among Stevens students.

“You take computer science here, but you also learn management, you learn information systems,” Lombardi said. “I have a lot of students who take project management classes, because they want to learn management.

“When you go looking for internships, for jobs, recruiters know these kids have practiced the application of what they learned, not just the theory.”

That helps students secure jobs and internships. At Stevens, graduates enjoy a 96 percent placement rate within six months, meaning almost all have secured jobs or a spot in graduate school. 

And the students who competed at the campus are certainly on the right track, said Samarth, the Howe School ambassador and sophomore.

“They’re so much more into finance than I was in high school. I could see these guys getting jobs at Goldman — tomorrow,” he said.