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News and Media

Oberlin Business Scholars Find Their Calling on Wall Street

Feb. 07, 2012

Amanda Nagy

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The 2012 Business Scholars at a session in New York.
Lorenzo Ciniglio

For four weeks in January, a select group of students from different majors with little to no business experience underwent a rigorous journey that connected them with accomplished alumni in Cleveland, New York, and Boston. The Oberlin Business Scholars Program is an intensive winter-term program that provides a foundation of skills, knowledge, and contacts to compete for internships in the fields of finance, consulting, and advertising and public relations. Through discussions, lectures, and on-site visits, scholars apply the analytical approaches they’ve developed at Oberlin to real-world situations.

Students who participated in the 2012 Business Scholars Program say that while there’s no one path to a successful career in business and finance, the road to discovery begins with the liberal arts education they receive at Oberlin.

Now in its seventh ninth year, the Business Scholars Program is sponsored by alumni. Initial funding came from Stewart Kohl ’77 and Béla Szigethy ’77, co-CEOs who founded the Riverside Company, a global private equity firm. At the heart of the program is the support of alumni who dedicate their time and energy to teaching and mentoring student participants. This year, nearly 60 alumni business professionals taught in the program.

The scholars are selected from a competitive pool of applicants. Throughout the program, they tour financial institutions, attend workshops and networking events, and meet with alumni who work in finance and consulting. Working in teams, they analyze and present a business case of their own. Students also gain an understanding of basic financial analysis and mergers and acquisitions; learn project management and presentation skills; and learn how to make themselves more marketable to employers.

“Like Oberlin itself, the Business Scholars Program gives students a chance to get to know themselves as they get to know their world, to explore how they might fuel their passions as they put their gifts best to use,” says Philip Vasan ’80, a managing director of Credit Suisse in the investment banking division, based in New York.

Richard Berman, Oberlin’s new director of Career Services, says he observed students finding a genuine human connection that marks the critical difference between simply finding a job and actually finding one’s calling. While attending a networking reception in New York, he heard at least a dozen alumni each describe the different positions, organizations, and experiences through which they fused “doing well” with “doing good.”

“As the class of Business Scholars discussed their own plans and aims, I saw that same passion for doing well and doing good,” Berman says. “It was exhilarating to watch students find their own authentic voices in the company of highly accomplished professionals, moving from diffidence to confidence, and building a stronger understanding of their own capacities.”

Sarah Washington, a senior majoring in politics, says she discovered there is no one path to a successful career in business and finance. “All of the alumni we spoke with in the program have been successful in their own right, but each of them have taken uniquely different routes to get where they are today. Many emphasized the importance of flexibility when making career decisions. Convincing yourself that a linear career path is the only way to succeed is a common mistake that a lot of young people make.

“As someone who tends to be more cautious when mapping out my goals, Business Scholars has motivated me to think outside the box and apply more risk. In the world of business and finance, risk can bring a huge return.”

Sophomore Aidan Apel, who is considering a major in economics, says the Oberlin ethos of social justice is perfectly aligned with creative business start-ups, and he hopes more students will be interested in finance.

“The financial services industry is much bigger and more diverse than I had imagined. With all the negative publicity surrounding Wall Street, I figured I would be swimming with sharks. This simply is not true,” says Apel, who is from Los Angeles. “The men and women of Wall Street value good business, honesty, ethics, and, of course, hard work.”

The value of Oberlin Business Scholars goes far beyond Oberlin. “There’s so much good that comes from the program,” says Kohl, who sees its potential to change the future—not just for the students involved, but for the good of financial markets, too.

“I think the business world can benefit greatly by having more Obies participating,” Kohl says. “Perhaps some of the breakdowns that occurred during the global financial crisis of 2008 could have been avoided if a more diverse set of intelligent, moral players had been working in Wall Street for the preceding decade. And perhaps in its own small ways, Business Scholars will contribute to this end.”


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