By Susan Anderson
Stop by St. Bonaventure University’s Dee Financial Services Lab any time a Students in Money Management (SIMM) class is scheduled, and you will likely find the room filled to capacity — even on a sunny Friday afternoon of a get-away weekend.
“People are eager to be part of SIMM,” said Sydney Cassagnol, a senior finance and accounting major, who noted the high level of freedom its members are allowed. “We have a lot of control and are given the opportunity to present ideas that we are really excited about.”
Founded in 2004, SIMM is an experiential learning program in which students in any major can learn about the investment process while helping to manage approximately $500,000 in real assets.
This is Cassagnol’s third semester in SIMM and her first serving as co-manager of the Equity Fund. From analyzing stocks to pitching a proposal, Cassagnol said that membership in SIMM offers a wealth of practical experience.
“This program has been one of the best experiences I have had during my time at Bonaventure,” she said. “It helped me discover a passion for finance and it has given me hands-on experience in investing, which I think is one of the most valuable things I will take away from college.”
Recent finance/MBA graduate Alex McLaughlin,’16, ’17, noted that participation in SIMM led to his job at CitiGroup where he serves as a balance sheet control analyst. In fact, he had the job offer weeks before graduation.
“Being a member of SIMM gives you a competitive edge and prepares you for the real world,” he said.
The secret to SIMM’s popularity as well as the profound influence the program has on its members can easily be attributed to one man: Dr. Jim Mahar, ’88.
Known as “The Finance Professor,” Mahar has been teaching in the School of Business since 1999 and directing SIMM for 10 years.
“Most schools have a money management program for students but only for upperclassmen. Here at Bona’s, we flip the model and invite students in from their first semester,” said Mahar.
Members are assigned to a certain sector of the fund, such as technology, health care or utilities, and are responsible for reporting on the fund’s holdings as well as any major news impacting that sector. They must also conduct research on equities and present pitches to buy, sell or hold an investment.
“It’s not a lecture class. It’s a ‘jump into the deep end and we’re here with a life preserver’ class,” said Mahar. “It forces people to get engaged. We have lots of discussion going on. They start out rudimentary and go up fast.”
Another important aspect to the SIMM experience is the level of alumni involvement. The Friday Forum features a weekly visitor from an expert in the field, either in person or via video. It has connected students to alumni and other professionals from as far away as Japan and India and as close as New York City. The students also head to the trading floors of Wall Street and Chicago every fall and spring. And they interact with the SIMM Board on a regular basis.
“The questions the board members ask of the students are very rigorous, probably more so than many boards would ask their CEOs,” said Mahar. “They also make sure there is progress year to year.”
Mahar said he is proud that students get involved in SIMM as early as their first semester and remain throughout an academic career. That involvement “offers them leadership skills and helps them land jobs,” he said.
For senior marketing major David Yousif, SIMM presents the perfect environment for hands-on learning.
“Dr. Mahar allows the students to think for themselves. It is truly a student-run organization. He does, however, know the right times to step in,” Yousif said. “Especially when it comes down to fully understanding a concept.”
Yousif has been involved with SIMM since his freshman year and today serves as co-director of marketing. He said what he appreciates most is the mentorship.
“Every year SIMM graduates some of the brightest students in the School of Business,” he said, “so to experience a variance in top-tier leadership over the past three years has been incredible.”
SIMM recently launched a crowdfunding site to boost funding for the program, featuring a $16,250 challenge match from alumni Chris and Eileen Madigan Kinslow and the SIMM Board. To make a gift and join the challenge, please visit www.sbu.edu/SIMMChallenge.
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