In APU’s Fund Management Practicum, students are given thousands of dollars to invest. But it’s not a classroom simulation. It’s real life.
The university started a student-managed fund in 2001 with $200,000. It has since grown by more than one million dollars. Each semester, MBA students enroll in the one-credit practicum and continue the success and strategy of their predecessors. Students can enroll up to three times and “by the third semester, we treat you as the chief investment officer,” said Kirsten Halpin, the course instructor.
The endowment is overseen by the APU Foundation Board, and guided by a policy statement and investment discipline. But within those constraints, the students make 100 percent of the decisions.
There are no finals and no homework for the Fund Management Practicum. Instead, students research companies and metrics and meet each week to make portfolio management decisions. Their goal: beat the benchmarks and make more money than the standard financial services company.
In the hands-on class, students use a Bloomberg Terminal to guide their decisions. The financial software system provides limitless economic data on everything from market trends to supply chains, and is an industry standard for investors. “If you can put Bloomberg experience on your résumé, people will notice,” said Halpin. APU’s Bloomberg Terminal is currently funded by a grant from Northrim Bank.
Students specifically looks at ESG metrics, which quantifies a company’s environmental, social, and corporate governance. How diverse is the board of directors? How much CO2 does the company create each year? How many women hold leadership positions? In 2020, APU’s Institute of Business & Public Policy made an intentional choice to include climate responsibility in its courses. By prioritizing ESG data, investors (like the practicum students) can push companies to become more sustainable and socially just.
Preparing a path
Clearly, the course is more than just a classroom discussion. “It’s action-oriented. We’re not just getting together to chat about this. The expectation is that we’re buying and selling,” said TJ Presley, a graduate student who took the course this spring. He said the practicum illuminated a possible career after the MBA program.
“I find myself more interested in finance and investing as a specific topic,” he said. “Now I can actually see a road map.”
That’s thanks in part to Halpin, who leads the course and also serves as vice president and director of operations at Alaska Permanent Capital Management Company. When professors bring their career perspective and feedback to the classroom, it creates an added value for students. “She has a clear depth of knowledge,” Presley noted. “She is a great, great teacher.”
For Halpin, the course is a way to generate interest and hopefully develop investment professionals in Alaska. Students don’t have to travel to Wall Street to find real-world investing experience, she said. “You can get that here in Alaska and get that high professional touch right here at APU.”