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Carroll School of Management Graduate Programs

CIRM endows students with confidence and experience

glasses, graphs and calculator

By J.M. Berger

Universities have a lot of ways to express confidence in their students. But if money talks, BC’s Curriculum in Investment Research & Management is using a bullhorn to get the message across.

Each year, CIRM gives a select group of students a yearlong opportunity to manage more than half a million dollars of the Boston College Endowment.

“Students have a wonderful exposure to theory at the school,” said Richard Howe, an adjunct professor of finance who oversees the students chosen to manage the university’s money. “The CIRM program actually allows them to apply what they’re learning in a very realistic setting.”

It’s a hard-won opportunity. In the first phase of the course, taught by CSOM’s Kenneth Enright, about 40 students take half a semester to make field trips to local investment firms and see how they work and to perform an in-depth analysis of a single company (for the last two years, Staples Inc.).

In the second phase, the group is narrowed down to less than 30 students, who are divided into teams under Howe to create competing proposals for how they would manage a dedicated fund within the Boston College endowment. Weekly guest speakers help provide a window into the writing process in the real world.  

“It allows them to do securities analysis, portfolio management and ultimately to actually manage money for the endowment fund of Boston College,” said Howe. “It’s a great experience for anyone who wants to get into the asset management business.”

Two teams are selected to continue into the third phase, with each team managing a portfolio for the endowment valued between $250,000 and $350,000. The guidelines for proposals put some limitations on what students can do with BC’s money, but those guidelines allow the students a lot of flexibility.

The actual performance of the portfolios varies from year to year. Some groups outperform the major stock indices, while others lag it. Students are graded not on the performance of the portfolio, but on the quality of the work they bring to it.

“It’s hard to beat the index,” said Howe. “They’re amateurs and so they’re learning as they go. … At all times, it’s the quality of their work, the thoroughness, the attention to detail and in the case of asset management money, we want to them to implement the portfolio in disciplined and professional manner.”

That professional experience, combined with aggressive efforts by Howe and other program coordinators, gives program participants a leg up in efforts to win a job in the highly competitive financial management industry.

“Working with the spreadsheets, the financial models, with my teammates, I realized how in my future I’m actually going to be able to do it,” said Susan Bernstein, a member of one of the winning teams who will receive her MBA in May. “This is a chance for us to create money for our institution that believes in us and has given us a shot to do something like this.”

Carlos Villatoro graduated with his MSF in 2011 and now works for PricewaterhouseCoopers in its Market Information and Data Analytics Group. He said in an e-mail the CIRM program gave him valuable tools that have enhanced his professional career.

“It feels like a more practical approach,” Villatoro said. “By that I don't mean that it has less theoretical backbone than the rest of the classes, I mean that you get to learn by doing, that you get to apply the theory into a ‘real’ challenge with practicing professionals from the investment world as your clients.”