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Investment group's experiments in finance contribute valuable experience, funds for campus improvements

In many ways, the Owl Investment Group resembles any other student organization. Although there are 60 official members, the number of students that shows up on any given Wednesday night to learn about finance and business while enjoying a little socializing is usually closer to 25, and there's a smaller core group that's most involved.

However, there is one thing—well, actually about 100,000 things—that make the group unique.

In the 1970s an anonymous alumna donated $100,000 to Bryn Mawr with the express purpose of creating a student group that would introduce its members to the world of high finance by allowing them to invest the money in the stock market.

In the years since, the group, which was originally known as the Student Investment Committee, has funded everything from concerts to treadmills for the gym with the returns on its investments.

OIG's investments have seen annual returns of around 11 percent for the last several years. However, the group hasn't been immune to the recent economic downturn and has seen the value of its portfolio drop from around $130,000 to closer to $120,000 since the summer.

Executive Director June Lee is typical of many students involved with the group. She came to Bryn Mawr with no plans of a career in finance. But after a few economics courses and her experience with the group, she's now on her way to a job with Morgan Stanley.

Other recent graduates from the group have gone on to be associates and analysts at a number of finance powerhouses, including Moody's, Janney Montgomery Scott, and Citigroup.

OIG Executive board member Jill Settlemyer '10 is a political science major but is considering going on to get her MBA, something she said probably wouldn't have happened had she not gone to a place like Bryn Mawr.

"A liberal-arts college gives you the flexibility to explore all sorts of academic interests and Bryn Mawr's so small that I could join a group like this and not feel intimidated," she said.

Settlemyer also pointed to Bryn Mawr's all-women environment as a huge plus for a group dedicated to finance, a predominantly male field.

Last year's OIG president Danny Tang '07, who now works as an analyst at KKR Financial, and Alyssa Martin '10, current co-chair along with Anna Mathew '10 of the Personal Finance Planning Committee, saw the work they were doing with the group's personal finance committee as so important that they've managed to get the College to offer a pilot personal-finance course that will debut in fall 2008.

In 2007 Tang and Lee also approached Bryn Mawr CFO John Griffith to see if he'd be interested in advising the group and helping with outreach to alumnae and business professionals.

"I think just about everyone who works at a place like Bryn Mawr does it in part because they value education, so it's always great when you can work with students," said Griffith.

Among the alumnae Griffith has arranged for the group to meet is Alexandra Kaufmann of Pershing Square Capital Management.

Kaufmann and Griffith planned a meeting for Feb. 15 and invited OIG students to come meet with her on what turned out to be the year's only snow day.

"She was stunned that 20 students made their way out in the middle of a snowstorm to talk to her. In fact, I think they'd still be in the conference room if we didn't put an end to it," said Griffith.

"I was extremely impressed with the caliber of the students and their knowledge of finance," said Kaufmann. "They were very engaging and certainly not shy about asking questions.  It ended up being more of a two-hour Q-and-A session and less of a lecture, which was great." 

As the economy tightens, Griffith says, groups like OIG will be invaluable to liberal-arts students interested in business and finance careers.

"When the economy tightens up, recruiters tend to stick with the business schools so it becomes harder to get your foot in the door. So if a student is lucky enough to get an interview, she's going to be expected to have a certain level of financial literacy. And while our students have the problem solving and communications skills these firms are looking for, it's very hard to do well in an interview if you don't know what the people are talking about," said Griffith.

OIG will be holding its annual Senior Career Panel from 9-10 p.m. on Wednesday, April 23, in Carpenter B21. The event features graduating seniors talking about the ups and downs of their job searches, and all Bryn Mawr and Haverford students are welcome to attend.

 

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Posted 4/17/2008 by Claudia Ginanni