Building the Portfolio

Students get investment experience in the classroom.     By Monica Watson '12

Many courses give students skills to use in future job situations, but one Ithaca College course offers students a real-life and immersive experience in the business world.

The Real-Time Portfolio Management course, open only to seniors, is a two-semester class taught collaboratively by Abraham Mulugetta, professor of finance and international business, and Joseph Cheng, associate professor and chair of the Department of Finance and International Business in the School of Business. Students are given access to a domestic investment fund of $100,000 to learn hands-on about investing and business. The fund, donated by an anonymous Ithaca alumnus, has grown about 20 percent from the investment choices made by students since the course began in fall 2008. Money made goes back into the fund to be used by future students.

“The donor wanted us to take the students to a higher level of experience,” says Mulugetta. “The course combines the learning experience and the earning experience. Students learn about the market, the industry, and the economic environment, and then they assess which industry is going to perform best in that kind of economic climate.” He says that this type of class is able to bridge the gap between what is learned academically and what is practiced.

Mary Ellen Zuckerman, dean of the business school, says she hopes to implement more of these kinds of courses in other areas.

 “It’s very exciting, since they’re taking risks with real money and seeing what the process is like in the real world,” she says. “My vision for our students is that they can have this kind of hands-on experience in the marketing area, in the management area, and in accounting.”

Senior applied economics major Rob Crawford says that while the course is demanding, it is also highly rewarding. “It allows students to really engage and stretch their capabilities,” he says. “A lot of the stuff we do in this class is very applicable to the investment banking and portfolio management industry. I feel that my presentation skills, my financial analysis skills, and my ability to make decisions under pressure and work with deadlines have increased tenfold because of this class.”

Students break off into groups and collaboratively research industries and companies in them to find one they think the class should invest in. After researching, the groups present their findings to the class. The class then discusses the company and votes on whether or not they will invest in it. The students are assisted by their professors and an investment advisory board made up of faculty and alumni, but the ultimate investment decisions are left to the students.

 “Students really dictate what is going on,” says Mulugetta. “The professors are there to give them direction.”

Jeffrey Bush, a business administration and applied economics double major, has found the course beneficial in helping him prepare for the business world he is getting ready to enter. “I think part of the value driver is that it has a loose structure to it,” he says. “The students have to hold each other accountable, so the class embodies a professional setting.”