Teaching Finance for the Future
Stevens’ ability to bring technology to the modern financial industry has produced powerful success and ROI for graduates
When Stevens Institute of Technology decided to create a pathbreaking new undergraduate degree program to serve the exploding field of quantitative finance (QF) 12 years ago, the university’s first stop was only minutes away: Wall Street, almost directly across the Hudson River from the university’s hilltop campus.
“I personally probably met 25 companies, mostly in the finance industry,” recalls Stevens finance professor George Calhoun, a telecom industry veteran who hammered out the nuts and bolts of Stevens’ QF program — among the nation’s first for undergrads. “I asked, ‘What do you need?’”
The short answer: more math, more tech and computing skills, more analytics training.
It was the beginning of a sweeping transformation to Stevens’ School of Business that has paid off handsomely, both for working professionals and for undergrads — 100% of 2019 QF graduates surveyed attained a position offer, graduate school admission offer or other desired outcome within six months of Commencement, receiving starting salaries significantly exceeding national averages.
Industry and media have taken notice. Forbes proclaimed Stevens the “quant school on the Hudson,” while CNBC invited a team of Stevens QF students — the only university team invited — to compete in its 2018 Stock Draft competition alongside professional investors. UBS, Jefferies and others have partnered with the university on corporate education and other programs.
“We are moving into an age where technology is the big enabler,” notes School of Business Dean Gregory Prastacos. “Because our DNA is technology, it has been easier for us to introduce new programs, courses, certificates, boot camps and labs.
“As a result, our students graduate very well equipped for a changing workplace.”
Armed with analytics, top careers follow
Indeed, graduates of the QF program find themselves in high demand, prepared to make immediate impact once hired.
“I’m in a really unique role where I can work with both the development and business teams, and really drive the conversation between the two because of what I learned in the QF program,” says Carolyn Cochran ’15, who now works as a senior consultant for EY. “Understanding the programming side of the equation really helps me add value for my clients, and a lot of that came from Stevens," Cochran adds. “I didn’t realize until I graduated just how well the classes prepare you to be a success at work.”
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my Stevens education,” says QF graduate Jiawen Grace He ’19, now a master’s candidate in MIT’s prestigious Sloan School of Management. “The rigorous quantitative finance curriculum prepared me well for graduate study at MIT."
As a Stevens undergrad, He helped oversee Stevens’ student-managed investment portfolio — a fund uniquely operated such that every decision is made by students, who are mentored by a professional wealth manager and develop quantitative strategies to build and optimize portfolios. She also participated in several international internships along the way, including one in financial technology consulting with EY’s Shanghai unit.
“My experience with the investment fund differentiated my candidacy from other business school students when applying to Master of Finance programs,” reasons He, “and also in job interviews.”
In addition to stellar internship opportunities and a quant-focused management fund, Stevens’ business students enjoy access to a pair of state-of-the-art financial analytics and data visualization labs that resonate with the financial industry’s needs — enabling offerings such as the QF program to elevate teaching and research beyond the classroom.
This technology advantage is another reason corporate recruiters repeatedly return to Stevens to seek talent.
“They make immediate impacts on our biggest challenges by leveraging their knowledge, creativity and innovative solutions,” says Stephen Najemian, a Prudential manager for early talent. “We are proud to partner with Stevens.”
Rebooting business education for a digital era
Stevens is also at the head of an ambitious effort to rethink traditional management curricula for a modern age.
The initiative, known as MaCuDE (Management Curriculum for the Digital Era), is a two-year collaboration among deans and faculty at approximately 125 universities in the U.S. and abroad, including the University of Pennsylvania’s famed Wharton School, England’s Imperial College, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and University of Washington Bothell. Ten task forces will examine key curricular disciplines, such as finance, marketing and management.
“The future belongs to MBAs who can code,” observes Prastacos.
As primary investigator, Stevens’ team will synthesize the task forces’ feedback and create final curricular guidance. The effort already enjoys support from both the business education accreditation organization AACSB International and financial and consulting group PwC, and will bring new perspective to management programming — preparing students for a business environment increasingly defined by digital transformation.
“In two industry advisory meetings last spring dedicated to digital transformation, the disruptive importance of digital technologies was highlighted by everyone present, as was the urgent need for academia to adjust their programs,” Prastacos notes.
And as global markets and business models continue to evolve in a digital era, Stevens will continue to remain ahead of the curve: forging new ties and uniquely equipping graduates with the technology orientation and skills needed to compete, lead and succeed in today’s global financial environment.
“We are in a unique position,” sums up Prastacos, “as a business school within a technology university to shape the conversation about the future of business education.”