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IU Northwest News

Endowment brings unique opportunity to business students

Through his donation, William Nelson helps take investment education to a new level

Monday Jun 29, 2015

For future economists, financial advisors, business leaders and just about anyone who needs to know the ins and outs of investing, a how-to course is an essential part of higher education.

Just how does one teach a student about investing? It seems a Monopoly-style approach might work, with students using play money to invest in stocks and pushing numbers around on paper to imagine what might happen in certain hypothetical scenarios.

While this method might be effective for teaching students some of the nuances of investing, there is one inherent problem: Pretend investments translate into more risks, more leeway, more flip decisions being made just to see what might happen. But would you do these things with real money -- yours or anyone else’s? Probably not.

That’s why investing with real money, and observing real results, provides the best education for finance students. This is being done at Indiana University Northwest each semester under the direction of Bala Arshanapalli, Ph.D, Professor and Gallagher-Mills Chair of Finance, who teaches “Financial Decision Making.“

The opportunity was made possible through a gift by William Nelson, Ph.D., who has been teaching finance at IU Northwest for more than 35 years and wanted to give this authentic experience to students. Nelson, also the Associate Dean of the School of Business and Economics, said he wanted his philanthropy to help in a unique and impactful way, one in which someone else likely wouldn’t provide otherwise, so he donated $50,000 to begin a student-managed investment fund at IU Northwest.

The endowed Nelson Family Fund, gifted to Indiana University Foundation for use by the IU Northwest School of Business and Economics, provides the funds that students in Arshanapalli’s course invest. Over the course of the semester, they use state-of-the-art financial software (FACTSET) to do their stock research. In the process of researching, students learn how to conduct fundamental, technical, sectoral and macroeconomic analysis.

The portfolio is handed over to the students in the following semester’s course. Over time, the endowed fund will grow, and provide additional means for students, such as scholarships to help students pay the tuition for the course.

Before Nelson officially created the fund, he gave the idea of students managing real investments a test run with the help of his mother, whom he referred to as possibly IU’s oldest living alumni at that point. Nelson asked if she would allow the students to manage a portion of her personal investment portfolio. She did so willingly, Nelson said, and the experience proved valuable beyond measure for the students. So a few years later, Nelson decided he was in a position to donate the funds outright, and create the endowed fund now managed by the IU Foundation.

Nelson’s gift is an example of the many creative ways that donors can make an impact in a student’s life. It is a gift that increases the value of an IU Northwest business education. In fact, Nelson noted that in recent meetings with representatives of IU Northwest’s School of Business and Economics accrediting body, students repeatedly told the reviewers about the “life-changing” experience of taking the course. Such testimony is one of the reasons IU Northwest continues to receive the coveted and rare endorsement of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

Andres Santiago, of Hammond, graduated in December 2014 with a degree in financial and accounting information systems. He said he learned how to determine the value of a stock and research a company’s stock using three different models of growth. Santiago said he appreciates the authentic opportunity to learn about investing in the real-world, as opposed to on paper.

“I don’t think this could be learned from a book, because it’s so fast-paced,” Santiago said.

Nelson said that taking Arshanapalli’s course is at least as good an experience as interning at an investment firm, “because you are choosing the investments and making the decisions at the highest level. I don’t suspect an intern would be allowed to do that.”

Nelson has seen this happen first-hand. He noted that one recent graduate secured a job in the investment community, winning out over candidates with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from prestigious schools.

“Because of his experience in the class, they were able to hire him simply with his undergraduate degree,” Nelson said. “It makes me feel good that the students who put in the effort are more marketable. But it only works if they put in a lot of effort into the class.”

Nelson said that when people provide their philanthropic support to any cause, it shows others that there is value to the endeavor. So not only does his gift allow students to have the most authentic experience available before they graduate, but the action inspires others to get behind the idea of supporting higher education, in any capacity that they might imagine.

“The university has supported me,” Nelson said. “My alma mater, which is IU Bloomington, has supported me. The education I got there was only possible because other people made sure it was available to me. So I think there is an obligation for me to make sure it is available for someone else.”

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